'Engineers, geologists and geophysicists work with ideas, technology, information and people. They invent, design, propose, communicate, and develop new processes and technologies. Their work provides them with a high level of responsibility, variety and creativity.'




A Day in the Life" features stories from APEGGA professionals that provide a glimpse into what it's really like to work as an engineer, geologist or geophysicist.

A Day in the Life of....

Hi! My name is Brenda Wright and I work for Syncrude Canada Ltd. in Fort McMurray. Syncrude operates an oilsand mine, processing plant and upgrader that produces over 80 million barrels of oil each year. My official title is Staff Geologist, but my role includes ore shovel planning for the North Mine. I also specialize in ore processability, or how to get the most bitumen out of oilsand". All of this requires skills in teamwork, technology and communication with a firm basis in science.

My day starts at 5:30 am, when I get up, get ready for work and take my 6-year-old daughter to her caregiver's house. My husband leaves at 6:15, so our mornings are very hectic! I take one of Syncrude's buses to the mine site, and arrive just before 8:00 am. The first order of the day is to tour the mining pit and see what went on overnight.

I usually go out to the field in a crew cab with two of my colleagues…both mining engineers, whose responsibility is long term and waste planning. We look at where the large mining shovels are working, where they are dumping their loads, and how we can improve the efficiency of the operation. It is always really exciting to be a part of such a large, dynamic operation. We have the biggest shovels, and the biggest haul trucks in the world….these trucks move 360 tonnes of 'dirt' in each load! Immediately following the tour, we meet with field operations leaders. We set broad plans and targets for the day, then discuss sensitivities….that is "What could go wrong, and what can we do about it?". Much of my time in the office is spent making detailed plans for the activities of the ore shovels. Later in the day, I call the operations leader responsible for the oilsand area on the radio, and meet him for yet another tour of the mine pits. There I describe the mine plan and solicit his input.

An important communication tool I use to describe ore quality is the daily ore grade forecast. I send this information via e- mail to mine leaders, extraction plant operators….really, to anyone who requires this information on a daily basis. The information on ore grade comes from a computer model created using core drillhole information. Syncrude has drilled over 6000 holes in its 22-year history! The ore quality information is important for many reasons; in ore blending, oilsand crusher performance, pipeline slurry hydraulics, bitumen recovery, froth quality and tailings quality. This data will tell individuals what to expect so that they are prepared for the ore coming into the plant (and leaving it in the form of tailings, which is oilsand with the oil removed).

Occasionally, something will go wrong in the plant. When this happens, I get a call from one of the process engineers in our bitumen extraction area, informing me of the nature of the problem. Both of us then go to work to figure out where the ore is coming from, what its quality is and how it is performing in extraction. Though very serious business, this part of my job is fun! It is like putting a puzzle together with many pieces missing. In the end, the investigation team needs to come up with some explanations and recommendations.

I have a special job at Syncrude, not of a technical nature, but one that provides me with great satisfaction. I am the student advisor for the Mining department. Every four months, the department hires between 20 and 50 university and college students. I help them throughout their work term with mentors, presentations and any problems they may have. I provide the link with management on student issues and hiring.

Most days I end work at 4:30, when I board the bus for the 50 minute ride back to Fort McMurray. In the evenings and on weekends, I carry a cellular phone in case someone has a question or a problem. I have a terrifically rewarding career at a wonderful company. With the oilsands industry growing and becoming more important to Alberta and to Canada, I can't think of a better place to be!

Brenda M. Wright, P. Geol.
Staff Geologist, Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Photo courtesy of the Alberta Research Council.