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.'
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
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
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
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.