Anita Le is happy to answer any questions her friends have about the oil and natural gas industry. But she did not always feel that way.
Le was born and raised in Edmonton and educated at the University of Alberta. She moved to Vancouver in 2014 as part of her job as a project engineer at CH2M Hill, where her lifelong fascination in the mechanics of machines and systems finds fulfillment in designing pipelines. Le quickly discovered that many people in her new home were less familiar with—and sometimes less accepting of— the oil and natural gas industry. Among her new friends, she found herself hesitating to even explain her job. If anyone asked what she did, she would just say she was an engineer and avoid offering details.
“I grew up in Edmonton where the hockey team is called the Oilers. You never really had to justify your line of work and explain why it’s for the greater good,” she says. “When I moved away from Alberta to a place where the general consensus is not entirely in support of the industry, that’s when I started to take a more deliberate involvement in the industry outside of just my nine-to-five job.”
She began to embrace the opportunity to share her knowledge—gained over eight years of working on oil and natural gas projects—throughout her social circle. Now, whenever discussing the industry with critics, she begins by asking them to consider their own responsibilities as consumers.
“Right now, all of the responsibility is on the regulators and the industry itself, and I think some of that needs to be passed on to the consumer,” she says. “Think of fair trade coffee as an example. Now that we package it in a way that the consumer knows what they’re choosing, that puts the onus on them to decide.”
Second, Le encourages people to look at how they can get involved with the clean energy industry if they’re truly passionate about it. Rather than focus on criticizing oil and natural gas, Le encourages people to look at how they can support the environmentally sustainable production of energy sources. Again, she focuses on helping people find ways to take responsibility for their own actions and environmental impact.
Finally, she speaks about how people like her are working on continuously improving the performance of oil and natural gas industry. It can be as simple as adding additional valves to a pipeline to provide extra protection against a spill. There are countless similar small yet vital decisions made every day by people who both work in the industry and care deeply about the environment, Le notes.
“I explain that a lot of people in the industry are making a huge difference on a daily basis to ensure that the industry is getting better. We’re setting new standards when it comes to safety and the environment. Once they recognize that, the conversation actually becomes constructive,” she says.
Le’s support of oil and natural gas extends to more than just sharing her experiences with naysayers. As chair of the Vancouver chapter of the Young Pipeliners Association of Canada (YPAC), she is helping people within the industry share their experiences with each other as well. The organization is dedicated to ensuring the younger generation of pipeliners can connect with seasoned workers to gain knowledge and new opportunities—and it shows just one more way Le is working to ensure the industry continues to improve.