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Day in the Life: Samantha – Director, Iron Oaks Environmental Inc.

It’s a special person who yearns to learn some of the toughest regulations in the world.

Samantha is one of them.

Nearly a decade ago, while she was working for Aecon Construction Group in Toronto, Ontario a family friend asked if she wanted to put her education in environmental science to work in pipeline construction in Alberta. She promptly flew to Edmonton from Muskoka, Ontario.

“And the rest is history,” Samantha says. “I always knew I wanted to take my passion for the environment and put it towards something productive such as working in the energy sector.”

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says the country’s “oil and natural gas industry operates in one of the world’s most stringent regulatory environments.” The industry must follow federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal regulations.

Typical day

Like many people, Samantha found herself having to work from home in the spring of 2020 during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Her typical day went from travelling to communities and project sites for meetings and fieldwork in British Columbia, to being in social isolation and connecting via Microsoft Teams from her makeshift home office in Calgary, Alberta.

Her days always include rounds of meetings and phone calls with internal colleagues, contractor personnel, and external stakeholders. She also finds time each day to work on assigned tasks and responsibilities for the environmental and Indigenous relations aspects of an energy project. Reviews of environmental and construction plans, including drafting and editing documents, reports and emails are routine tasks. Collaborating with others is a given wherever she is.

When working at her office or home, her day usually begins around 7 a.m. and wraps up around 5 p.m., and often later. As the mother of a young daughter, Samantha often juggles parenting and her career; evening work is frequent during COVID-19. Samantha will often log back into her computer in the evening hours to complete additional emails and reports while the house is asleep.

I am spiritual myself and I love to get into nature and be in areas that few people venture to. I also value what’s important to Indigenous people and their communities, and I can see how closely their values tie back to the environment. I believe in reconciliation, listening to one another, and putting in genuine effort towards developing healthy, sustainable relationships with all communities, not only those affected by development projects.

Samantha, Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science , Master of Science, Environment & Management, Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP), Professional Agrologist (P.Ag) 

A growing desire

Samantha was in her early teenage years when she began thinking about working in the energy sector. When a relative working in Alberta told her about the challenges and rewards of working in the energy industry, about the vibrant people he and his wife had become life-long friends with, and the fast-paced nomadic lifestyle of “working on the road” in Western Canada, Samantha developed a growing desire to “go west.”

“I always wanted to study the natural environment since it is a huge part of my lifestyle and always has been,” she says. “I grew up in Muskoka exploring the local lakeside forests, marshes and rocky shores of Georgian Bay.”

She also did stints tree planting in Northern Alberta and years of landscaping, revelling in being close to nature in Ontario’s cottage country.

“But I knew I needed more of a challenge and wanted to put my education and passion for the environment to good use,” Samantha says.

She arrived in Alberta knowing she had to demonstrate a mix of “brains and brawn.” Samantha was well prepared. She had earned a bachelor degree in environmental geography and was finishing a master of science degree in environment and management. Her family was in the contracting business and she’d been around construction sites “for as long as I can remember.”

Other pipeline project opportunities followed and eventually Samantha started her own environmental consulting company. Samantha has contributed to the successful planning, construction, and environmental compliance of over 2,000 kilometres of large-diameter mainline pipeline construction throughout Canada, including the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

“I loved everything about it,” she says.

Samantha discovered Prince Rupert, a community on British Columbia’s northwest coast. At the time, there were numerous pipeline projects proposed in the area, however, none came to fruition while she was a resident. She embraced Northern British Columbia and the opportunity to work with Indigenous communities, eventually working with the Metlakatla First Nation in Prince Rupert. “I left the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Project to go work with this tremendously beautiful community of people, where I began to expand on my experience working with Indigenous communities.”

“I’m an adventurer,” Samantha says. “I always wanted to work in Northern British Columbia and with Indigenous people, but I didn’t know how I would get there.”

My ultimate goal is to continue being a leader and evolving my professional skill set in environmental management and Indigenous relations and supporting major projects throughout Canada.

Samantha, Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science , Master of Science, Environment & Management, Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP), Professional Agrologist (P.Ag)  

Drawn back

Having found a job that involved working closely with First Nations communities, she discovered much in common with them.

“I am spiritual myself and I love to get into nature and be in areas that few people venture to” Samantha says. “I also value what’s important to Indigenous people and their communities, and I can see how closely their values tie back to the environment. I believe in reconciliation, listening to one another, and putting in genuine effort towards developing healthy, sustainable relationships with all communities, not only those affected by development projects.”

She left the energy sector for a time to work with Indigenous communities, but “was drawn back in” to work on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project. The pipeline runs from Edmonton, to Burnaby, British Columbia and Anacortes in Washington state.

In 2014 she returned to oil and gas as a contractor, running her own company – Iron Oaks Environmental Management. Running the company draws on and deepens her skills to be an effective leader.

These skills include planning and prioritizing projects; organizing meetings, fieldwork and personnel; and sharing her expertise with team members seeking support.

It requires strong communication skills, time management and “always moving the needle by applying your best effort every day. My favorite three words, my three ‘P’s,’ are patience, persistence and positivity. Sometimes I add in a little “pressure” as well! Those things will get the job done.”

Samantha is putting the three P’s into practice to do more than run a business. She’s also using them to evolve her career.

“My ultimate goal is to continue being a leader and evolving my professional skill set in environmental management and Indigenous relations and supporting major projects throughout Canada. I also have a strong pull towards a legal career but we will see if I can make time for that”.

Company

Iron Oaks Environmental Inc.

Location

Calgary, Alberta

Salary

$73,000 to $156,000

Education

Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science

Master of Science, Environment & Management

Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP)

Professional Agrologist (P.Ag) in both B.C. and Alberta

Salary, education and advancement may vary from company to company.

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