By Shade Spencer
Oil & Gas: A Family Tradition
The oil and gas industry is as much a part of my family’s history as my mom’s mouth-watering recipe for homemade vegetable soup. For career day in the second grade at Gaston Elementary School I dressed up like an oil and gas operator; I put on a hardhat and carried a Sonney Orifice Computer. Looking back, I guess you could have called me an “oil and gas geek” at the ripe old age of seven! My family’s oil and gas roots started with my grandfather; he ran a contract pumping business which he later handed off to my father. As a kid, my weekends were spent riding shotgun with my dad as he checked on wells. I would open gates for him and watch everything he did during his daily operations routines.
My Most Valuable Lessons
In high school while other kids focused on sports or band, I focused on working in the oil patch. I worked for my dad’s company pumping wells before and after school. I hooked up production equipment, mowed pipeline rights-of-ways and operated heavy equipment. During my first year of college I applied to work with Enbridge Energy, which later became Midcoast Energy. I started working with Enbridge at the age of 19 as an Operations Technician. What stood out most to me working with a large organization was the importance of the safety culture. Safety was first and foremost. Protecting our assets was part of the culture and I really enjoyed because my father had instilled in me a strong work ethic. Dad always said to never let the guy standing next to you outwork you. I took this to heart, and I made sure that I was always giving the company what they were paying for and more.
Going The Extra Mile
My first leader at Enbridge taught me a valuable life and career lesson. He encouraged me to always treat our operation area and budget as if they were my own. That resonated with me, so I took extra steps to help protect our company’s assets. During evening and weekends when I was off work and running around, I would choose driving routes that I knew crossed over our ROWs. This allowed me to keep an extra watch on the company’s lines especially when I expected someone to be digging nearby. If I noticed equipment, I would stop and visit with the landowner or operator. During those visits I got to know the people and had the opportunity to speak with them about the importance of 811 and share other public awareness information.
Most Memorable Career Moment
I think we all have memorable moments in our careers that stand out over time. For me that moment occurred in 2009. I was driving around when I noticed a backhoe excavator digging near one of our ROWs, so I stopped to see why I hadn’t received a One Call notice. The operator said he would be crossing two of our 12-inch gas lines, but he had been told by the landowner not to worry because our lines were buried ten feet deep. You can imagine the operator’s shock when I located the lines for him and confirmed they were four feet deep! This revelation obviously changed his digging plans that day. I think he also realized that my visit that day possibly saved his life. One simple call to 811 saves lives and releases contractors of liability. That one free call truly pays large dividends!
My Favorite Safety Mantra
My mantra has become, “never assume anything,” and I believe this is the best practice when it comes to reducing damages. I can’t tell you how many times we have had individuals damage our lines or come close to it because they assumed our lines were deeper. Many of our utilities in this area were put in 30-50 years ago. As a result, land erosion over the years has left them much shallower than some realize.
Safety: No Comfort Zones
Midcoast Energy has truly instilled a safety culture in me that is hard to beat. I am not just talking about what we do at the field level, but what our executives and upper management do, as well. Everyone walks the talk when it comes to safety. In recent years I challenged myself and others to step out of our comfort zones to spread damage prevention awareness and expose more people to 811. I realized that we needed to reach new audiences. So, this year my local damage prevention chapter relocated our annual safe digging and backhoe rodeo to an event in another town. By doing this we were able to reach a whole new audience about 811! The event was very successful. Not only have we been invited back next year, but we have also been asked to partner with them on other events at the same facility. Good things happen when we challenge ourselves to step out of our comfort zones to spread the damage prevention message! My passion is to continue making a difference for Midcoast and our communities by keeping people safe and spreading the gospel about 811.