Through an Inspector's Eyes
Jodie Fedorak has lost track of the number of oil and gas sites she’s visited in her five years as a field inspector with the AER. She has travelled countless hours on Alberta roads, most days only accompanied by her GPS system—or as she lovingly refers to it, “James.”
But when Fedorak reaches her destination, dotted by pump jacks among golden farm fields, it’s go time.
“I have an inquisitive mind, and when I’m on a site, I feel like a detective,” she says. “Every site is like a puzzle that I try to piece together.”
Determining which site to inspect next is easy—AER technical specialists send field centres a “to-check” list on a regular basis. The lists weigh factors such as the last inspection date, whether rules have been broken in the past, company history and performance, what’s being produced, and site size and location.
Today, Fedorak will inspect a relatively “young” crude oil single battery south of Drumheller. According to AER records, this small site has never been inspected. It’s due for a checkup.
Getting Up Close
Fedorak arrives at the site after driving 1.5 hours from the AER’s Midnapore Field Centre. She looks for a sign that identifies the company and confirms its location. Among other things, she scans for potential hazards and a 24-hour emergency phone number. She suits up in fire-resistant coveralls and steel-toe boots and tests her yellow hazardous-gas monitor.
Fedorak pulls a laptop from the back seat and loads the AER’s field inspection system (FIS) for an overview of the well site. “This truck is my office on wheels,” she explains as she takes notes on the site’s inspection and production history, licence numbers, and well data. The FIS is used by AER field staff to keep track of inspections across the province.
The seasoned inspector dons her hard hat, safety glasses, and gloves before stepping out of her truck. “I like to start where the production starts—at the well,” nods Fedorak, stepping across the site toward the pump jack.
She heads over to an orange, metal fencing wrapped around the wellhead to prevent accidental run-ins with vehicles or farm equipment. She then turns to the wellhead itself, checking for leaks, ensuring the area is clean, and measuring the exhaust pipe’s distance from the wellhead. There’s a lot to take in here.
Next, she inspects the well battery inside a shed-like structure, known as the separator measurement building, which hides behind the wellhead. Is the company measuring and reporting how much gas is produced at this site? Fedorak scribbles notes on her clipboard as she moves along.
Her last task is to inspect the storage tanks, which hold oil and produced water. A part of this inspection includes lifting the latch on a black box, called a spill control device. If the box is overflowing onto the ground, Fedorak can write up the company for poor housekeeping. “But that rarely happens,” she adds.
After spending just under an hour on site, Fedorak hops into her truck and inputs her findings into the FIS before returning to the field centre with James as her co-pilot. In less than 24 hours the company will know whether it’s passed the inspection.
It’s been another long, hot day on Alberta’s highways, but Fedorak says she wouldn’t trade her job for the world.
“One of the highlights of what I do is the ability to travel and explore the province,” Fedorak says. “I never know what I’ll find—no two sites or days are the same.”