Meet a pipeline professional who’s helping protect the environment

This is the fourth post in our human side of environmental protection series and this week we’re going to get to know Tom Knapik, manager of environment at Plains Midstream Canada (PMC).

Tom Knapik

Tom has an undergraduate degree in geological engineering from Queen’s University, and before joining PMC in 2008, he worked on environmental projects in Canada, the U.S. and Africa. Most notably, he worked in Alberta, Ontario and Chicago, conducting environmental assessments at industrial sites, landfills and refineries and then he spent four years in Africa where he assisted with the development of water and sanitation services.

Tom began his career in the oil and gas industry in 2002, as a project manager with an environmental consulting firm responsible for spill response and remediation projects at well sites and batteries. He now leads a team of environmental professionals at PMC, who help to ensure that environmental protection is a priority across all the organization’s operations and business activities. He also supports the company’s compliance activities, ensuring that everyone is aware of applicable regulations and standards, and that the company meets all expectations.

Q: What does your day-to-day job involve?

Tom: Given the diversity of PMC’s assets and operating areas, my days are never quite the same. Part of my role is to assist or address environmental matters and questions from our operations personnel and other internal departments.

Additionally, I am involved with the update to our Environmental Protection Program where we specify how environmental protection measures are to be included in our business activities.

My team also oversees a number of compliance projects, activities and reports, and of course we have to stay current with new environmental legislation.

When the opportunity presents itself, I like to meet with regulators to keep the lines of communication open, and I also like to spend time in the field.

Q: What environmental aspects are involved in the pre-planning phase of a PMC project?

Tom:  Project planning at PMC involves a number of preliminary evaluations, including that of potential environmental impacts which may be associated with the proposed project. Some environmental studies which would typically be part of that evaluation process include wildlife (for general species and to identify species at risk), aquatics (for fish and fish habitat), terrain evaluation (for wildlife habitat and sensitive soils and terrain), plant studies, archeological studies and, if required, traditional land use (TLU) studies.

My team identifies the particular studies required for each project and, subsequently, retains the specialized (subject matter expert) resources to complete these studies.

In some cases, the findings of the studies can lead to some interesting follow up work! For one particular project, we were conducting environmental studies when crews identified a potential Area of Archaeological Significance (AAS) adjacent to the proposed pipeline route. The First Nations group contracted to complete a traditional land use study confirmed it as an AAS, in advance of any construction activities.

Upon completion of the pipeline construction, our company continued to support the community by funding a summer archeological dig led by the same First Nations group that conducted the traditional land use study. The community obtained the required permits for the excavation and, using community members, conducted the excavation, which resulted in the identification of valuable historical artifacts.

Q: What are you passionate about when it comes to your job?

Tom: There’s always a new challenge! The pipeline industry has changed a great deal in the last five years, partly due to new regulations, but also to an increasing expectation from the public for transparency and accountability – especially in the area of environmental protection. It is my role and the role of my team to find ways to steward our environmental practices.

Resolving what appears to be competing or conflicting expectations is certainly something that drives me to be innovative, imaginative and agile.

Q: How do you feel a concern for the environment reconciles with work in the energy industry?

Tom: Quite nicely, in fact. In my role, I have the opportunity to influence the manner in which we conduct our operations to ensure that our focus is not only on the bottom line, but also on environmental protection. Obviously there are business considerations but these need not be in conflict with safeguarding the environment.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

Tom: I spend most of my free time shuttling my three kids to their various after school programs and sporting events. That keeps me pretty busy, and then, when time permits, you will find me on the golf course!

Tom is just one of the many people working inside the pipeline industry to help protect the environment, and minimize the impact of pipeline operations. You can read more stories like Tom’s in our human side of environmental protection series.

 

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 117,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2014, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.