Real talk: Looking into the past and future with a retiring pipeline industry leader

When Patrick Smyth started his career four decades ago, he thought he was going to be a welder. Over time, many twists and turns led him to the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA)—where he is now retiring as a respected leader in one of the country’s most important industries.

“It was a different journey,” said Smyth, retiring Vice President of Performance at CEPA. “Reflecting back, the path gave me a deep appreciation for what happens on the job – from the labourer sweeping the floor all the way up to the executive in the C-suite.”

 

A unique path, a unique perspective

 

A man wearing glasses

At 15 years old, Smyth started his first job with the B.C. Ministry of Parks, building and maintaining trails and camp sites. At the time, he says he enjoyed working more than going to school and dropped out of high school after Grade 11. After completing an apprenticeship, he “recognized the importance of education” and earned a diploma of technology at 28. From there, he went on to complete a Bachelor of Commerce degree and MBA while working full-time.

Smyth started his official “career” in the trades as a welder and heavy-duty mechanic, eventually taking an interest in quality assurance and non-destructive examination. He spent 10 years travelling across western Canada and the north west United States inspecting pulp mills, gas plants, pipelines and other heavy equipment. The job took him overseas as well, working on giant casings in China destined for a mine in Chile.

When he got married, Smyth decided it was time to settle down and took a job working for the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, where he focused on regulatory issues for pipelines. He chuckled as he reflected on how pipeline projects were approved back then.

“There was a group of five individuals who received all of the applications, inspected and audited all of the pipelines and granted the ‘leave to open’ for projects. I would issue the approval and monitor the pipeline through its lifecycle,” he said.

Eventually, Smyth moved to the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, where he led the development of a new regulatory regime for oil and gas development in the province. That role eventually took him to the National Energy Board (NEB), where he climbed the ranks to Vice President and led a team of more than 100 staff consisting of engineers, auditors, inspectors and emergency response specialists.

After seven years with the NEB, Smyth joined CEPA as Vice President of Safety and Engineering, which morphed into his current position—VP of Performance.

He says this unconventional career path has provided him with unique experience and perspectives, which have served him well.

“I have been on the ground. I know what works and what doesn’t work, which gives you a little bit of street cred,” Smyth says with a smile. “I’m not just a guy who went into engineering after high school and worked up to the C-suite. I’ve been in the ditch with the pipe and been on the crane.”

 

Making a difference in the pipeline industry

 

Looking back, Smyth says over his seven years at CEPA, he has made the biggest impact of his career. From ratcheting up the organization’s focus on safety, resilience and security – to evolving the way subject matter experts from Canada’s transmission pipeline companies work together –he is happy to go out on a high note. Smyth credits his team members and staff, who he refers to as “the most enjoyable and talented people I have ever worked with.”

During his time with CEPA, Smyth has helped to raise the international profile of the Canadian pipeline industry. He has presented all over North America and the world, including to the International Pipeline Security Forum, the Rio Pipeline Conference and the Banff Pipeline Workshop.

He was also Chair of the International Pipeline Conference in 2018, which he says is one of the highlights of his career.

Smyth is also proud of the relationship he has helped to forge between CEPA and the Young Pipeliners Association of Canada (YPAC).

 

The future of the pipeline industry

 

Looking to the future, Smyth says while the energy mix is changing, oil and gas will continue to be an important part of that mix for years to come.

“I think the energy industry will become more acceptable to society as it moves toward net zero and continues to refine how it produces oil and gas,” said Smyth. “I see a future with more electric vehicles, an increased use of hydrogen and an evolution of carbon capture and storage. But, if people think we’re not going to have oil and gas, they are dreaming in technicolour.”

He says pipelines will continue to deliver that oil and gas, along with other products, in the safest, most responsible way.

While he continues to be passionate about the pipeline industry, Smyth is looking forward to spending more time with his wife at their cabin near Fairmont B.C., and eventually travel across Canada.

“It has been an interesting journey. Your career, your life, is like a roller coaster. There are many ups and downs – embrace the high points and learn from the low points. I certainly have enjoyed the ride.”

CEPA thanks Patrick Smyth, Vice President, Performance for his leadership over the last seven years, and for his contribution to this article. The Canadian pipeline industry will miss you, Patrick!