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Looking to the future is the job description for transplanted Newfoundlander

Deidre Norman at the Imperial Oil offices in Calgary, Alta. Photograph for Canadian Energy Centre

Deidre Norman wants people to be proud of the Canadian energy industry: “It’s something I can say wholeheartedly that I am,” says the 34-year-old future opportunities integrated subsurface supervisor at Calgary’s Imperial Oil.

“Canada has such a large resource base, so the potential for Canada to supply energy to the globe is really high,” says Norman, who’s been at the company for 10 years, and in her current role for about a year.

“What’s exciting for us is the focus on how you do that: being environmentally conscious and working to improve technology to provide energy cheaper and faster. There’s a lot of personal excitement and optimism for the ability we have to do that here.”

Norman’s optimism is well suited for an engineering job with the word “future” baked right into its title. It’s a position that has Norman and her team searching for new ideas and technologies to help meet future energy needs while lowering the overall environmental footprint.

In her last role, she led Imperial’s activities related to Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an industry group focused on accelerating the pace of improvement in environmental performance. That role had her based at the company’s research centre in Calgary. The work going on there, Norman says, is one reason she’s pumped about the future of the sector.

“I’m very proud of Imperial’s research centre and its brilliant scientists developing next generation technologies reducing environmental footprint in water, land, tailings and GHG emissions.”

Originally from the Newfoundland town of Rushoon, a small community on Placentia Bay, about a three-hour drive from St. John’s, Norman became interested in energy while pursuing engineering studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland. While her home province has a strong energy sector, notably in the offshore Hibernia oil field, co-op work terms opened her eyes to the possibilities of working elsewhere.

“Memorial offers a really great engineering program where you do work terms as part of the program,” says Norman, noting that it took her six years to get her degree, but that included two years of valuable, hands-on work experience.

“I had a consulting job in Dubai, I worked for offshore regulators, and I had terms at Exxon Mobil in Newfoundland and Imperial in Calgary. The Exxon and Imperial jobs really solidified the fact that this was the industry I wanted to work in, and the work term at Imperial definitely helped build a bridge for getting hired here full time.”

Looking back, Norman says her interest in engineering and energy grew from her love of math and science in high school.

“I was always inquisitive about how things work and how to do things better,” she says. “At work, it all comes together: Oil and gas play a critical role in Canada, and moving the needle on how we find it, refine it, transport it and use it is a very intriguing proposition for me.”

You could also say that she finds working at Imperial, Canada’s largest refiner of petroleum products, to be an intriguing proposition.

The sheer size of the 6,000-person company, which explores for, produces, refines and markets petroleum products, means that employees like Norman have opportunities to move around, discover new career paths and new ways to grow on the job.

“In 10 years here, it feels like I’ve had the opportunity to work for almost 10 different companies,” she says of the variety of roles she’s had. “It’s exciting and appealing, and it sort of shapes people to think creatively and innovate.”

Norman’s also as an active participant in the energy sector’s extracurricular activities — she’s a member of the Society for Petroleum Engineers and continues to be an Imperial Oil representative for COSIA.

Norman and her husband Wayne, also a transplanted Newfoundlander working in Alberta’s energy sector, have made Calgary their home.

They take full advantage of the outdoor activities the city and surrounding area have to offer, as well as the burgeoning arts scene. But they know the skills they’ve gained would also be valued back home or in other Canadian locations. The idea of taking their careers overseas is alluring, too, and Norman is grateful for what she already learned during her stint abroad.

“It gives you a real appreciation for diversity,” she says, referring to her university term spent working for global infrastructure firm AECOM in the Middle East.

“Canada is a great example of diversity in the workplace and I’d say Dubai exemplified that even more, bringing in experts from all over the globe, who had different approaches and different perspectives. Learning about how we do things and why we do things differently, and meeting people from different cultures, is always an eye-opening experience.”

Norman’s advice to new grads and people contemplating the field is to be flexible and open to working in a variety of areas in order to find your passion.

“Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know,” she says. “Take advice from others and be open to options. If someone’s giving you an opportunity, there’s probably a good reason why. Take it!”