Expanding horizons: Cathy Smith’s journey with Tilbury Expansion

Two workers look over the LNG facility
/ Community, Natural gas

Cathy Smith is a senior project manager working on FortisBC’s Tilbury Expansion. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Cathy to talk about her background as a woman in engineering and learn more about what working on FortisBC’s Tilbury Expansion means to her.

Cathy - a FortisBC engineer

Interview with Cathy 

Cathy’s areas of focus on the Tilbury Expansion includes the Tilbury LNG Storage Expansion Project, which serves to improve the resiliency of the gas system with 3 BCF of liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage and vaporization, and the Tilbury Truck Loadout Expansion Project, which increases our truck loading bays from two to four, allowing us to meet the growing needs of our truck-to-ship refuelling customers.

Both expansion projects support federal, provincial and FortisBC’s climate targets by meeting increasing customer demand for LNG as a lower-carbon fuel for marine vessels.

As a senior project manager for Tilbury LNG Storage Expansion and Tilbury Truck Loadout Expansion Project, what does your typical day look like?

That's one of the things I like about project management, there is no typical day for me. It depends on what phase of the project we’re in—if we're in the engineering and design phases of the project or doing procurement, I could be spending a lot of time at the engineering service provider's office. Right now, I find myself frequently at site working with contractors and making those personal connections. 

A lot of project management is communication and facilitating people to be able to do their jobs, which is an aspect of the job that I enjoy the most.

The Tilbury LNG facility in Delta, BC
The existing Tilbury LNG Project site in Delta

To you, why is the Tilbury LNG facility and its expansions a necessary piece of infrastructure for the Lower Mainland?

Tilbury is a very interesting project. I think gas is an integral energy source for British Columbians and part of our lower-carbon future. Take the latest cold snap in January for example, the demand for natural gas was two times as much as the demand for electricity. This demonstrated the necessity and the reliance we have on both electricity and natural gas; you can’t have one without the other. 

As for the Tilbury LNG storage tank and the expansion projects, we’re in absolute need of additional energy storage for our growing population ensuring that our customers have reliable energy to heat their homes when they need it during the cold snaps. Additionally, the Tilbury LNG Expansion Projects can help to further reduce local air pollution by providing newer LNG marine vessels with a cleaner fuel source. 

Can you speak to your education and background? 

I graduated university with a degree in chemical engineering and I started my career working for a small engineering consulting company based in Aberdeen, Scotland. That was great experience. I was able to move around and dip my toes into all different departments. I then had the opportunity to move to Canada and gain experience in upstream, midstream and downstream, later getting my citizenship and staying. 

The one thing I have always liked about projects is that they have beginnings and ends. It’s really rewarding seeing the work that you've done come to life. The other thing that appealed to me was the future of LNG and the fact that it’s a great transition fuel. Combine the two, I now have my dream job.

What made you interested in chemical engineering?

Throughout my youth, I had a leaning towards sciences, and I really enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of math and science. It's almost like solving puzzles daily. The reason I ended up pursuing chemical engineering is that you have a lot of options. There were people that I graduated with that went into food and food processing, pulp and paper, nuclear and petrochemicals—to name a few—but the industry is massive and there is something for everyone. 

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment in your career so far? 

I would have to say some of my greatest accomplishments are when I’m able to see a project from its inception to its end. Surprisingly, that opportunity happens less than you may think. But when you get to a project’s commissioning date and you reflect on the project’s journey, the feeling is so rewarding. On one project, I visited the site when it was just a lumpy field and thought, “Oh man, we've got a lot of earthwork ahead of us.” When I went back two and a half years later, there was a large facility sitting on the same land. It's incredibly rewarding and that's why I love projects.

What advice would you give to a fellow female interested in pursuing a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) career path? 

I really enjoyed my education and career path, and given the chance, I would do it again. I feel very fortunate in my career with the opportunities that I have had and the doors that have been opened for me. We are always going to need problem solvers and I would encourage all of the women who enjoy the sciences to pursue a STEM career path.

If there's anything that I would say to someone considering a STEM career, it’s to get as many varied experiences as you can. Don’t chase the job title, chase the experience. Your degree will only take you so far. 

Being able to work for a small company and dip my toes into different departments really gave me the tools to be an engineer. I was also able to work with experienced colleagues who took the time to mentor the younger engineers—an experience like that is worth its weight in gold. 

Try as much stuff as you can because the experiences might take you somewhere unexpected.

Before we wrap this interview up, when you’re not managing projects, what are you up to? 

I’m an avid traveller. Prior to the pandemic, my friends and I would pick a country and we'd go for a trip and explore it. My next bucket list country is Costa Rica. Outside of travelling, I love to play obscure British songs on the guitar, I enjoy hiking and I work on home improvements. I recently built myself a custom closet! But yes, when the Tilbury projects get approved, I’ll be celebrating the news with a trip to a new country, and then back to work to see the projects through. 

Learn more about how the Tilbury Phase 1 LNG Expansion Projects and Tilbury Phase 2 LNG Expansion Projects respond to the increasing demand for LNG for both energy resilience in the Lower Mainland and as a lower-carbon marine fuel alternative.