As we celebrate Earth Week 2023, we're reminded of our 125-year history of delivering pioneering projects that positively impact the world, and Bechtel's commitment to leave a lasting legacy on the environment and communities where we operate.
We spoke with Bechtel Energy's chief environmental engineer Audrey Bard about the future of engineering and how engineers will help solve challenges like the global energy transition and achieving net zero. Listen now.
Interviewee: Audrey Bard (AB)
Interviewer: Chloe Pantophlet (CP)
CP: Why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself? Tell me about your background and what you do at Bechtel.
AB: My name is Audrey Bard and I am the Global Chief of Engineering for Bechtel’s Energy Division. I have an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic University and the master’s degree in environmental engineering from McGill University-both of those in Canada. And I was first hired as an intern with Bechtel halfway through my master's degree, and I stayed on after my first summer, and I've never left since. I started my career doing both environmental and mechanical engineering work with Bechtel’s Mining and Metals division, and I have since held many different environmental roles for Bechtel. I have lived and worked in Canada and Turkey, in the UK, and I’m currently working in the U.S. The projects I've worked on range from mines to aluminum smelters, pipelines, nuclear power plants, liquefied natural gas plants and, more recently, energy transition fuel facilities. I'm now based in Houston, TX and I'm overseeing environmental and regulatory aspects for the design and planning for the execution of Bechtel's energy projects. My day-to-day work involves helping the environmental team address challenging issues, reviewing designs such as water and wastewater treatment, reviewing regulatory requirements to ensure that the projects we are building are correctly interpreting and applying environmental legislation, and more generally, I look after our environmental people to ensure that we have the right resources to execute our projects.
CP: What made you decide to go into environmental engineering?
AB: Well, I did my mechanical engineering degree and then whilst I thought that that was interesting, I couldn't really picture myself doing just that and I had a strong interest for anything environmental related. Then I went and did my master’s in environmental engineering, and I just really loved it and felt that I could really relate and contribute in that field.
CP: Why do you think today’s students should consider an engineering career?
AB: Personally, I studied engineering because I've always loved learning and I was looking for a field and a career that wouldn't constrain me to doing just one thing again and again. I feel like engineering now is broader than ever. An engineering degree is basically more like a problem solver degree. What we learn in university is how to breakdown the large, complex problem into manageable pieces in order to resolve it. From there you can basically learn the specifics to do anything be successful at it. Being an engineer opens doors to almost infinite numbers of careers and it's not limited to specific subject or geographical region or industry. Another thing which I think is great about engineering is that we often do project work, which means that once we are done with the project, we have to move on to the next. I'm always learning changing teams, changing supervisors and I'm always stretching professionally. No two problems are exactly the same, so the work never gets boring. I would recommend engineering to students who are curious about the physical world and would like to think to learn and to problem solve. I do find that being an engineer can sometimes be challenging. The work is not always easy, but designing something on paper and then seeing it built is incredibly rewarding.
CP: Awesome. Just to elaborate on that a little bit more. Do you want to talk about maybe your favorite part of the job or a favorite project you've worked on and why?
AB: I think my favorite part of my job is finding better ways or better process for doing something. I'm continuously looking for developing tools that help me keep my work structured and also deliver better outcomes. Just one example of a recent project I've developed a process for assessing whether an existing facility was meeting applicable environmental legislation and whether any changes that we were making to it, so I broke down the environmental aspects such as air and noise emissions and compared the existing situation with current environmental legislation as well as with previous legislation, and determine whether any changes would have to be made to the equipment in order for its operation to be permitted. This assessment involved different things, amongst others. We had a noise specialist go on site and physically walk around equipment to map noise emissions, which was an unusual approach. But this allowed us to mitigate environmental and regulatory risk. I like to feel like I am having a positive impact through my work and there are many different ways to do the same thing. I like to feel that I'm having a positive impact through my work and there are many ways, many different ways to do the same thing and I like to try and find the way that has the most positive impact and maybe is somewhat innovative or more strategic.
CP: Great, and what excites you about the future of engineering? What do you look forward to seeing in the next five, ten, or twenty years in the engineering field?
AB: What I'm most excited I'm in the engineering field is to see where the energy transition will take us. Fifteen years ago, when I started in the environmental field, I would never have thought that we'd be where we are today, that there would be all this momentum around environmental issues. We have a huge engineering and societal challenge facing us and it's really amazing to see how we can deploy creativity and knowledge to solve this global problem that we're facing. We’ve got a very steep hill still to climb, but it's really great to see all the energy and the ingenuity at work and all the fascinating innovations that scientists and engineers are coming up with in my line of work. In my life of work specifically we are seeing al lot of development in alternative greener fuels that would potentially allow some sectors that cannot switch away from hydrocarbons to decarbonize. I'm personally looking forward to seeing and also to shaping what the new normal will be for the next generations.