Civil engineer Monick Estrada leaves no structure unclimbed to keep Shell Puget Sound Refinery workers safe

When Monick Estrada began her job hunt as a soon-to-graduate engineering student at the University of Alaska with an interest in the petroleum industry, she set high standards:
“Who’s going to be the safest? Who’s going to be the most environmentally aware? Really, it was about company culture, and Shell was the clear leader.”

Now, just a few months later, Monick works as a civil engineer at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery, responsible for continuous monitoring of half of the refinery’s structures. On a given day, she’s less likely to be in her office than crawling on or under one of the many buildings, towers and other structures on the refinery’s March’s Point property. The structures range from timber to steel, and some have been in continuous use since the refinery was built in 1958.
“A lot of the time I’ve spent here is actually climbing all the structures,’’ Estrada says.

Her job is to make sure that all those structures receive the maintenance and upgrading they need to keep the refinery’s employees and neighbors safe, and the plant’s process humming smoothly so it can provide the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel that fuels life in the Pacific Northwest. Such maintenance often needs to be planned years in advance.

“Structural replacements are pretty pricey, so we’re making sure it’s in our plans for 10 years down the road and we have contractors in place at the right time,” Monick says.

This spring Monick is working on the refinery dock, a vital structure that helps move crude oil from tanker ships into the refinery. Working with commercial divers, she’s surveying the structure both above and below the water line to make sure everything is in perfect working order.

Monick is also becoming a familiar face of the refinery in the larger community. With a co-worker, she does demonstrations for local schools and colleges using a working miniature refinery.

She has given presentations to Anacortes High School and to students from a Skagit Valley College chemistry class who recently visited the refinery.
“They didn’t realize all of the opportunities that are here,” she said.

As a woman in a largely male field, Monick is particularly interested in mentoring female students, and she has drawn at least one potential protégé, a female student at Anacortes High School.
“I was really excited she wanted to shadow me and we’re setting that up right now,” Monick said.

When she’s not working or volunteering in the community, Monick can be found on the trails and waters of Skagit County or traveling the world. “Hiking, paddle-boarding, kayaking. Pretty much anything outdoors, I’m there,” she says. “Last year I went to six different countries in Europe.”