Friday, August 6, 2010

Guest Contributor Genevieve Shope, Master's Student and Petroleum Engineer, Writes About Working in the "Oil Field"

Working in the oilfield is generally perceived as the gushing derricks of Texas, with workers covered in grease and crude throwing around large tools and pieces of equipment. Times have changed since those days as technology and safety have advanced within the industry.

I have had the privilege to be a part of working in two of the most well known areas of exploration and production in the world, the North Slope of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Although the majority of the work in Alaska is on land or man-made islands, there are offshore operations that have been going on for many years in the Cook Inlet and more recently the Arctic Ocean.

Working offshore, from being the cleaning crew to the man in charge, is tough and takes a strenuous toll on workers and those closest to them. Many of the people who work in the Gulf work on a rotational schedule. Imagine missing holidays, birthdays, even just the smallest events that many take for granted. That is one of the sacrifices one makes to work in an industry full of challenges to get the petroleum that the world consumes every day. Although I never spent a birthday at home and only had 5 holidays off in slightly over 5 years, the challenges of the work were my driving force. To be able to say I worked in -40 degree temperatures without windchill to working in the Gulf of Mexico, the "family" you make at work keeps you going day in and day out.

For a female, there are a few obstacles that are encountered along with the already demanding tasks at hand. One that I found multiple times was the lack of accommodations for a woman aboard many of the platforms. There is, however, always work that needs to be done so this did not stop me from being busy. Another is gaining the respect of some tough, grouchy, hard headed workers who must listen to a women college graduate tell them what to do. Overall the experience is amazing.

Concerns over safety were always brought to the forefront of every task and pounded in a worker’s head from the moment he or she was hired. What has occurred in the Gulf is tragic and has given a safe and environmentally conscious industry a horrible name. There is no question that the world cannot operate without petroleum, so the domino effect of the BP tragedy will disperse throughout all companies who operate in the industry.

All companies, including the service company I work for, go through paperwork and meetings multiple times everyday to ensure that safety measurements are met. At times the joke can be that more time is spent on the paperwork than on actually working on the well. But at the end of the day everyone wants to walk away with all five fingers on each hand, and all five toes on each foot and go safely back to their families.

Genevieve Shope
B.S. in Petroleum Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Master of Resource Law Studies Student, Sturm College of Law

[Editor's note: Ms. Shope began her petroleum career in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where she worked in the coiled tubing department. Later she was promoted to a cell leading position in Maurice, Louisana. In that position she was responsible for her firm's coiled tubing, nitrogen, and small pumping operations in the Gulf of Mexico. In the picture above, Ms. Shope (the person looking up) is on the back of a coiled tubing rig in Alaska.]

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