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The energy boom: It’s not just for men

KENEDY — A stiff, chilly wind from the north whips through the city.

Ingrid Hollinger isn’t fazed. She’s felt this kind of cold before.

“I’m used to it by now,” she says, standing in the shadows of an oil rig. “You kind of get used to it after a while.”

It’s here at a recently built training facility that the oil field drilling instructor molds the next generation of energy workers.

Expert after expert has made predictions about the Eagle Ford Shale energy play, about how it will continue to be the Coastal Bend’s economic driver.

Some estimate as many as 10,000 new jobs will be created within the next five years, maybe even sooner. And today women are finding their place in the energy industry.

“Yes, it’s a man’s world, but women can do many of these jobs, too,” said Hollinger, a grandmother of seven. “More and more businesses are seeing that.”

Make no mistake about it: The oil and gas industry is testosterone-heavy. Only 24 percent of the nation’s science, engineering and technology workforce is female, compared with an overall workforce that is made up of 51 percent women, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact & Diversity. Still, more energy companies are hiring females to work in a variety of roles, from corporate management positions to driving truckers, from technicians to mechanics.

Related: Diana Frazier talks the talk about women and oil

An analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures conducted by the oil and gas industry news service Rigzone determined 46 percent of all new jobs in the oil and gas industry went to women during the first quarter of 2013. Many experts think that benchmark held steady, if not improved in 2014, as Eagle Ford drilling really took off.

“Women are part of the workforce, a major talent,” said Becky Motal, president of Association of Women in Energy. “The oil and gas industry now realizes that if you don’t tap into that pool of talent, you’re going to miss out.”

Hollinger helps manage a training facility just of Farm-to-Market Road 2102 for the Wood Group, an international energy services company. Recently hired oil and gas workers enroll in classes here to learn the basics skills needed to do a wide range of energy jobs. Those with field experience can pick up new skills for other jobs.

Some courses are computer-based. Some are done in the field with rig equipment, even simulators.

During the week, Hollinger stays in a camper at the facility that’s situated just yards from a company-run man camp. And on weekends, she drives three and a half hours to see her husband at their home near College Station.

“I know I’m making a difference, in the industry and in people’s lives,” Hollinger said.

Hollinger’s job as a trainer has quickly become essential.

Not just because of thousands of new workers entering the energy industry. Scores more are expected to leave it soon.

A report by the Society of Petroleum Engineers estimates as much as 50 percent of skilled workers — those with more than 20 years of experience — in the energy field could retire within the four to six years. It’s hoped that women will be able to fill many of those vacancies.

Krishina Cavazos snagged one last spring.

She drives trucks on short hauls at various Eagle Ford locations for a fueling and chemical company in Robstown. Her shifts can run 14 hours, and often involve her loading and unloading trucks and tanks using heavy sets that mostly carry hazardous materials.

It’s no surprise the pull of the industry would have an effect on Cavazos, who professes to having been raised with a Radio Shack circuit board instead of Barbie dolls. Her father worked on offshore rigs and in the oil fields as an instrument technician.

“It’s kind of natural that I followed him into the oil field,” said Cavazos, adding that she enjoys the physical labor part of working in the shale. “I like to wear my 6-inch heels. Just because I work like a man, that doesn’t mean I have to look like one.”

She has worked as an electrician apprentice, as a licensed therapist and even as a secretary. Cavazos got her commercial driver’s license after graduating courses on the subject at Del Mar College, which has created scores of curricula for students seeking to enter oil and gas.

“This was a perfect fit for me,” Cavazos said. “We’re in South Texas. The energy industry has helped us grow. This is my chance to do my part.”

Demand for truck drivers is expected to spike in the next few years, particularly in mining and oil and gas industries. And that could be good news for the nation’s 3.5 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, 786,620 of whom are in Texas. A report last year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that segment of the industry will grow 11 percent — or by 192,000 jobs — within the next eight years. Median pay, or midway point, for a commercial driver was $38,200 a year as of May 2012, according to labor bureau statistics. The highest paid 10 percent averaged $28.32 an hour, or $58,910 a year, though it’s not unrealistic from experienced drivers to earn nearly $80,000.

Jennifer Wood remembers the looks she got when she began her job as an oil trader. More to the point, she felt them.

Wood grew up in a home that nurtured science; her father was a chemical engineer, her mother a microbiologist.

As an oil trader, it’s her job to buy and sell barrels of oil and other energy commodities on behalf of Trafigura, a multinational trading company. Until about a year ago, Wood was the only female trader on the floor in Houston. Today, there are about a dozen.

“The growth opportunity is out there,” Wood said.

 

This article was written by Chris Ramirez from Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.