By Marsha Hendler
Although a woman never cares to divulge her age, I must admit I am a product of the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. It is difficult to imagine there was a time when women were made to feel guilty if they worked outside the home, had no say in government, or had limited access to quality childcare. Thanks to my role-model mother and family, I was brought up to believe that as woman my career possibilities were limitless.
I do not think anyone was caught too off-guard when I chose for my first career the field of Hotel and Restaurant Management. At the time, an HRM career was frowned on for women because we worked in facilities with hundreds of bedrooms. I was one of only three women in pursuit of their HRM degrees at the University of Houston. Following 25 years in the hospitality field, I began by second career as an independent marketing consultant and it would be this role that led me to the oilfield. Five-years into my third career I am once again finding limited access for women, and I find myself asking; is it self-imposed or gender-imposed?
I have been asked many times if I am the first female oilfield operator and I know the answer to that is absolutely not, but there are too few women working as independent operators or wildcatters. There are a large number of women in the corporate arenas as engineers, geologists, accounts, and other support services. It is in the role as an independent oil producer where our numbers are lacking.
One challenge of an independent oil producer is the need for development capital. There are several ways to find funds. If your name appears on a purchased list of high-income households, you may have received a call from a phone solicitor. Rarely do operators initiate these calls, rather solicitation firms skilled in phone sales conduct them. These investments firms frequently offer drilling interests at heavily promoted or inflated fees in order to cover their commission and office operations. Although dealing directly with the operator is no guarantee of a successful project, it does help to eliminate the inflated pricing and, should the well come in, your ROI is increased. However, here comes the next Catch 22 for women. How do you ever find an operator with whom to do business?
Since the vast majority of operators are men, they typically share this information with one another. These conversations are initiated on the golf course, in the deer blind or at the club, and those are not relationships women generally have access to. In a casual conversation with a banker recently, he too referred to the oil and gas industry as a “good old boys club” and recognized the limited access that women have for investment.
My involvement came through a life-long friend, Noel Scully. Noel, chairman of Scully Exploration LLC, has been an operator for the past 32 years. The first time I joined him in a conversation about the industry I was hooked. I was frustrated that I did not understand everything being discussed, but I knew I wanted to know more and I wanted to be involved. Noel not only recognized that burn, but threw open the door and welcomed me in. Just having the opportunity does not make a professional. That comes from a commitment of funds, of time and growing knowledge. One of my early stops was to the University of Texas at Austin-Petroleum Extension Service for an armload of books, manuals and a dictionary for the oil and gas industry. I would take notes from conference calls on two tablets. The first would be a summary of the discussion; the second was a list of all the terms and slang I needed to look up later. I clearly recognized I had been given a unique gift and I wanted to prove to myself most of all that I deserved to me a member of the club.
Stepping Out On My Own
Before long other oilmen were suggesting I consider becoming an operator. I had been traveling to Carrizo Springs in the Eagle Ford Shale region for months and would join a group for lunch whenever possible. I would sit and listen to their stories and discussions on drilling and completion. One day the gentleman sitting next to me (I lovingly refer to the group as my bubba’s) looked at me and said, “I’ve been watching you little girl and you get this. You should become an operator.” The seed was planted. My head was spinning all the way back to San Antonio. It was not long before I was filing papers with the Railroad Commission of Texas to become an operator, and TerraFina Energy was born.
What happened next was the real surprise. I was shocked at the number of women who stepped forward to ask how I had done it and how could they be involved. Women were eager to stand alongside me and roll the dice on completing a successful well. I began to realize, just as in my first career, women wanted in. They understood the risk, the challenges and were not afraid of either. They just needed help to find their way in. Many of them were single parents planning for college others need to supplement their income while others discussed their need to be financially independent of their spouse. They all had a need.
Is It Self-Imposed or Gender-Imposed?
Is the reason there are not more women involved in the energy business as independent operators self-imposed or gender-imposed? I can only say it appears to be environmentally imposed. When you put women in the environment and give them the opportunity, they are eager to join in the exploration for minerals. Today women are holding 60 percent of the wealth in America and represent more than 40 percent of all Americans with gross investable assets above $600,000.
Moreover, an impressive 60 percent of high net worth women have earned their own fortunes. They should have a place at the table.
I have traded in my designer outfits and Manolo Blahnik heels for boots and jeans, and that may be part of it – dressing for success is what they called it when woman bankers and lawyers were told to wear these ridiculous suits with bowties. Nevertheless, it was Marilyn Monroe that said, “Give a woman the right pair of shoes and she can accomplish anything.” Her wisdom holds true for me today.
Marsha Hendler is President of San Antonio based TerraFina Energy. Collaborating with Scully Exploration, they have wells in Guadalupe County, Texas, and the newly discovered Heart of Texas Field. The Heart of Texas is estimated to have 35 BCF of natural gas and 20 million barrels of Texas crude.
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