Working in retail, Laura McFalls longed for a new purpose and career path. Little did she know at the time, a jump into the energy industry would lead her to a life offshore, sometimes hundreds of miles away from land.
Laura McFalls, from Reston, Virginia, just started her 5th year in the offshore workforce at Halliburton. She is currently a Senior Mudlogger in the Gulf of Mexico. As a mudlogger, Laura plays a crucial role in the exploratory drilling process. She monitors surface volumes of mud pits and various pressures on the formation and drilling equipment, along with a plethora of variable conditions downhole. The different interactions between the various conditions that Laura monitors downhole serve as possible indicators of influxes of formation fluid that could potentially lead to well control events, kicks and (worst case scenario) blowouts. Her duties also include the utilization of a high-powered microscope to evaluate the rock cuttings, suspended within the drilling mud that are drilled and circulated to surface, for evidence of wellbore stability, hydrocarbon or pay zones and to optimize the drilling. For the safety of her vessel and crew, Laura installs and maintains surface sensors and mud gas extraction equipment.
Before finding herself offshore, Laura worked as a general manager in retail. She wanted a change, so she took a jump into a completely different industry; energy. Initially, Laura thought her career would be land-based, but has enjoyed the surprise of working on the water. For this Virginian, the offshore world has been full of unknowns.“A college friend of mine had been working offshore for 5 years or so, and had transitioned into an office position. He said he could hire me so I took a chance. I had no idea what I would be doing and did not even realize I would be offshore at first.”
In an industry where men make up 97%, Laura is one of the only women on board the vessels she works on. There may be 150 male crew members and Laura will be one of just a handful of women on board. She admits it hasn’t always been easy working in the male-dominated offshore energy industry. She has felt pressure to prove herself from the get-go, day-in and day-out, until trust was established. When she is reassigned to a new rig, she states, “I feel like I’m back to square one with the rig crew and have to prove myself all over again.”
Laura values trust in her working relationships for two poignant reasons. Firstly, she undertakes a huge responsibility of monitoring the well as she is the ever-vigilant, second set of eyes for the driller, company man and the rest of the rig crew, with respect to the safety of the operations on board. “They need to trust that I am watching the well and that I will alert them if and when something is not right.” Secondly, Laura knows that proving one has the knowledge and skill set to do the job can take some time, especially as a woman offshore. “Another big part of it is for them to trust that I have the knowledge and skill to do my job and fully comprehend what the sensors or the rocks are telling me. It takes time to build that bridge and I feel like as a woman it takes a little longer to build; mostly because there aren’t very many of us in this role offshore.”
Before trust is established, it is not uncommon for Laura to insist that no one touches her tools, especially while they are in her hands, “I have occasionally run into situations where a counterpart will literally and figuratively take the wrench out of my hand because they don’t think I can complete a physical labor task. Little do they know, getting my hands dirty is my favorite part of my job!”
As a mudlogger, there are plenty of opportunities to get her hands dirty on the job. Between running miles of cable, installing junction boxes, wiring sensors, setting up networks, and building complete gas systems, Laura thrives in her line of work. She boasts, “I love my job. It’s different every day, it challenges me, and there is always something to learn.”
Laura plans on a long-term career offshore, enjoying the benefit of working a rotation that provides her about 6 months of time off per year. “I don’t intend on changing paths any time soon! Working offshore has provided me with a schedule that allows me to travel the world. What more can you ask for, really? On my days off I’m usually jetting around the globe or road-tripping around the United States.”
The pressure of being thrown into the deep end of the pool in a new job is always daunting. Let alone being thrown into that pool the size of an ocean to ensure the safety of hundreds of people at any given moment. University and college textbooks do not prepare anyone for the ‘sink or swim’ approach that is sometimes involved with the type of work that the offshore work demands. Nor does one’s salt and strength of character become more pronounced and highlighted than when faced with carrying the weight of so many people’s lives within your job description. Looks to us like Laura is excelling with both grace and grit!
The Women Offshore Foundation is an online organization and resource center for a diverse workforce on the water. Its mission is to propel women into meaningful careers through access to a worldwide community and professional development resources, while raising awareness amongst industry leaders and decision makers about issues affecting women on the water. Contact Women Offshore today: firstname.lastname@example.org.