HERSTORY: History of Women in Offshore Oil, Gas

Rebecca Ponton, South Texas landman by day and longtime freelance writer, is on a mission to document the achievements of our industry trailblazers … the women in offshore oil and gas who are making history. Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry will be the first of its kind … and if all goes well, it should be online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in May of 2016.

Rebecca’s roots run deep in South Texas. She was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, where her father was vice president for Coastal States Gas Producing Company under the legendary oilman, Oscar Wyatt. Rebecca married a completions engineer (now global technologist) for Halliburton in 1992. She and her husband lived abroad for 14 years, taking their turn on the international expat circuit – first to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), then on to Azerbaijan, and later Kazakhstan, culminating in a five-year stay in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. Their son was born in Dubai in 1997 and spent a considerable portion of his childhood enjoying the benefits living abroad, being exposed to different cultures and learning to speak Arabic and Russian. Rebecca and her family moved back to Texas in 2006.

Rebecca has been around the oil and gas industry all her life, but was never directly involved with it until becoming a landman five years ago. Prior to that, she had worked as a freelance writer for 20 years. It wasn’t until she began working as a landman that she started to notice the lack of women in the industry (although not so much in land work) and decided to combine her two skills, and set out to write a book about women in oil and gas.

“As a journalist, whenever I want to learn about something, I start looking for a book to read. When I started doing land work and noticed the lack of women in other areas of the industry, I began trying to find books about women in oil and gas, and found very few,” Rebecca said. 

Now just to clarify, when we talk about "lack of women" in the industry, that doesn't mean they are not there! Women represent 19 percent of the industry according to a 2015 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute. Rebecca believes there is a general lack of awareness of who they are, where they are and what they have accomplished – even within the oil and gas industry itself.

If you consider the petroleum industry is worldwide and look beyond our own borders, you can really begin to appreciate the incredible achievements of women in the industry. For example, some of the women who are featured in Breaking the Gas Ceiling include:

  • Ann Cairns, now president of international markets for MasterCard Worldwide and who was the first female engineer certified to work in the North Sea
  • Sara Akbar, the lone female oilfield firefighter during the Gulf War, and now CEO of Kuwait Energy
  • Anne-Grete Ellingsen, the first female offshore installation manager in the North Sea, former Deputy Minister of Oil & Energy in Norway, and now CEO of GCO NODE  
  • Abigail Ross Hopper, the first female and current director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Closer to home, we have

  • Cindy B. Taylor, CEO of Oil States International
  • Kathy Lehne, CEO of Sun Coast Resources
  • Elizabeth Cantrell, COO Concord Oil (formerly President & CEO of Kerns Petroleum)
  • Marsha Hendler, President & CEO of TerraFina Energy
  • Stacy Schusterman, CEO of Samson Energy Company 

Of course, women do not have to achieve the rank of C-suite to make an impact in the industry.

Breaking the Gas Ceiling originally started as a broad overview of women in the oil and gas industry, going back as far as the mid-1800s.  

“It was so interesting to discover that women have been a part of the industry just as long as men have, which means from the very beginning,” Rebecca said. 

As Rebecca started working on the offshore chapter, it took on a life of its own and has become a separate book. Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry will be the first in a series on women in oil and gas. In all, the 20 or so women profiled in Rebecca’s book were chosen for a specific reason and most of them have achieved "firsts" in their fields.  


Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.

Jan Mitchell  |  August 13, 2018
I started working as a petroleum engineer in the North Sea in 1980/81. I think there was one female engineer went offshore before me, although she worked just for a couple of days, not regularly, as I recall.
Katie Mehnert  |  April 19, 2016
Proud to call you both amazing women in energy! And happy to see these stories told.
Charlene Burman  |  April 14, 2016
Rebecca should interview some of the women that I worked offshore with in the Gulf of Mexico for Schlumberger in the early 1980s. We were open-hole logging engineers, working on some of the first deepwater drilling rigs at that time. We were often the only women on a rig with a hundred men.
Carol Gonzalez  |  April 14, 2016
Next book should include Cheryl Collarini, CEO Collarini Staffing, and founder of Collarini Engineering.