For wellsite geologist Amanda Barlow, being the only woman on a rig filled with 180 men is just another day on the job. And, while the idea of sharing space (not to mention a bathroom!) with that many guys is likely enough to make any woman cringe, for Amanda, it’s an environment she’s grown to love.
With over 30 years of experience as a successful geologist, Amanda is always finding new ways to channel her energy and keep her skills sharp. And, it’s that thirst for constant learning and activity that led her to recently publish her second book titled “An Inconvenient Life”, which documents her journey working in the upstream oil and gas industry.
Needless to say, Amanda has a lot on her plate. We sat down with her to chat about her experience in the industry, how she feels about working in such male-dominated environments, and what’s on the horizon for her next.
An Early Love for Science
Growing up in Melbourne's northern suburbs in Australia with six sisters and a brother, Amanda was the only person in her family to follow a STEM career path. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Geology from Ballarat University (now Federation University).
“The degree I did had a strong focus on ‘hard rock’ geology and saw me enter the workforce exploring for gold in the central Victorian goldfields region,” she explains.
From there, Amanda progressed into base metals drilling programs in northwest Queensland’s Mount Isa mineral province, working at fly-in fly-out work sites. But, after several years, she felt the itch to work offshore in the oil and gas industry.
“I managed to get a start as a mud logger and my interest in working offshore was cemented,” she shares, “I was already used to working away from home for weeks at a time—12 hours a day—so the routine was easy to adapt to. I really enjoyed the offshore environment and the remoteness of the workplace.”
While some changes in her personal circumstances caused her to temporarily leave the environment she loved in order to work close to home as a project geologist, she eventually managed to find her way back offshore—the place where she feels most at home.
Living Life Offshore
“The technology and logistics of the offshore operations are on a scale that you just don’t see in the minerals industry,” Amanda elaborates. And, it’s that difference of scale that ultimately kept drawing Amanda back. Well, that and the close-knit atmosphere.
“Being part of a tightly-knit team on a rig is like being part of a big dysfunctional family,” she shares, “No matter how different your home and personal lives are, everyone pulls together as a team on the rig.”
Another perk Amanda couldn’t resist? “The best part for me is the fact that the whole time I’m on the rig, I don’t have to do any cooking, cleaning, or laundry—it’s all done for you! Only a mother of three kids can appreciate how amazing that is!”
It’s a Man’s World
Of course, there’s no denying that the rigs tend to be overrun with men. In fact, there are plenty of times when Amanda says she was the only woman on the whole rig. But, she claims it never really bothered her.
“I’ve always worked in a male-dominated environment and don’t even think about it when I’m at work,” she says, “I train in the gym with the guys, I eat meals with the guys, and I work out on the deck with the guys. So, I don’t see myself as any different than anyone else out there.”
And, while she’s had her occasional run-in with only male changing room facilities, someone wandering into her cabin after she had just gotten out of the shower, and—of course—the toilet seat always being left up, Amanda maintains that being a woman on the rigs otherwise hasn’t been an issue.
“The industry has softened its tone somewhat over the years with more women now working in the industry,” she explains, “The walls of the office are no longer covered in posters of naked women and the desktop screens now show family portraits rather than the model-of-the-month.”
“There’s no reason why women can’t contribute just as much as men to the energy industry,” she encourages, “Physical strength isn’t a prerequisite for most jobs these days, so it’s up to women to find a field they are interested in and go for it.”
Sharing Her Story
With the downturn in the oil and gas industry, Amanda found herself out of work. “That gave me a good opportunity to reflect on my career and all the hard work I had put in to get to where I am today,” Amanda says.
It was that reflection that inspired her to share her story in her new book, “An Inconvenient Life”, which explains what it’s like to work in the upstream oil and gas industry.
“My book explains how my career has progressed from the mining industry to the offshore oil and gas industry and the hard work I’ve had to put in over the 30 plus years of my career,” she adds, “It also shares how I juggled a career, working away from home, and bringing up three kids when both parents worked fly-in fly-out jobs.”
Finding Pink Petro
Needless to say, being a woman in such a male-heavy field—in an offshore role, no less—can be isolating at times. And, that’s exactly why Amanda was happy to find a community like Pink Petro.
“It’s a fantastic and vibrant community of like-minded women (and men!) who are all genuinely interested in sharing their knowledge, ideas, inspiration, and motivation,” says Amanda, “I have been overwhelmed with the response I’ve received in regards to my book and also my work situation, with members offering advice and support in many different ways.”
“I look forward to contributing in any way I can to the success of the community and its amazing members,” she adds.
A dedicated fitness fanatic, Amanda’s health continues to be one of her core focuses. She’s a recreational marathon runner, weight trainer, and an accredited and registered fitness instructor and personal trainer. And, “An Inconvenient Life” is actually Amanda’s second published work. Her first book is actually a personal account of the ultra endurance race she ran through the Amazon Jungle in Brazil in 2013.
But, when it comes to her career, Amanda’s trying to make equal strides there as well. “Like so many geoscientists worldwide, I have been a victim of the global downturn in the energy and commodities sectors for most of this year and continue to actively search for opportunities for employment in the offshore drilling industry,” she shares.
Despite the downturn, Amanda is hopeful that she’ll be able to secure a position in a drilling campaign and continue with the career she’s spent most of her professional life building.
And, with her awe-inspiring experience as a geologist, marathoner, mother, and published author, we can’t help but to feel confident that she’ll undoubtedly land on her feet. After all, if you can conquer an ultra marathon in the jungle or a rig filled with nothing but men, we like to think there’s nothing you can’t do.