Breaking New Ground: Oil Boom Draws More Women to Industry

They are finding training and jobs in previously all-male field.

ByABC News
May 20, 2012, 7:56 AM

LIBERAL, Kan., May 20, 2012 — -- Even before she suits up in her overalls and laces up in steel toe boots to head out to a drilling rig, Linda Trujillo is breaking new ground as one of the pioneers of America's gold rush.

The single mother of three says she first heard about the good paying jobs available in the oil fields from her older sister.

Trujillo made the decision to quit her job at a fast food restaurant in New Mexico, and move her family to Kansas-- one of the states experiencing an oil boom.

"I needed to make something better for my kids," Trujillo says.

Trujillo says she spent the money from her tax refund to earn a license to drive heavy construction equipment. Today's she the only woman on a six man drilling crew.

New technology and techniques like horizontal drilling are turning lands once thought to be sucked dry of oil and gas into vast untapped reserves that could produce for more than 100 years. Trujillio mixes the chemicals used in the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

"It's really stressful to work around a lot of men, and being the only woman, it's kind of awkward, but I manage. They've adjusted to me," she says.

Trujillo's bold move was once unheard of, in what has mostly been a man's world. But that world is beginning to show dramatic change.

According to Rigzone, a group that analyzes data for the oil and gas industry, approximately 48,900 women worked in America's oil fields in 2004. The latest numbers from 2012 show 78,400 women working in the industry—an increase of 29,500 in just seven years.

At the Warren County Career Center in Ohio, high school junior Kailee Cain is learning how to operate heavy equipment so that she has a heads up over the rest once she enters college to pursue an engineering degree.

"Construction is just as open to women as it is to men," she told ABC News. "I don't see anything difficult about it. It's kind of nice to be able to work around a bunch of guys. It makes me feel empowered."

Amber Eitniear, a mother of three, recently completed the program at the Warren County Center. She said that she trained to become a heavy equipment operator after hearing about the money being made in horizontal drilling and the job opportunities.

She said the program taught her every aspect of heavy equipment operations, site construction and how to dig ditches and basements.

"You name it, they teach it here," she said.

Their instructor, Dick Reese, says 1 in 4 students at the center are women. Many are drawn to the high-paying jobs coming with new oil drilling in eastern Ohio.

"A lot of them do a heck of a lot better than the guys do. It's amazing," Reese says.

Just outside Hardtner, Kansas, geologist Leah Kasten looks over rock samples brought up from a rig now drilling in what was once a wheat field.

The former teacher recently left her job, to work in the oil fields of Kansas and Oklahoma. Her new career will bring her a six figure salary, but it also requires spending three weeks out of the month in a "man camp," temporary housing set up for oil field workers.

The small trailers parked next to the giant drilling rig are outfitted with running water, bathrooms, a small living space and even a washer and dryer.

Kasten says she fits right in, and is treated well by her fellow employees.

"There's absolutely nothing, there's no disadvantage to being a woman out here, Kasten says. I don't even think about it. I really don't"

In Kansas, Linda Trujillo's gamble to start a new career has paid off. She's now making $14.65 per hour with plenty of overtime pay. She says she has moved her family from a "run down trailer" to a three-bedroom house.Todd Seba, Linda's supervisor, calls her one of his most valuable employees.

"We're a team, so as long as you're part of the team, you fit in, Seba says. She's good, she's good, she's part of the team and that means a lot."