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Breaking Gender Barriers on the Frontlines

The long-held notion that oilfield jobs can be dirty, difficult and dangerous, and thus suited for only men, is being turned on its head by growing numbers of women – locally and globally. 

Drawn by, among other things, attractive pay and benefits, growth opportunities, and a sense of excitement unique to the rugged oilfield setting, more women are gravitating to careers that have long been the preserve of their male counterparts. This influx, hitherto limited to non-technical functions such as finance, human resources and legal affairs, is being witnessed in engineering and technical fields as well, aided in part by Oil & Gas majors championing gender diversity and workforce inclusivity.

The example of Sara Al Hinai, a young Omani oilfield professional, is illustrative of this trend. A Chemical Engineer by training, she counts herself among a rising number of Omani women bucking cultural and societal pressures to pursue career ambitions that require them to endure and thrive in a maledominated work environment.

Where there were hardly any women working on oil rigs or at site locations a decade ago, their numbers are growing today – albeit modestly – signifying a marked shift in the career choices of women no longer enamored of plush office-based settings but willing to rough it out in the short-term for greater professional and career rewards in the long-term.

Sara, who works night-shifts as part of a drilling fluids crew employed by global oilfield services leader Halliburton, says she has enthusiastically embraced the rigors of her job as a Drilling Fluids Engineer stationed in a desert location several hundred kilometres away from home and family. Deployed in the field on a rotational shift, she works 28 days at a stretch before heading back to Muscat on a well-deserved break for a similar period. The routine requires oilfield workers like her to forgo many conveniences and comforts that her Muscat-based counterparts take for granted. 

But the personal sacrifices will pay rich dividends, says Sara. “I believe that in order to grow you need to constantly put yourself out of your comfort zone, be willing to sacrifice and have the skill to persevere through tough times. For many women who have aspirations to succeed in the Oil and Gas field, despite the challenging circumstances, it will be worth it to go through this execution stage that will provide necessary skills and knowledge to help them achieve their end goal.”

Challenging workplace environment

From the outset, Sara had set her heart on an oilfield job that promised to be challenging, yet rewarding. Acquiring a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom, Halliburton sent her for intensive, hands-on Returning to Oman in 2018 as a fullfledged Drilling Fluids Engineer, Sara joined Halliburton’s local operations and was assigned to an oilfield location in the interior part of the country. training at their facilities in Texas. 

The role of a Drilling Fluids Engineer can be a demanding one, explains Sara. “The role involves helping our customer control wellbore pressures and providing additional support to solve challenges posed by formations. I do this by ensuring that our drilling fluid used to drill the well maintains the required properties at all times and that our fluid performance aligns with our customer’s goals for a particular well. I perform regular treatment on our drilling fluid to keep the fluid’s properties in check.” 

Indeed, the skills and capabilities of a Drilling Fluids Engineer can be severely tested during critical cementing jobs, according to Sara. A slight miscalculation or inadvertent judgment call may have serious consequences, she warns. 

“Cement jobs require everyone on the rig site to pay full attention and be prepared for any sudden challenge. As drilling fluids engineers, we must plan ahead to support the cement crew, ensure we have sufficient on-site inventory and an effective pit management plan in place that everyone complies with and understands. Additionally, 

my role is to perform theoretical calculations, as well as real-time monitoring, to ensure we manage the cement properly once it reaches the surface. What makes this operation challenging is the pressure of knowing that one mistake can cause a much larger issue, which is why it is essential to pay close attention. At the end, all of this work is very rewarding when successful.”

Support system

Sara acknowledges that oilfield work can be extremely challenging for youngsters like her, but credits a support system that includes family, mentors and well-wishers for keeping her well-motivated and driven. But she’s also mindful that challenges help build character and strength, and thus chooses to embrace difficulties to develop herself personally and professionally. As she recalls, “I’ve grown so much in both technically and in leadership skills through hands-on experience in just one year.”

Looking back over the two years since she’s been posted at site, Sara says the overall experience has been immensely satisfying.


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