ARNEGARD, N.D. – Newcomers to the drilling rig Jennifer Olsen supervises are surprised to see a woman sitting in the company man’s chair.
“Every time someone opens that door, they’ll say ‘Where’s the company man? Or they’ll say ‘I have the wrong trailer,’” she said.
Jennifer, 31, Billings, Mont., works as a drilling consultant, most often referred to as a company man, a position rarely held by women.
She’s following in the footsteps of her father, Eric Olsen, who also is a company man and has worked in the oil industry for 30 years.
After she earned a petroleum engineering degree and got experience through internships and working for an oilfield service company, she began working with her father.
“He just threw me on some rigs and said call me if you have any questions,” Jennifer said.
She’s supervised drilling operations around the country, both with her dad and on her own.
They’ve been working together in the Bakken for True Oil for about a year, with Eric working the day shift and Jennifer taking over at night.
“She’s real proficient,” Eric said. “She knows what she’s doing and she knows how to handle the guys out there.”
As a college student at Montana Tech, Jennifer was one of the few women in her engineering classes. She said she had one professor who advised her to get out of the program because he thought women would not do well in petroleum engineering.
“It just made me work harder,” said Jennifer, who earned an A in that professor’s class.
Other women who graduated with her ended up taking office jobs.
“That life’s not for me,” she said.
Jennifer lives on the rig location in a two-bedroom trailer she shares with her father, sleeping during the day wearing ear plugs designed for drummers so the noise of the rig doesn’t wake her. She takes over operations at 6 p.m., with her German shepherd by her side, and ensures that everything runs smoothly until 6 a.m.
Occasionally a service company will have a woman crew member, but for the most part, Jennifer supervises all men.
“They all work really well with me out here,” she said.
Some try to call her company woman or company person, but Jennifer said she prefers company man because that’s what the position is called.
“We just call her the boss,” said Mike Wipf, a driller on the rig Jennifer supervises.
Jennifer and her father work two weeks and then have two weeks off. During her off weeks, Jennifer spends time with her boyfriend, an electrical engineer, and keeps busy as chairwoman of the Republican Party of Yellowstone County in Montana.
Her brother is about to graduate with his petroleum engineering degree and plans to work with them as an intern.
“If you grow up with an oil guy, you kind of get stuck with it because you hear about it every day,” Eric said.
Jennifer hopes that being a female company man won’t always be rare.
“There needs to be more of us out here,” she said.