Last week, we ran a series on how counties in Northern Pennsylvania dealt with the ramp-up and swift decline of natural gas drilling. It’s likely to come back, though, and many people have decided to make a career in the industry — including Amy Gallagher, 39, who got a job with a gas field services firm after graduating from a three-week course run by Pennsylvania College of Technology. She’s a rarity in a very male-dominated profession, but so far she likes what she sees. Here’s a transcribed conversation with Amy, slightly condensed.
“I was part time, for four or five years, and I wasn’t able to find a full-time job. And it was frustrating, because I had a retail background, customer service. I was a benefits administrator, and I could not get an interview. It got to a point where I was like, ‘I’ve got to do something.’
And in my spare time, I spent a lot of time in the garage. I would refinish furniture; if something’s wrong with my car, I’d figure out what was wrong with it. That’s where I felt the most comfortable and the most satisfied, was doing manual labor. In the office, there was no way to measure what I did that day, other than I processed so many applications. I mean it wasn’t anything where I could see the results. I worked for the state of Pennsylvania, in the welfare office. It was a full-time seasonal position — I got laid off in the summer. They called me back and I didn’t go back, because I wanted something else.
So I went to the Career Link in Lycoming County and talked to a career counselor. She suggested the ShaleNET program. I had wanted to get into the gas industry, but administrative — I never thought about being in the field. And when I went to the ShaleNET site, and started reading about it, I started realizing that the qualities that I have matched what they were looking for in the field.
[Getting a job] wasn’t easy. I often wondered if my first name wasn’t a dead giveaway, do you know what I mean? It took me about four months to find a position. My current boss gave me a shot. I told him when I started I wasn’t going to let him down, and I haven’t. For me, it was watching my classmates getting interview after interview after interview, and I was getting rejection after rejection after rejection. So it’s one of them things where it’s like ‘Okay, I have the same qualifications that they do, why am I not being called in?’ But now that I’ve been in the industry, and the guys have seen me work, it’s not hard to find a job.
For the drilling, there’s a lot of activity. It’s almost like being on a giant erector set, is what it reminds me of. When I was a kid I liked the Tonka trucks and Transformers and G.I. Joe and those kinds of things. And I loved playing with Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys, and that’s exactly what it reminds me of. I love that it’s different every single day, it’s not doing the same work over and over and over again.
I’m on call 24/7, so when I get a call I got to go out. What I do is mostly mostly pressure washing. So you go to the rigs, and you pressure wash all the equipment. We also do general roustabout duties — we might hook up flare lines or pick up trash. We do casing prep, and pipe tally, where you actually count the pipe and measure it. You can’t schedule a whole lot, but it was a foot in the door, so I was more than happy to take it.
[The pay is] pretty decent. some places you’ll start out relatively low, but the more you learn, the more you will make. I’ve started at $13 an hour. After 40 hours, it’s time and a half, and that’s where the money is. Because many companies are 80, 90 hours a week.
I plan on moving up. Definitely. There’s like 150 jobs just on the drilling rig itself, and I plan on getting into whatever I can. I plan on learning as much as I can about the entire process, from just being your general roustabout clear up to possibly superintendent. I’m shooting that far ahead.
I have two sons, 16 and 13. They’re very proud of their momma. One wants to be a diesel mechanic. I said ‘you’re going to a technical school,’ and I said ‘you need to get into this industry, because the sky will be the limit.’ I have unlimited opportunity right now.
I’m the only girl that’s been on the drilling rigs, any of them that I’ve been onto. I’ve seen a couple female truck drivers, but I’m the only female roustabout. And it was a little intimidating at first, but the guys were so accommodating, and so supportive. I bust my butt for them, and they notice it. I feel like my job out there is to make their job easier. They pick on me, and it’s fun. I’ll be walking across the pad, and someone will just walk over and say ‘hey, how you doing?’ There are advantages to being female. You don’t want to take advantage, but it’s nice. People go out of their way to make you feel special. I know that I’m treated different, but in a good way. I have not had anybody tell me they don’t want to work with me. It’s awesome.
I would say as big as this shale play is, it’s going to be here quite a while. And once my kids are out of high school, I plan on traveling. I don’t think I’m going to stay in Pennsylvania, I think I’m going to be somewhere else, wherever they send me, a few months at a time. I love to travel, I love meeting new people. I had someone ask me about doing offshore, they had rigs in New Guinea.That’s pretty nice over there. I’m tired of the cold. I did my first 20 degree job the other day, and it was windy, I said to my coworker, I’d rather be out here than in an office somewhere.
I think eventually, I’m sure my body will say you can’t do this anymore. I think there’s going to be a point where I’ll have to go be in the office. I’m not looking forward to it.”