Men, be prepared to look over your shoulder

Marcellus Shale creating new and unique opportunities for women

Amelia Roncone used to be an operating room nurse at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh.

Amelia Roncone

She did not like it very much.

After a bit of soul-searching she decided to leave her job in favor of a period of enlightenment and a new career challenge, tackling an entire new industry – sales director for Bridgeport, W.Va.-based Lightning Energy Services. The firm conducts trucking for the oil and gas industries, as well as drilling for both.

Ms. Roncone could not be happier with her career switch.

“It’s been great,” she pronounced during a recent interview. “I have been working on expanding both sides of the business.”

To look at Roncone, a self-described “girly girl,” you would have no idea that she travels on a regular basis to Marcellus Shale drilling sites in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The makeup, dresses and jewelry aren’t meant to throw you off.

“When I first started, I was intimidated by the Good Old Boys Club,” Ms. Rancone recalled, adding that she didn’t wear makeup and tried to come across as a tomboy. “But, I am a girly girl and I need to be okay with me.”

Like kindred spirits, she soon realized that other women were facing similar challenges in the growing Marcellus Shale fields of eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

The women wanted to stay true to themselves and succeed in an industry dominated by males.
Amelia Roncone
To help women succeed in the energy business, Ms. Roncone formed “Young Professional Women in Energy in 2013.” The mission of the nonprofit, which focuses on gas, oil, coal, wind, solar, nuclear and solar industries, is to help women compete in the energy field by providing professional development opportunity through education, mentoring and networking.

To date, YPWE has more than 100 members (including some men), as well as a Chapter in West Virginia. Ms. Roncone said she is planning on starting a third YPWE Chapter in Ohio later this year, followed by one in Texas in 2015.

“It’s 2014 and more women are going into male-dominated industries, like construction,” said Audrey Guskey, a marketing professor at Duquesne University. “People, both men and women, are seeing things differently than they used to.”

The Marcellus Shale natural gas formation, located in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and parts of New York, covers about 65,000 square miles and has been the lead story of many a newscast in recent years. On the plus side, one can easily perceive the many economic benefits it is having on once-fledgling communities. Fervent opposition is being led from groups fearing that underground water tables will become contaminated through the extraction of underground gas.

Still, the economic benefits are hard to ignore, especially in a region that has been hard hit by the decline of the domestic steel industry several decades ago.

According to the state Public Utility Commission, municipalities throughout Pennsylvania received $225 million from Act 13, which was signed into law in 2012 and represents a major overhaul of the state oil and gas law. Act 13 places an impact fee on every well drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.

As well, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry said 245,000 jobs in the state were related to Marcellus Shale during the third quarter of 2013. Of all the new hires working in the state’s shale industry, 96 percent are from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York. It is believed there is enough natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation to supply the entire Northeast.

So how do women fit into this picture? Simple, there are opportunities for well-paid jobs in all of the industry’s sectors, said a female energy industry veteran.

“Having worked in energy pre- and post-Marcellus Shale, I can tell you there are significantly more opportunities today and tomorrow than there were yesterday,” said Laurel Ziemba, director of local government affairs for Range Resources of Canonsburg, Pa.

“Job projections will continue to climb from entry level positions to advanced degrees and an average industry salary of $90,000. For me personally, I find it very rewarding to be able to raise my family so close to where I grew up, but oil and gas (also) provides women a platform to launch a career in this region or across the globe if that’s where you see yourself. It’s really limitless.”

And that is what Ms. Roncone believes.

In addition to working for Lightning Energy Services, the YPWE, she has also started a catering company, Amelia’s Allegheny Catering, where, on weekends, she will drive out to a well site in rural Pennsylvania and sell food to the workers.

The “girly-girl” also is working with Christina Knieriem, who holds a degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, to develop a line of fire-proof clothing geared to women who work at well sites. Ms. Roncone, who has to roll up the legs of her coveralls when she visits a well site, says there is an absence of any clothing of this kind geared toward women working in the industry. Their clothing line, which includes jeans, coveralls, a baseball tee shirt and a button-down shirt, should be available by fall.

“We want women to say this is what I wear at work and I like it,” said Ms. Knieriem, who belongs to YPWE. “We are not out to reinvent the wheel. The clothing will be proper (for women) and safe.”

Ms. Roncone said it is all about women feeling comfortable in the industry.

“We are teaching women to be more confident,” she added, noting that YPWE is beginning a mentorship program and will be going to going into area high schools in the fall to talk about Marcellus Shale and the various employment opportunities it has spawned.

“We need to get people focused on the big picture.”



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