Thursday, October 17, 2013

Jennifer Enos

Jennifer Enos is a geologist working in the Oil & Gas field. She has worked for Marathon Oil since 2004. Having graduated from The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, she earned her Master’s degree in Geology from the University of Texas in Austin. She has one son, Ben.

What’s your story, Jennifer?
I grew up here, and in fact, I am a 5th generation Houstonian. There aren’t many people who have family history in Houston that goes back that far. I’m not sure what date that takes us back to, but I can certainly count back five generations.  When I went to college I went to Tennessee to a school called Sewanee, my grandmother was very worried I would never come back. I was real close to my grandparents growing up and so when I was choosing grad schools, I decided to go to the University of Texas. My grandparents were getting older and were not so well and I just really wanted to be closer to home and to them, though I didn’t necessarily expect that I would come back to Houston. I had always said that I would never go into Oil & Gas, it was just not something I was interested in at all, but when I was in the Geology department of UT, the oil companies came to interview there. All you had to do was bring a nice set of clothes, walk down the hall, have an interview and get a job. Obviously it wasn’t quite that easy, but that’s how I ended up back in Houston because it was an easy avenue into employment and it was back near family.

I have a brother in Austin and now he’s the one that’s far away. Everyone else though, my parents are still in town, all of my aunts and uncles are here and my grandparents, before they passed away were here too. They lived very close to work, as do my parents, so I could go and have lunch with them which was really nice.

My husband Eric is a forester. We met when we were at Sewanee, and the major that we both had was called Natural Resources, which was a combination of Geology and Forestry. So we both had a little bit of each, though of course I was heavier in the geology part and he was heavier in the forestry part. But it’s nice because we can understand each other but we don’t really burn each other out. We have one son, Ben – just Ben and a dog! Pretty much every sport Ben could try, he has tried. To say that he has narrowed in sounds silly since it is still three sports, but now he only plays football, baseball and lacrosse.

Why do you do what you do?
I had a really weird way into geology. My grandfather was a geologist, but that’s not what led me into geology at all. Growing up in Houston, I just saw the business side of it, particularly the downside in the 80s when the oil price was really low and people were struggling. So it really wasn’t on my radar. But when I was at Sewanee, I took a Meteorology class when I was a freshman and I loved the professor. He was so enthusiastic and I just really connected with him. He was the Geology professor, but at a tiny little school so he was multi-tasking as the Meteorology professor as well. So I signed up for his Geology class the next semester and just loved it. In fact, when I finished at Sewanee, I was worried that the only reason I’d got a degree in Geology was because I really like the two Geology professors. I was a little bit concerned about my future!

But no, I do really like it, and what I’m doing is totally different to what I was doing in school. Sewanee is a huge campus with very few students. It’s a 10,000 acre campus with about 1100 students, so the footprint of the people is really small. There are all sorts of opportunities for being outside. It’s up on top of a plateau in Tennessee, so we would have most of our labs outside and we would go on these field trips to the Smokey Mountains and camp. That was really the big draw initially, all of the outdoors opportunities that it offered.

Then I got really interested in the real small-scale stuff, like looking under the microscope and thinking about how rocks form. Say you had sandstone – all those little grains of sand. Then over time they get buried and water flows through them and a cement of different minerals grows between the grains. That sort of stuff got me really excited, and there’s a little bit of that in what I do now, but no so much.

In Oil & Gas, for geologists, there are really two different paths for you to take, two different kinds of work. There’s exploration geology, which is probably what most people think about, which is going out to find new reservoirs for oil and gas. Then there’s development geology which is basically once a field has been discovered, you have to think carefully about how to develop it, where to place the wells and how to get the oil and gas out of the ground most efficiently. So Development is what I have done my whole career up until about four months ago. Eventually, though not initially, I felt really comfortable in that role because you do a lot of work with engineers who are in the field actually drilling and operating the wells and I really enjoyed that. So that’s what I was doing when I used to go to Alaska and Wyoming, going out to the wells and meeting those people with hard hats and boots and it was really fun.

You are both petite and a woman, so how did you find working in such a man’s world as the oil fields?
To tell you the truth, I have felt more resistance to my presence in the office than out in the field and that was surprising to me. I don’t really know why that is, but I find the connections out there easy, and once you’ve connected with a person, all that other stuff goes out of the window. For example, I worked Alaska when I first started at Marathon nine years ago and it was perhaps my favorite job, though they’ve all had good things about them. It was also a really important job for me. I would go and spend a lot of time out on the rig when they were drilling wells and I was definitely the only woman out there. All the geologists before me on that team had been men and the engineers too. So they really didn’t have any experience of a woman being on wellsite, but I would go out there and spend days and days at a time. A lot of it was downtime – while they are drilling there’s not really a lot to do, but there are different points to make decisions and that’s why I was there. So I would just sit around in the Company Man’s office and talk with the guys. We would just chat, talking about everything, so I think that is probably why I didn’t ever have much of a problem out in the field. Back in the office though there’s more politics, more competition and you don’t really get to know people to the same degree because you are working and you are going home at night.

So that was Development work, but my new job is Exploration. I didn’t plan my job change, but working for a big company, you move assignments a lot. There are senior people making those career development decisions to move you along the path of your career to capitalize on and strengthen your skillset. Prior to this I was working Wyoming and I had a really weird assortment of assets. One of them was a one hundred year old-plus oilfield which chugged along and always did really well, but the other two were very challenged from an economic standpoint.  So I had to recommend to Marathon management that we get rid of them, which wasn’t a nice thing to do, but it was necessary. So with one sold and the other one shutting down, I needed to move on.

Moving to the new job has been both terrifying and exciting. My area is South Texas.  The Eagle Ford Shale is a sedimentary rock formation underlying much of that area. It is a huge boom and one of our ‘shale oil plays’. It’s in an area of old oil and gas fields and Eagle Ford is a new development. My group is trying to identify opportunities both above and below the Eagle Ford to produce oil and gas. An example is the Austin Chalk which is an old reservoir. Up north, around Giddings and moving west of there, is traditional Austin Chalk production. Then Eagle Ford is down south of that and we are trying, with new technology, to extend the Austin Chalk play right down to where we are. We have a lot of data because the Eagle Ford is being developed and because there are older oil fields there, and we are trying to make use of new technology to find other things above or below those.

And I mean literally above or below. We are looking to see what got missed. There’s a lot that was missed because back when my grandfather was practicing as a geologist , there was very different technology to evaluate reserves and to try to recover them in an economic fashion.

What advice would you give to someone new to the Oil & Gas business?
I was talking with someone about this very recently and I did start out pretty naïve, just assuming that people were going to teach me what I needed to learn, but that’s not the case and probably more so for women than for men. So I would say, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and show your strength, and ask for what you want.” Asking questions shows the strength of your desire to learn, not your ignorance. The quieter you are, the more you look like you don’t care, like you are uninvolved and your mind’s not clicking, so ask questions.

Who has been the greatest influence on your life?
Most definitely my grandparents, in particular my mother’s parents, and my parents as well. They have all really set the example of forming strong relationships, both family and friendships and having that be the core of your life. So when you talk about finding balance, maybe I ask for a lot too. For example in this recent job change, I was given the opportunity to go to a great job ,but it was in Oklahoma City, so we wouldn’t even consider it because it was away from our family and our community and I want Ben to feel rooted. Marathon was fine with that though I know that if I continue to have opportunities to move up the company, it will become more difficult to say no to moving, and though Ben might be off at college by then, my parents will still be here and might need more help. They don’t need any help now – they help us! But a day will come…

How to do you find, or seek to find, balance in your life?
Finding balance is a constant struggle. I really like my job, so when I’m at work I’m not sitting around thinking, “I wish I was at home with my family or I wish I was doing something else.” But then things will happen, like this past week, where I had a work event that I had to attend, but I had been gone every night earlier in the week. Although usually I try to wait until Ben’s out the door to school, but that morning I was leaving early for work, so I said, “I’ll see you late tonight.” And he replied, “That’s what I figured. That’s the way it always is.” It felt like he was two years old again when I would have to leave him crying at daycare! But he said it so matter-of-fact, he didn’t sound wounded. So I think that’s more my own problem and I think it feels worse to me than it does to him. It’s a fact of life though, we all have to go out and make a living. We are very lucky people that we can do jobs that we enjoy and it’s nice for our kids to see that, and also to see that supporting a family is hard work and an important business and all those things. Still, sometimes emotions get the best of me. I do get to be here and attend a lot though because we live close to work and I don’t travel very much. Plus I work for a company that has good values and holds your family life as something of high importance.

Where is your happy place in Houston?
My recharge is being with my family whether that’s going to watch Ben play football or sitting on the couch with him watching TV or walking the dog with Eric, and that’s the real truth of it.

What does Houston mean to you?
Obviously it’s home to me. I think if I were to live someplace else, I would always feel like I was on vacation. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy it, but it is hard to imagine feeling roots someplace else. I guess that’s a limitation of mine, but it’s the truth.  I’m really proud of Houston. A lot of people like to put it down, people who live here as well as people who don’t live here, so I am always out defending my city! I think they do it out of ignorance because I don’t think people realize what the city has to offer. A lot of people who move to this city move to the suburbs, and I know that you can have satisfying community life there too, but the things that I think about when I think of Houston, somebody who is living in say Katy doesn’t get to experience very often. Houston is a hardworking city, a really interesting mix of people and cultures and I think a lot of parts of Houston are really beautiful.

What is your favorite restaurant?
There are tons of places! Probably right now my favorite is Pondicheri. I love it! There’s also a place where we love to go but I don’t know how to pronounce it but it’s spelled POSCOL, it’s an Italian restaurant on Westheimer and Montrose and its owned by the man who owns Damarco’s and Dolce Vita. It’s just the kind of place where they have lots of dishes that you can share, so Eric and I will have a pasta dish and, and Ben too if he comes with us, and we will order more and more bread so we can mop up all the sauce. You know what I mean, when you are tempted to lick the bowl?

What is your Houston secret?
I think that people don’t realize that the neighborhoods in this city are as strong as they are, particularly in the inner part of the city, close to and inside the Loop. How many people do you know who say, “Now we are having kids, we need to move out to the suburbs because we want the kids to go to good schools and we want them to have communities where they feel safe to ride their bikes around”? Well, our kids do that right here in Braes Heights, they have a great school and community right here. I do think that is something that people even within the city don’t know about or appreciate. I’m constantly telling young families that I work with, “You know, there’s this great neighborhood inside the loop…”

If you could change one thing about Houston…
How spread out the city is… or the traffic… I hate for people to have to drive an hour each day to get to work. But changing that might not be good because that would change how things are internally. If all the people that lived within the Greater Houston area lived several miles further in, then the character would change, wouldn’t it? We’d be like Chicago – a great city, but where everybody’s having to build upwards. Living in a close-in neighborhood, in a house with a yard like we do, would be unheard of there. So let’s scratch that change.

Oh, I know! What I would change, for sure, would be the mosquitoes! Surely there’s something we can figure out to get rid of the mosquitoes!

Who would be your own Inspiring Houston Woman?
There are many women within our own community who would have been on my list, but really at the top would be my mother, Nancy Smith. My mom is a really unique person. When I was in high school she went back to work and she got involved in working in the hospital system in Houston because of volunteer work she’d done before. She was inspired to become an ordained minister because she wanted to get involved in hospital chaplaincy. So she was ordained relatively late in life, after I was married, and she never saw any boundaries to that, she just went for what she wanted. She stirs the pot, she really does. She’s ordained as a Baptist and when she was working, she was only one of two Baptist hospital chaplains in the state.

But she’s very multi-faith, she’s learned so much about other faiths and she connects with a lot of parts of other faiths too, which as a hospital chaplain is only right. She worked at MD Anderson for years and at a hospice for years, and she didn’t shy away from the hardest jobs. Her hospice was home-hospice, so she was visiting people in their homes. When she was at the hospital, she felt a huge part of her responsibility wasn’t just to the patients, it was to the staff too. She recognized a need within the nursing staff and would organize a retreat for the nurses where they would get a massage and have meditation time. She retired when her mother was very, very ill. As a daughter she’s inspiring, but as a woman in Houston, I think that she’s just great. 

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