London Connection Q&A: Danielle Whiteley

MSc Petroleum Geoscience current student Danielle Whiteley talks about drilling, sticking to her study timetable and not getting her hands dirty
MSc Petroleum Geoscience current student Danielle Whiteley
"When I received my grades and feedback, the sense of personal achievement was well worth the effort I’d invested"
I’m honestly happy working my way through, module by module, and if I come up against a hurdle I’ll face it at that time

When you were a child and people asked “what do you want to do when you grow up?”, did you ever imagine the answer would one day be: I work in drilling? 
Absolutely not. I knew pretty much nothing about the Oil and Gas Industry until starting my first job after graduating.

You originally studied business, did you intend to follow a different career path? 
I was unsure of a definitive career path, but I knew I enjoyed project and analytical work, and also wanted to travel. So business was a good start.

How did you end up as a Drilling and Engineering Associate?
After graduating I got my first position as an IT Analyst supporting Business Computer packages for a major Oil and Gas Operator. From there I moved roles, including Business Analyst, then in 2004 moved to Houston to work specifically with Drilling and Completion software for Marathon Oil. To ensure I could support engineers with the use of these software packages I had to learn the objectives, workflows and engineering behind them. I attended a lot of courses, online learning, tutorials and home study. After a couple of years in Houston I transferred back to the UK and moved across to the Drilling Engineering team to work on the Brae UK assets. 

Can you tell us what your role entails?
My role is to support and assist with the engineering of oil and gas wells in the UK Brae field. Tasks vary widely, from working with subsurface engineers to establish wellpath location and design, to well engineering (i.e. casing design, fluids analysis, drill bit and assembly selection), to  post-well evaluations, reporting and well cost analysis. Other tasks involve Well Performance Management, Well Cost Planning and Directional Survey data management. 

What attracted you to study the MSc in Petroleum Geoscience?
I wanted a course that I could a) work on at home at my own pace without attending scheduled classes; b) a course that upon completion would qualify me to progress beyond my current role, which I’m pretty much capped at due to lack of engineering or geoscience qualifications; and c) undertake a subject that I have an active interest in (Geoscience). 

Danielle Whiteley in London

With a demanding job, two small children and a husband that travels a lot, where do you find the time to fit your studies in?
I have a study timetable and stick to it religiously. I work during the day, and study four evenings a week from 8pm-11pm when the children are in bed and attend the library for a full day's study at the weekend.  Sundays I always spend with my family. My parents stay close by and do help a lot as does my husband when he is home. With the course I’ve selected, there are set term times, so I’m not always studying – we get a long break over summer, and a couple of weeks over Christmas.

Do you hope that working towards this Petroleum-based qualification will help you to progress within the company?
Yes, my current target is to get to a Drilling Engineer level, and work without supervision of my peers.  

What aspects of the degree are you particularly enjoying?
Well, certainly not the exams! I do, however, enjoy the coursework. The first set were very tough, especially as I hadn’t studied in a long time and I had to really work hard on them, but when I received my grades and feedback the sense of personal achievement was well worth the effort I’d invested.

You have successfully completed your first module. Do you have a time frame in mind of when you would like to finish the degree?
I’m really not sure. Of course, my aim is as soon as possible, but I feel if I push too far, something will have to be sacrificed – whether it be my time to study at the level I’m currently working at, or the time spent with my family – neither of which I want to compromise on. So I’m honestly happy working my way through, module by module, and if I come up against a hurdle I’ll face it at that time.

Are you looking forward to the Petroleum Systems field trip?
Yes I am. Distance learning doesn’t often allow a long, in-depth period of study on the same topic, so I think it will be very beneficial.

Your employer Marathon are very supportive of you and your study. How important and helpful is it to feel backed by them?
Marathon do help which just makes it that bit easier. They have a great Educational Assistance Scheme where they help with funding. They also assist with my access to required software packages and I’m lucky enough to get technical support provisions from the geoscientists when I need advice. I also get a study leave allocation and my managers are very flexible around exam time, which I am very appreciative of.

Is your role purely office based or are there offshore visits and hard hat moments?
My work is office based, but for the last drilling campaign in the North Sea West Brae field I had a few trips offshore on a semi-submersible rig. These trips are very beneficial for meeting rig crew personnel and reviewing engineering programs and designs. So, yes, there are some hard hat moments, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say I get my hands dirty.

Just the idea of drilling doesn’t make me think of it as being a woman’s world. Is it very male dominated?
Offshore, perhaps yes – from my experience there are more men than women within the drilling rig crews, although within the engineering department in the Aberdeen office the drilling personnel male-to-female ratio is actually 50:50. Maybe 10-20 years ago it was less likely for women to be in drilling engineering, but now I find I work with both men and women and am lucky to work with some fantastic female and male engineers.    

Professionally, where do you hope to be in five years time?
I’d be very happy in an office based drilling engineering role, whether in the UK or abroad.