Managing Ourselves, our Communities and our Companies in the Age of Energy Opportunity

By Rebecca Roberts, President
Chevron Pipe Line Co.

2006 Women's Global Leadership Conference in Energy and Technology

Hilton Americas, Houston, Texas

One of the most prized assets we have in the fields of energy and technology is knowledge. So I want to commend Gulf Publishing Co. for enhancing our knowledge base through events like this. They allow us to learn from one another — one of the most effective ways to improve our skills.

Today, I'll talk about some things I learned while I was juggling kids and building a career. I'll share with you some of the changes going on in the energy industry and talk a bit about what we're doing in Chevron to meet the world's demand for energy. The common denominator for my 30-plus years in the industry can be summed up in a single word: opportunity.

The energy industry provided opportunity for me back when I was a young college graduate, wife and a mother. It wasn't easy, as you'll hear in a minute, but here I am more than 30 years into a very rewarding career in the oil and gas business. And today, there is more opportunity in the energy industry than ever before for women — and men — who possess strong backgrounds in science, engineering and technology.

There's never been a more exciting time to be in the energy industry. The availability of reliable and affordable energy is at the heart of economic development throughout the world. Global energy demand is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent over the next 20 years. Much of that demand growth will be fueled by a global population that is expected to grow by 1.4 billion people over the next 20 years. It's also being driven by the booming economies of China and India.

More people than ever before expect a range of energy-related products, whether it is a simple gas burner on a stove, a light switch, a computer, a refrigerator or a car. The result is a sharply growing demand for new energy sources and a massive worldwide effort to meet that demand. To meet rising global energy demand, we are pushing further into new frontiers — literally going where no man or woman or drill bit has gone before.

One hundred years ago, hydrocarbons literally seeped up through the ground in many places — like in the old TV show The Beverly Hillbillies - and gave our great-grandfathers visible clues of where to drill for oil.

Now, we're exploring and producing in thousands of feet of ocean water — miles below the waves — in the coldest and the hottest places on earth using the most sophisticated technology on the planet to find new sources of energy. It's not an accident that we're operating in these rugged new frontiers of energy. In order to meet the projected rate of world energy demand, the industry will need to invest roughly $17 trillion over the next 25 years. This is twice our current national debt.

At Chevron alone, we have more than 45 projects over half a billion dollars in size. We plan to hire more than 4,000 people this year — that's triple the number just two years ago. I can tell you that it's the same story throughout the industry, as I'm sure most of you know.

But the world of energy was a much different place when I arrived on the scene in 1974. I didn't get into the energy business because of a burning desire to help advance economic growth and human progress. No, I jumped at my first job as a chemist with Texaco in Henry, Louisiana, because Texaco offered me more money than I'd ever thought I'd make.

You see, my husband and I married when in college. I had our first child a month after I graduated. We'd go to the grocery store, buy diapers, baby formula and Hamburger Helper. Then we'd count the money we had left to see if there was enough to buy the hamburger. I was ambitious - I originally planned to get my Ph.D. in chemistry by the time I was 24 and to find a cure for cancer. We had bills to pay, however, so I jumped at that job Texaco offered me.

But I was the first female professional hired for a field position, and the guys there did their best to run me off. I wanted to quit the first week on the job, but my husband convinced me to give it a month — and another month — and then another month. He too liked that paycheck.

I remember the first time I called in to stay home and take care of my sick baby son. When I came back to work, my boss said to me, "You made your choice - your career. You can't stay home when your kid is sick." I learned to call in sick when my kids were ill.

Another time, I was told that I would never be considered for a manager's position in the field.

I am sure that many of you who were around back then have similar stories.

Despite those challenges, a funny thing happened. I grew to love this business and the people in it, so I stayed. And as my career progressed in the 1980s and 1990s - through upstream technology, natural gas marketing and business development, corporate headquarters, downstream and power - to running Chevron's pipeline business today, I saw a big shift in attitudes toward women in the industry.

Increasing numbers of women — and a more enlightened generation of men — came into the business and helped create opportunities for others. Today, we actively seek and develop women — and men — of all colors and cultures. Chevron operates in 180 different countries around the world. We not only appreciate the value of diversity, we also embrace it as a business imperative in the global business we are in. In fact, today our opportunities are bounded by the availability of a diverse, experienced workforce.

And then there's technology.

Increasingly, the success of hydrocarbon exploration and production rests on the smart, economical application of technology — especially at a time when demand requires us to develop all the resources we have available to us.

Whether it is oil so thick that you have to cut it from the rock, or wells drilled in water so deep that the rock beneath the surface is hot enough to fry eggs — and the pressure is like a dump truck parked on your fingernail — or whether it's converting charcoal-like hydrocarbons or agricultural crops to clean fuel for your car — technology is a major driving force in the energy industry. Everywhere you look, technology and ingenuity are reshaping our industry like never before. We are improving existing technologies to help us get more out of known crude oil and natural gas fields in places such as Texas and California and to find new fields in remote places such as ultra deep water.

We're linking technologies from the upstream and downstream ends of the energy value chain to tap difficult resources, such as extra-heavy oil from tar sands.

We're expanding transportation fuel supplies with gas-to-liquids and biofuel technology. And, we're investing in research and development to diversify world energy feedstocks and energy sources, such as shale, solar, hydrogen and others.

I can still remember being amazed when I was a child playing with my first chemistry set — seeing the miracle of a chemical reaction that produced a marble-like blob at the bottom of my test tube. That got me hooked on chemistry and technology at an early age, but I didn't understand the enormous potential of its application until I began working in the energy industry.

I remember being amazed 20 years ago, watching scientists use Disney animation technology to transform billions of bytes of seismic data to a 3-D image and then projecting it on a theater screen to view an ancient river bed thousands of feet below ground. And, I continue to be amazed at the advances in technology in our industry. Allow me to show you a few examples from my own company.

The search for new oil and gas supplies is taking our industry into more difficult environments and presenting significant technical challenges. One of the challenging new frontiers of energy is deep water, which is more than 2,000 feet deep, and ultra deep water, which is 7,000 feet deep and more. Recently, Chevron announced a record-setting production test on the Jack No. 2 well in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The Jack well was completed and tested in 7,000 feet of water and more than 20,000 feet under the seafloor, breaking Chevron's 2004 Tahiti well- test record as the deepest successful well test in the Gulf of Mexico. The Jack No. 2 well was drilled to a total depth of more than five miles. The next time you are in an airplane and reach cruising altitude, look out the window at the ground. That's how deep we drilled — a precision exercise akin to threading a needle 5 miles away.

Many prospective ultra deepwater reservoirs lay thousands of feet beneath a thick blanket of rock salt. The salt can be more than 1,000 feet thick and prevents scientists from being able to accurately use seismic sound waves to locate the oil-bearing rocks beneath the salt.

In order to discover Jack, Chevron geoscientists had to use new technology with an unprecedented amount of computing power to unscramble the seismic sound waves warped by the overlying salt layers. This kind of enormous computing power allowed us to estimate that the region where the Jack test well sits could hold between 3 billion and 15 billion barrels of oil and natural gas liquids. That would boost the nation's current reserves of 29.3 billion barrels by 50 percent.

Deep water presents even more challenges and opportunities for our industry and for my current area of business — pipelines.

In Western Australia, a team comprising Chevron, the Centre of Water Research at the University of Western Australia, Stanford University and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography is working to understand solitons: giant waves that form 100-250 feet below the surface of the sea. Solitons are usually generated by astronomical tides that create waves along the interface between the ocean's warmer upper layer and the cooler lower layer. The monster waves reach heights of up to 300 feet — the equivalent of a 25-story building — and can generate forces on a pipeline stronger than hurricanes. Understanding solitons can help us design subsea pipelines and installations equipment to function more reliably and withstand the forces of nature.

My third and final example of advances in energy technology is advanced biofuels. While oil and gas will remain the predominant energy sources for some time to come, clean-burning, renewable biofuels — ethanol and biodiesel — will become an increasingly important component of the world's evolving mix of energy resources.

Ideally, biofuels will be produced and distributed in a way — and on a scale — that will make a substantial difference in the energy equation. That will require a sustained commitment of resources and a series of technological breakthroughs, and [that means] more career opportunities in the energy industry.

At Chevron, we're developing reforming technologies that we believe can convert cellulosic biomass into products that are chemically identical to gasoline and diesel components. Cellulosic biomass includes a very broad range of organic material, including grass, agricultural and forest waste, municipal waste and other sources of organic waste.

In partnerships with Georgia Tech, the University of California at Davis and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of U.S. Department of Energy, we are exploring the feasibility of producing commercial volumes of cellulosic biofuels from these types of plants and waste streams.

I could go on for a long time about the exciting technology breakthroughs in the energy industry. But I think that you get the idea and a sense of how challenging this business can be. And because it has always been challenging, this is an industry that puts a premium on solving the world's problems — literally.

As you can probably sense, I think this industry is as interesting and exciting as any other on the planet.
But let me return to a more personal view.

This industry — as well as my company — has given me opportunities I never dreamed of back on that first day when I walked into the Texaco lab in Henry, Louisiana. This industry has given me a choice of career paths. It's given me growth opportunities to achieve my personal objectives. And it's given me the chance to contribute to projects and strategies that are shaping the world.

In turn, I've tried to give back genuine curiosity, the ability to solve problems and the courage to lead. You'll notice that I didn't say it's given me the ability to balance a chemical equation or run analytical tests. Leaving the research lab was a big decision for me. I had reached a point in my technical field where I felt I was getting stale. That's when I had the opportunity to take an assignment in gas marketing.

I was very nervous when I made that move. I thought I didn't have the knowledge to compete with others in that department who had been there for a long time.

What I discovered was that I brought my curiosity, problem-solving ability and at least a degree of courage with me — and those skills were transferable to everything I've done since then.

Ultimately, I discovered that success wasn't defined by whether you were a man or a woman — or whether you stayed home with a sick child or not. It was the ability to identify a problem, find solutions, work with people to solve the problem and ultimately to capture opportunity.

With opportunity comes responsibility to share what we've learned. So, I'd like to conclude my remarks today with some advice to you as you are building your careers and trying to juggle the many demands on your life.

As much as I love this industry and my career, I've always put my family first. It's important for you to find your own balance. Identify your priorities, and try to live by that. I know that's not easy.

When I was raising my kids, it seemed that every day I had to make a decision. Should I stay late at work or attend soccer practice? Should I schedule a meeting or go to that teacher's conference?

I wasn't perfect. I missed a few of those soccer practices, but not very many. When you understand your priorities, it's easier to make the decision. Even now as an empty nester, I still do my best to walk away from the job when I walk out the door of my office at the end of the day. Very rarely do I bring work home at night or on weekends.

I have to admit that my Blackberry tempts me regularly. It's gotten harder as I've been promoted since there's always a business dinner or sponsorship event to attend. And I'm spending more time with nonprofit organizations to give back to the community. I try to include my husband in as many of these [activities] as possible. And I've learned to say no to a lot of invitations.

Second, if you're going to do it all — family and career — build and maintain a support system, just as you develop a professional network. In my case, I have an incredibly supportive husband who has been very engaged in juggling kids with our careers. He's my biggest supporter and has always encouraged me to grow.

My parents were always there for me, and I've been very blessed to have great friends. I know that many people don't have the same support network. This is something you have to build yourself — find those friends, organizations and caretakers who can back you up when you can't do it all yourself.

Third, find a mentor. When I moved from technology into gas marketing, my new boss became my mentor. He was a rare individual who understood people as well as he understood business. He included me in meetings with people well above my pay grade level, and afterward he would explain things that I might have missed. Best of all, he always told me the truth even if I didn't like what I was hearing.

My mentor pushed me out into assignments that I wasn't sure I was ready for. After I moved on, he continued to be my sounding board when I came up against challenging situations. Find that person or persons that you respect and see if you can develop a mentor relationship. And, offer to mentor someone else on your own time.

Finally, take time out to appreciate where you are and what you're doing. We sometimes get caught up in the details, and we forget to raise our head and take a look at the bigger picture. We are lucky to be in fields like energy and technology that are driving so much of the global agenda today. Career opportunities for women in the energy industry — where technology, economics and geopolitics all intersect — have never been more abundant.

I have tried to show that the energy industry is an exciting place where smart, ambitious people can use leading technology to change the world. But, true success — in the energy field or in any area of life — can only be obtained by getting a clear picture of your priorities and then finding the balance that works for you.

Published: November 2006