The petroleum industry is the subject of frequent controversy in America. On the left, fossil fuels are falling increasingly out of favor because of their environmental impact; on the right, the industry is urged to increase production, especially offshore, in order to reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil. These pressures—along with volatile oil prices, unexpected booms (and busts) in states such as North Dakota, and public tragedies like the Deepwater Horizon explosion—help explain why the industry has shed 100,000 jobs in the last two years.
Julie Cruse works for Scientific Drilling International, a company that specializes in surveying and designing oil wells, in Casper, Wyoming. In her role as a technical-services coordinator, Cruse helps drilling companies design their oil wells. For The Atlantic’s ongoing series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Cruse about her perspective on the industry, including how it has changed in the 16 years since she started and what it’s like being a female employee in a male-dominated field. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
Jeremy Venook: How did you get into this line of work?
Julie Cruse: I have a degree in petroleum engineering; I took a drilling class and found that I really loved the drilling part of it. It was by chance. Growing up in Alaska, petroleum was a big part of our community. My father and my grandfather were both involved in the petroleum industry. Looking into different types of engineering, I was interested in petroleum engineering because it included geology, rock mechanics, a lot of math, and also incorporated a bunch of the different sciences. You get to use hydraulics. There was so much involved in it, the multiple disciplines that were incorporated. I love the challenge of it, that every well we drill is different. It’s fun to see the changes that we make, even from well to well. You can see changes in growth and increases in knowledge.