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A drilling engineer is not made in a day

Joan Namukasa, a Tullow Uganda drilling engineer, reviews technical reports with colleagues at a rig site (Photo: Tullow Oil Uganda)

Joan Namukasa, a Tullow Oil Uganda drilling engineer, reviews technical reports with colleagues at a rig site (Photo: Tullow Oil Uganda)

It takes years of advanced, on-the-job training to qualify as an oil well drilling engineer—but three Ugandan women are staying the course, writes Cathy Adengo.

It is 2 a.m. on a cold, wet morning in Northern Kenya on board the Weatherford Rig 840 drilling Ngamia well and Joan Namukasa is struggling to keep her eyes open. She washes her face with cold water and takes a cup of coffee as she walks up and down the staircase to the rig floor, all in a bid to stay awake.

One of only three women drilling engineers in Tullow Uganda, Joan is used to being on site with her colleagues Susan Namuganyi and Susan Musiime-Okello but on this shift she is alone as ‘the Susans’ are away at a training course in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Oil and gas is traditionally one of the world’s most male-dominated industries and it is a great achievement to gain a place in it on an equal footing with the men.

“A career in petroleum engineering is hugely interesting and I would love to see more women in the profession because it is truly a rewarding experience,” says Joan.

Joan Namukasa Kamya joined Tullow in 2010 is part of a Graduate Drilling Engineering Training Program where graduate engineers spend time on Tullow’s various sites to gain operational experience.

She is in charge of producing daily drilling operations reports, preparing mud reports and project cost estimates and following up on the service companies.

Her training requires her to be at the rig site to learn about the drilling operations as per the design, programme and detailed procedure of the well. The trainees help ensure that the service companies and drilling contractors follow the programs to the letter.

Susan Musiime-Okello also joined Tullow in 2010 as a graduate drilling engineer fresh from university. She had gained a Masters in Petroleum and Environmental Process Engineering but lacked practical experience in the oil and gas industry.

Tullow was keen to develop and enhance her skills with further training and the hands-on experience required to make her a competent drilling engineer. She has spent much of the last two years at rig sites in Uganda such as Kigogole-6, Nsoga-2, Ngege-3 and Waraga-1, working alongside and learning from the more experienced personnel. Her role also involves supporting field operations from the office in Kampala, under the supervision of more senior drilling engineers.

The third Ugandan woman trainee is Susan Namuganyi who joined Tullow as a graduate drilling engineer in 2011 and has since become a wellsite drilling engineer with a promising career ahead of her.

Since enrolling in the program Susan has worked on land rigs in Uganda and on deepwater projects in Ghana.

In addition to the practical experience, Tullow offers further in-class training courses at key petroleum engineering training institutions to supplement self-study modules and in-house learning.

It is often hard for women to be taken as seriously as men on technical subjects in the field of petroleum engineering and as such it is important for them to prove their technical abilities. Tullow makes this possible through its structured development programme, which is internationally recognized and offers experience across the world in countries where Tullow Oil operates.

According to Susan Musiime-Okello, being female has not hindered her learning at all as she is treated with respect by her male counterparts. As well the training and study opportunities she has received, the recently married mother of one has had the chance to travel the world and experience different cultures, which helps her to interact and work with a global team.

As the process to becoming a skilled drilling engineers takes time and lots of experience, Tullow is continuously developing new programmes to continue the learning process.

In 2011, a Well Engineering Development Program was launched with 14 participants from six countries—Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Ireland, South Africa and England. It is a structured program that involves ‘accountability’ to measure the trainees’ progress through assessment of modules and courses they have attend.

So far, the three Ugandan women drilling engineers have attended a total of eight training courses in various countries. The training and mentorship opportunities they have received have not only empowered them as individuals, but are nurturing them into well groomed female engineers advancing their country’s national development.

Yet they all agree that more should be done to make the industry more attractive to women. According to Susan Namuganyi, “With the right training and ability, a girl can be as good as a guy. Gender is irrelevant.”

Cathy Adengo is Tullow Uganda’s Corporate Communications Manager