Emily Oatney knew as a teenager – a feeling affirmed by a hike in the mountains – that she wanted a career as a geologist.
What she didn’t know was that her hike was just the first step toward a diverse international career.
The fact that it was, however, makes her smile – and more importantly, for the industry and the profession, it makes her valuable.
Oatney, exploration adviser for Chevron Europe, Eurasia and Middle East Exploration & Production Co. in London, and an AAPG member since 1998, is an example of how to succeed in the international arena. American educated, she’s been living and working abroad for the past two years – and loving every minute of it.
From Oakland, Calif., in transition from an assignment in Vietnam and awaiting her next move to London, Oatney recently spoke candidly about her academic decision to go into the field of geology, her career with Chevron and some of the diverse cultural experiences she has encountered over the last 10 years.
“When I was in high school I took a field biology class,” she said, “and as part of that class we went on a backpacking trip to Yosemite. I had been to Yosemite before, but I had a new appreciation for it from a scientific perspective.
“I started to look at the mountains differently, and was really intrigued by how they got there,” she said. “I don’t think it was conscious at the time, because I didn’t know that geology was a major or something that you could pursue as a field of study until I got to college.”
Oatney began taking classes at the University of California (Santa Cruz) and was undecided in her field of study until she enrolled in a geology class. She admitted that the class description for earth science with its field trips and outside investigations – particularly structural geology – sounded exciting.
“I took a geology class and I declared my major that first week,” she said. “I was completely taken by it.”
A Passage to India
While working on her master’s degree in geology at Oregon State University, Oatney lived and worked in India.
“I moved to India to do some geologic mapping and trenching in the Himalayan foothills,” she said. “I was the only apparent foreigner in the town, and I lived as a local would.
“This experience shaped who I am today in many ways,” she continued, “and has motivated me to seek more opportunities to live and work overseas.”
Chevron came to the university to interview in 1997, when the price of oil had finally seemed to stabilize and they saw the demographic need for hiring, Oatney said.
At the recommendation of her adviser, Oatney interviewed with Chevron on the university campus. She admitted to being relaxed during the interview.
“I didn’t realize the seriousness of it. I brought in a satellite image of my field area,” she said, “and I was really excited about the work I was doing in India.”
Oatney became an exploration geologist with Chevron in 1998 in New Orleans in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico business unit. She maintained that position for a few years and then moved over into deepwater development and began work on Typhoon Field. (The Typhoon platform was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.)
The World’s Her Stage
Oatney picked up reservoir modeling skills while working on the Typhoon project and in 2002 she transferred to the Chevron Energy Technology Co. to work on the reservoir modeling team in San Ramon, Calif.
During her time in California, she worked on lots of projects all over the world and was exposed to international projects in Africa, Southeast Asia and Eurasia.
“It’s been very interesting from a geologic perspective,” she said. “I’ve had exposure to a variety of environments – deep water, carbonate and fluvial deltaic and I’ll be moving back into the carbonate world in this new job.
“And I think with those technical experiences,” she continued, “interacting with different partners and different national oil companies, I was able to apply to go overseas.”
Which is what she did.
Oatney took the position as subsurface development team leader in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, where she lived and worked for two years. Because of her devotion to her work, she felt it necessary to learn the native language – Vietnamese.
“I would say I’m far from fluent, but I studied intensively for one year,” she said. “I had six hours of lessons a week, and I would say I got to the point where I could communicate basic information.”
Learning the Vietnamese language may have been a challenge for Oatney, but it was worth it. Her diligent study of the language came in handy when she was asked to participate on a televised Vietnamese game show.
“I had to sing along with a Vietnamese song that only I could hear,” she remembered. “The contestants only heard what came out of my mouth and they had to guess what song I was trying to sing.
“It was embarrassing, but very funny and memorable.”
The Price Is Right
The relocations have not come without sacrifice, Oatney confessed.
“It’s always a challenge to leave the comfort of friends and family,” she said, “but I have worked hard to maintain ties.
“I’ve been fortunate that my work frequently takes me back to Chevron headquarters in California,” Oatney added, “which is 10 miles from where I grew up and where much of my extended family lives.
“In retrospect, I have absolutely no regrets,” she said of her global assignments. “I’ve never looked back.
“From the day I joined Chevron, I’ve just been so sure of my path, and I’m so thankful that I found it,” she said. “I’m constantly learning and that’s been the most motivating thing for me.”
As for the upcoming diversity forum at the San Antonio Annual Convention, Oatney is hopeful she’ll be able “to impart something more than just a travelogue of my experiences.
“I’d really like to share some things that I’ve learned, so that people can feel like they’ve learned something new that may help them to better adapt in an international environment.
“I’m looking at diversity and how it really helps strengthen the workplace environment, and how different ideas from different cultures can really improve the way that you do business,” she said.
“I’ve worked to adjust my own behaviors to blend with new cultural environments and to dispel gross stereotypes.”