Presented by AKOG
Lisa Booth, Mark Ireland, Hillary Schaefer and Scott Rosin have spent more than a century in oil and gas.
Not individually, of course. But combined, their experience spans decades that have seen tremendous change in Alaska’s driving industry.
Ireland still remembers when, as a young boy in Pennsylvania, he first heard about the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
“I remember my dad … talking about this pipeline they were building in Alaska where the valves were so big that a man could crawl through them,” Ireland said. “He was really amazed by that.”
At the time, Ireland had no idea he would grow up to be one of the people helping to fill that enormous pipeline. Today he’s senior vice president for subsurface and exploration for Santos in Alaska -- a journey that started with childhood curiosity and has led to working for the biggest buyer of oil and gas leases in the state, exploring long-term growth opportunities for new developments.
“It’s really fun for me to be at this stage of my career involved in something this exciting,” Ireland said. “It really makes you want to get out of bed every morning and get to work.”
For the lifers who have climbed the ranks in Alaska’s energy industry, the way has been paved with lessons and opportunities, mentors and challenges, and unique experiences they couldn’t have had in any other career. Here are just a few of the things they have learned in their decades on the job.
Alaska’s oil and gas community is massive.
In December 1999, Booth was just finishing up an MBA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage when she saw a job posting for a new program at Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. called Building Foundations for Excellence. The idea was to expose new employees to a range of positions inside the pipeline company and help them build experience in various job functions.
“I was like, ‘Holy smokes, this is perfect -- it looks like it was written for me,’” Booth said.
Over the next two decades, Booth worked her way through numerous departments, at one point even running the internship program that initially brought her into the company.
“Kind of the ultimate full circle for me was starting off as that intern, and now I’m the CFO,” said Booth, who was appointed to Alyeska’s top financial job in 2021.
By the time she joined Alyeska, Booth had already worked for Alaska institutions like GCI and First National Bank Alaska. But for a kid who grew up in Metlakatla and went to college to study business and finance, stepping into the world of oil and gas was a revelation.
“When I saw that job posting, it did open my eyes,” she said. “Growing up in Southeast, it’s just not something that you see or hear about every single day -- realizing the criticality of the work we do for the state.”
The six business functions under Booth’s supervision today employ about 80 full-time Alyeska personnel and engage numerous contractors.
“TAPS traverses Alaska, and the people that work on the system do so much more than just move oil,” said Schafer, Alyeska’s pipeline director. “These individuals have to maintain remote facilities that include life safety systems -- power, heat, food, as well as third party response for citizens and visitors along the pipeline corridor.”
Despite the scope of the industry that provides one out of every 11 Alaska jobs, there’s a strong sense of community, especially in specialized fields. Ireland, who is a reservoir engineer by training, has worked all over the world -- and encountered some of the same colleagues in places as far flung as Spain and China.
“Oil and gas, as far as a worldwide industry goes, it’s pretty small,” Ireland said. “It’s always fun like that, coming back to Alaska, meeting up with folks you worked with 20 years prior.”
The industry is exciting -- and sometimes unpredictable.
Ireland came to Alaska in 1993 and spent 16 years working on North Slope fields like Point McIntyre, Lisburne, Alpine and Prudhoe Bay before his career took him around the world, from Houston to Beijing to Calgary to Madrid. He and his wife always wanted to get back to Alaska, where their sons still lived, so he was thrilled when the opportunity arose with Oil Search Alaska, now Santos through a recent merger.
“We knew we wanted to get back to Alaska at some point in the future, and this kind of sped that up,” Ireland said. “It was a good opportunity to join an exciting project, an exciting company.”
And it was an exciting return to work. Ireland kicked off his first day on the job having his coffee spilled on his head as he sheltered under a conference table during the 2018 Anchorage earthquake.
Most days on the job don’t kick off with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, but they’re still fast paced, demanding, and occasionally unpredictable.
“Oil and gas is not for the faint of heart,” Ireland said. “The price cycles that we’re all familiar with living in Alaska -- those have a tremendous impact on people, on their families.”
To have a successful career in the industry, he added, it’s important to be able to keep perspective and go with the flow.
“Just making sure you can keep that kind of even keel, make sure you’re grounded in what’s important to you, not just thinking that your job is the only important thing in life,” Ireland said. “If you’re able to maintain that attitude, it can be a great career.”
Besides the economic tides, the business itself is fast-paced, and the ability to multitask and respond nimbly is important in every function, Booth added, not just in the field.
“We operate 24/7/365,” Booth said. “We’re always keeping things going and moving. That’s our mission. It’s busy. The days are flying by, the weeks, the months. Things are coming at me quick.”
Critical thinking and creativity are vital to many oil and gas careers, especially at the senior level.
“A lot of what we do in subsurface and exploration is try to evaluate what’s uncertain,” Ireland said. “You’re trying to make long-term forecasts that will hold up for decades.”
And it doesn’t hurt to have a sense of adventure, since the work can take you to unique places, like the vast expanse of the North Slope, which both Booth and Ireland said never stops being cool.
“I feel like I’m on a ‘Star Wars’ set,” Booth said.
The business is changing.
In many ways, the industry that Rosin, Booth, Schaefer and Ireland started working in decades ago is not the same industry that exists now. Today’s Alaska oil and gas environment is more focused on safety and stewardship and more representative of Alaska’s population.
“Over the course of my career, the biggest change that has occurred is the significant increase of diversity at all levels within the organization, including key leadership roles,” said Schaefer, who started as an environmental contractor with Alyeska in 1998 and gradually worked her way up to her current position as pipeline director. “When you work on TAPS, it is not just about moving oil, but rather it is about moving oil with our commitment to safe operations -- process and personnel -- and (environmental) responsibility. Our success is not about the amount of barrels delivered, but the way in which we deliver those barrels.”
At the same time, industry is facing more challenges, especially as North Slope production declines.
“It’s significant, and I don’t know if that’s apparent to people,” Booth said. “When I started, we were moving 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, and now we’re averaging under 500,000.”
With significantly less oil moving down the pipeline, Alyeska has to engineer for new maintenance challenges, along with the general preparedness for earthquakes, floods, bad weather and other contingencies that has always been part of the work.
“We’ve had to go through many iterations of kind of figuring out where to inject heat into the line to help with the oil, getting it down the line safely,” Booth said.
At the same time, technology has significantly advanced the way that oil and gas can be discovered and recovered.
“As far as oil basins go in the world, the North Slope has been produced for a long time, but it’s lightly explored compared to other basins,” Ireland said.
Ireland is currently working on planning for the Nanashuk formation in the Pikka unit -- and if those names are unfamiliar to you, it’s probably because the field is a relatively recent discovery, made possible by advancing technology.
“The seismic and petrophysical analysis that’s possible now … that’s been a tremendous boon for us,” Ireland said. Using older technology, Nanashuk’s laminated layers of sand and silt didn’t look like they held significant conventional oil reserves, but “we’ve kind of cracked the nut on how to analyze that now, so we’re able to image it quite clearly.”
There are countless career paths in oil and gas.
Rosin started his career in oil and gas in 1989, immediately after graduating from Soldotna High School and just a few months after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound.
“I had worked commercial fishing for quite a few years prior to that, and it was pretty obvious that there were going to be some commercial fishing impacts that year,” Rosin said.
So he took a summer job with a company that serviced Cook Inlet oil and gas operations. His first summer on the job, he estimates he got to work on about half of the facilities in the region, from Swanson River to the west side of the inlet. He came back to the same job during his breaks from college, and when he graduated in 1995, he returned to Alaska and began working for another oil and gas contractor, again working around the Cook Inlet region.
Today, Rosin is the products control manager for Marathon’s Kenai Refinery, where his coworkers still joke about the day in 1996 that he arrived for his job interview at what was then the Tesoro refinery.
“I thought it was a company position, so I dressed up in nice clothes, a tie -- and I came out here and quickly discovered that it was not a company position,” he said. “I showed up for a roustabout job wearing a tie. But it worked out.”
Rosin, who played football in college, once thought he wanted to be a teacher and football coach. He never expected his summer job in oil and gas to turn into a career.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “What’s interesting now is I was intrigued with the coaching piece -- but really, as a leader, that’s kind of your responsibility, to coach and develop people. It’s really kind of fulfilled what I originally started.”
Some oil and gas professionals come into the industry with specialized technical expertise -- like Ireland, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering. Others find their own path.
That’s what Rosin did, quickly moving into the environmental function and gradually working his way up to the leadership team as environment, health and safety manager for Marathon’s Kenai refinery. Rosin had been working in health, environment and safety for 20 years when he was offered a new opportunity in logistics. The job took him from a focus on regulatory and compliance matters to the business of midstream operations -- a huge change.
“I hadn’t really anticipated that being an opportunity or even an option,” he said. “It was an absolute awesome experience.”
Immersed in the world of pipelines, transportation and distribution, Rosin was able to learn an entirely new side of the business.
“I loved it,” he said. “It gave me this much better picture of the whole state and the macroeconomics. It really started putting all the pieces together.”
At Alyeska, from the start, Booth’s work gave her exposure to multiple departments, from information technology to human resources to auditing. That let her sample a variety of roles and try them on for size.
“I pretty clearly met my match when I came here,” Booth said. “I wasn’t limited in any way.”
Over the years, her managers even provided her opportunities to sit in front of the pipeline’s board of owner companies, something that helped her make a smooth transition into the CFO role.
“The support and the guidance and the coaching I’ve had along the way has been so wonderful,” Booth said. “I’ve had the opportunity to have some really fantastic mentors and teachers.”
Now, she added, she recognizes that she’s in a position to share the same kind of mentorship with a new generation of oil and gas professionals.
“I don’t take that lightly,” she said. “We’ve got to keep thinking about the next group coming up.”
Although, Rosin added, no matter how much experience you have, in an industry that is always evolving, the growing and learning never stops.
“I just celebrated my 25th year here with the company this year,” Rosin said. “So 25 years ago, or even 20 years ago, I never would have dreamed of being in the position that I’m in today. I love my job, and I feel like I have learned every day, and I continue to learn every day.”
AKOG is a diverse community of Alaskans who are proud to work in the oil and gas industry. Established for industry employees, by industry employees, AKOG’s goal is to share our pride in what we do with our friends and neighbors.
This story was produced by the sponsored content department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with AKOG. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.