Inside Aera
Energy Matters Jun 17, 2019

California’s oil, gas industry: delivering jobs, empowering women, moving toward clean energy

Christina Sistrunk accepts the 2019 Distinguished Woman and Petroleum Advocate of the Year Award from Maria Hernandez, president of the California Latino Leadership Institute. The honor was presented at the fourth annual Women’s Empowerment Summit May 18 in Bakersfield.

Aera President and CEO Christina Sistrunk shares her views.

By Christina Sistrunk, Aera president and CEO

Note: The 4th annual Women’s Empowerment Summit, held May 18, 2019 in Bakersfield, honored Christina Sistrunk with its 2019 Distinguished Woman and Petroleum Advocate of the Year award. Here are Sistrunk’s acceptance remarks, edited for length.

From the time your alarm clock rings in the morning, to the time you brush your teeth at night, it’s amazing to think about how many things start from oil and natural gas: your smartphone; computer; clothing; shoes; cosmetics; cars and trucks; our roads; medical supplies and medicines that make us feel better; fertilizers that help grow our fields and gardens; and just about every toy we play with.

They all need petroleum as a base to make synthetic fabrics and plastics, and then gas and diesel to run the machines that harvest and transport goods to stores. Nearly everything in today’s society in some way is derived from oil and natural gas. It’s an integral part of our world.

As a result, California’s oil and gas industry and its contract partners and suppliers are the No. 1 economic driver and one of the largest employers in the region.

A closer look at California’s oil supply, demand

Beyond that, California is where we work and call home. We’re proud of the work we do here to provide affordable and reliable energy for millions of Californians. Today, California has more than 30 million gas-powered vehicles on its roads. Yet, even though we are No. 6 in oil production in the U.S., we still import 70 percent of what we use every day. That doesn’t count what we use for plastics, medical equipment, electronics and more.  

Where do we import oil from? The top sources are Saudi Arabia and Iraq – countries with lower environmental regulations, safety standards and human rights records.

My point is that oil companies like Aera contribute greatly to our society, providing the energy and the comforts of life we all enjoy.

In California, that oil is produced in a very environmentally responsible manner and under the highest regulatory standards in the world.

Moreover, renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are part of our energy mix and key components of our energy future. Today, we need all sources to make California run. And we’ll continue to need all sources throughout the energy transition.

Phenomenal opportunities today and in the future

Beyond the key role oil plays in our everyday lives, the industry also creates phenomenal opportunity for people who work in it every day.

Consider the Belridge oil field northwest of Bakersfield. In operation since 1916, it’s one of the nation’s most productive fields. Belridge is home to over 2,300 jobs and our Belridge Solar project, which will be the largest solar facility in the state when it’s completed. This new project will allow us to reduce emissions and help California lead the way as we begin our energy transition.

What does working in the oil industry mean for people?

Across all levels of education, people in oil and gas average a 45-percent higher income than the average from all other industries. California oil means high-paying jobs for Californians.

Nearly 40 percent of those working in California’s oil and gas sector have a high school diploma or less. The industry provides economic stability, the ability to send kids to college and to own a home. It gives people the ability to travel and see the world. It empowers them through financial strength.

And that opportunity isn’t just for a few people. The industry provides that kind of opportunity to nearly 450,000 people in the state of California through direct employee jobs as well as indirect roles, such as suppliers and contractors.

What do those jobs and that labor income mean for our communities?

  • A thriving local economy. Increased output generates new money in the community, resulting in increased spending on new homes, durable goods such as cars and appliances, and additional spending on restaurants and entertainment options.
  • Financial and volunteer support of local charities and schools. Kern County’s oil and gas industry significantly impacts the community through its philanthropic activities and contributions to local education efforts. According to a survey of six Kern County oil and gas companies, more than $5.5 million was donated to more than 130 local non-profits and educational programs in 2014 alone.

This support is not just in Kern County but in all the communities where we operate.

Where women lead

Increasingly, much of our work is done – and led – by women. In fact, I’m joined by four women on our eight-member senior leadership team. Yes, my senior leadership team is majority female. 

Since Aera Energy was founded in 1997, women have played a pivotal role in all facets of our operation, from engineering, to geology, to innovation, to how we communicate in the public. Women are playing important roles, leading innovation projects and helping create our future. Over the next decade, we will continue to provide meaningful opportunities for women in this industry. We will do it with good, high-paying jobs and challenging, innovative assignments. I encourage young women to invest in a career focused on science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

Over the next several decades, we’ll need diverse perspectives at the table. We’ll all need to work together to innovate, solve our biggest challenges and deliver on the energy future we all want. An all-of-the-above approach to energy is critical if we are to meet society’s expectations for quality of life.

At the same time, hydrocarbons will need to lower their footprint. We’ll need to focus more on carbon capture and storage as well as efficiencies for transport and in our own processes. Essentially, we’ll have to question everything. We’ll have to work together to deliver meaningful change and continue to do the work that is shaping our daily lives.

We live our safety motto that “Every day, everybody goes home alive and well!” / DID YOU KNOW? Aera Energy has been honored with the North American Maintenance Excellence Award and the AME Manufacturing Excellence Award.

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