The first woman to be manager of operations at the Belridge field, she’s forging a path for others to follow
When Erin Larner was a teenager, her father urged her not to consider a career in the oil industry. He’d seen enough cyclical downturns during his own years working for an oil refinery to be wary of a that kind of future for his daughter.
But here Larner is today, not only working for Aera Energy but breaking ground as the first woman to hold the position of operations manager at the Belridge oilfield.
Larner is one of a growing number of women moving into key leadership positions at Aera. Named to her post in January 2019, she is responsible for 6,000 producing wells and well-testing facilities from Lost Hills to McKittrick.
“People are sometimes surprised that a woman holds a leadership position out in the field at an oil company, because this industry traditionally has been male-dominated,” Larner said. “But when you work for a company where the leadership team has as many women as men, it doesn’t seem weird.”
Larner is a natural to help lead operations at Aera’s largest asset, according to Jeff Dittman, vice president of Aera’s Belridge operations.
“Erin has an impressive depth and breadth of technical knowledge, operational experience and leadership skills,” Dittman said. “She relates well to people at all levels of the organization. She’s got a great work ethic. And she really cares about and respects people.”
Larner’s entry into the petroleum industry almost didn’t happen. The Santa Maria native entered the University of Southern California in 2004, intent on a degree in bio-chemistry and seeking cures for diseases like cancer.
Halfway through college, driven by the need for a paying summer job, Larner attended an Aera information session at USC. Interested in the petroleum process diagrams she saw, she struck up a conversation with the Aera presenters. Larner was soon offered an internship at Aera’s Bakersfield headquarters – and she accepted. She interned for Aera in 2006 and 2007.
Ignoring her father’s advice, Larner changed majors. She graduated from USC in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with an emphasis in petroleum engineering. The new graduate joined Aera that year as a production engineer for the Coalinga field. Over the next 11 years, Larner took on increasingly responsible engineering and process supervisory roles at Aera’s Midway-Sunset, San Ardo, Coalinga and Belridge fields.
“She’s a great example of how diversity is contributing to Aera’s success.”
In late 2018, a position for manager of operations over the Surface Total Process Reliability group at Aera-Belridge opened up. “I applied, fully expecting it would go to someone else,” she said. “And it went to me.”
Today, she’s one of seven managers at Belridge. Another woman, Trina DeWitt, is also a manager of operations at Belridge. Appointed after Larner took on her managerial role, DeWitt heads the Development Implementation team.
Larner oversees the Crude Lifting and Measurement (CLAM) and Diatomite Thermal Recovery (DTR) teams. She’s responsible for maximizing production across the field while ensuring that operations are conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.
“Promoting Erin into an operations manager position speaks to Aera’s desire to be one of the best places to work,” Dittman said. “She’s a great example of how diversity is contributing to Aera’s success. She’s creating a path for others to follow.”
Larner’s days are busy. She rises at 4 a.m. and works out for 30 minutes. She leaves her house in Bakersfield by 5:30 a.m. for the nearly hour-long drive to Aera’s Belridge hub, known as The Oasis. There, she oversees 16 engineers, field supervisors and their staffs, for a total of 80 people.
Larner chooses a collaborative approach in her leadership style. “I want to make sure the team can talk to me,” she said. “I want them all to feel their voices are heard and that they’re contributing, whether they’re new on the job or have been here for 30 years. That diversity of opinions and thoughts is hugely important to making the right decisions.”
“All of us coming from different backgrounds makes us a stronger team.”
Larner is also proud of the diversity that makes up the Belridge workforce. She points to more people of color and women as well as a variety of technical and operational backgrounds in Aera’s oilfields.
“All of us coming from different backgrounds makes us a stronger team,” she said.
Larner is active in LGBT+Allies and Women of Aera employee resource groups. In October, Larner was honored with a prestigious GRIT Award. She was one of 22 people from across the global energy industry to win in the “individual” category. The award honors those who are making a difference in the energy industry.
“We talk a lot about inclusion and diversity at Aera, and the importance of the right person for the role,” she said. “People like me put weight behind that.”
Her advice to others looking to move forward? “Be true to who you are,” she said. “Don’t hesitate to ask questions. People are more than willing to help you if you’re willing to take the first step. Have confidence in your own ability. And ask for what you want.”