The careers of a determined, skilled, and growing workforce should inspire more to join them.


A book documenting remarkable women of the petroleum industry offers insights beyond the history of offshore exploration. Journalist Rebecca Ponton has gathered personal accounts from women who challenged convention, stereotypes, and more to work in the offshore oil and natural gas industry. Like their onshore counterparts of all genders, these pioneering ocean roughnecks include petroleum engineers, geologists, landmen — and an increasing number of CEOs.

Ponton’s Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry, published in 2019, tells the stories of the industry’s “WOW — Women on Water,” the introductory chapter’s title. What follows are her insightful “condensed biographies” of 23 women of all ages and nationalities. Their petroleum industry jobs vary in responsibilities and many have achieved some kind of “first” in their fields.

offshore oil history book cover Breaking the Gas Ceiling

Published in 2019, Rebecca Ponton’s “condensed biographies” of 23 women reads like a collection of short stories. Her book deserves a wide audience, especially among young people – and energy industry leaders.

Ponton, a journalist and professional landman, interviewed this diverse collection of energy industry professionals, producing an “outstanding compilation of role models,” according to Dave Payne, vice president, Chevron Drilling and Completions.

“Everyone needs role models — and role models that look like you are even better. For women, the oil and gas industry has historically been pretty thin on role models for young women to look up to,” notes the Chevron executive. “Rebecca Ponton has provided an outstanding compilation of role models for all women who aspire to success in one of the most important industries of modern times.”

Women Offshore Pioneers

Each chapter offers  an account of finding success in the traditionally male-dominated industry — sometimes with humor but always with determination. Among the offshore jobs described are stories from mechanical and chemical engineers, a helicopter pilot, a logistics superintendent, a photographer, fine artist, federal offshore agency director, and the first female saturation diver in the Gulf of Mexico — Marni Zabarski, who describes her career and 2001 achievement.

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Additional insights are provided from water safety pioneer Margaret McMillan (1920-2016), who in 1988 was instrumental in creating the Marine Survival Training Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In 2004, McMillan was the first woman to be inducted into the Oilfield Energy Center Hall of Fame in Houston.

Another chapter features the 2018 Hall of Fame inductee, petroleum geologist Eve Howell, the first woman to work – and eventually supervise – Australia’s prolific North West Shelf. The book relates the story of 21-year-old Alyssa Michalke, an Ocean Engineering major who was the first female commander of the Texas A & M Corps of Cadets.

As the publisher Modern History Press explains, Ponton’s Breaking the Gas Ceiling offers insights beyond documenting remarkable women in petroleum history. “In order to reach as wide an audience as possible, including the up and coming generation of energy industry leaders, Rebecca made it a point to seek out and interview young women who are making their mark in the sector as well.”

The milestones of these notable “women on water” may not receive the attention given to NASA’s women space walkers, but they also deserve recognition. Today’s offshore petroleum industry needs all the skilled workers it can get of any gender. The too often neglected  oilfield career histories told in Breaking the Gas Ceiling should help.

Also see Women Oilfield Roustabouts.


Recommended Reading:  Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry (2019); Anomalies, Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology, 1917-2017 (2017). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Women of the Offshore Petroleum Industry tell Their Stories.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: Last Updated: April 30, 2021. Original Published Date: February 18, 2020.


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