Determined and skilled workforce inspires more to join them.


A 2019 book documents remarkable stories of women working in the petroleum industry and offers insights beyond the history of offshore exploration.

In Breaking the Gas Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry, journalist Rebecca Ponton has assembled a rare collection of personal accounts from pioneering women who challenged convention, stereotypes, and more to work in the offshore oil and natural gas industry.

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.

Like their onshore oilfield counterparts of all genders, these ocean roughnecks include petroleum engineers, geologists, landmen — and an increasing number of CEOs.

Offshore Pioneers

Ponton’s Breaking the Gas Ceiling, published by Modern History Press in 2019, tells the stories of the industry’s “WOW — Women on Water,” the title of her introductory chapter.

What follows are “condensed biographies” of 23 women of all ages and nationalities. Their petroleum industry jobs have varied in responsibilities — and many of the women achieved a “first” in their fields.

Ponton, herself a 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.

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“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,” noted 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.”

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.

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.

Offshore oil and gas platforms at Galveston, Texas.

Offshore oil and natural gas platforms typically seen at the Port of Galveston, Texas. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Most U.S. offshore oil and natural gas leasing and development activity takes place in the central and western Gulf of Mexico — with thousands of platforms operating in waters up to 6,000 feet deep. McMillan in 2004 became the first woman to be inducted into the Oilfield Energy Center’s Hall of Fame in Houston.

Another of Ponton’s chapters features 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Eve Howell, a petroleum geologist who was the first woman to work — and eventually supervise — production from Australia’s prolific North West Shelf. The book also 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 explained, Ponton 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); Offshore Pioneers: Brown & Root and the History of Offshore Oil and Gas (1997); 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 annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2022 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: July 20, 2022. Original Published Date: February 18, 2020.

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