Where In The Shale Is She?

Where In The Shale Is She?

Energy journalist and executive editor-at-large at Oil and Gas Investor, Nissa Darbonne wrote the definitive book on the American shale plays with her 2014 missive, The American Shales: From rich rock, unconventional ideas and unwavering determination to a renewed world energy future. The book was widely praised for its comprehensive look at the discovery and development of the major U.S. shale plays, and Darbonne’s exhaustive research and extensive interviews. And, yet – through no fault of the author’s – for the most part, it’s missing one thing… women.

While the book is full of exhilarating tales of doggedly determined male wildcatters, who risked it all to find the next massive field, there are very few women mentioned in any capacity.

Nissa Darbonne
Nissa Darbonne

In a chapter on the Eagle Ford shale, Anne Brigham, who has a bachelor’s degree in geology as well as a law degree, is credited, along with her husband, Bud, a geophysicist, with forming Brigham Exploration Co. in 1990. The company, which was instrumental in developing the Bakken shale play, went public in 1997. In 2011, Brigham was acquired by Statoil (now Equinor) for $4.4 billion. Anne’s LinkedIn profile currently lists her as “Mom at Brigham house” – not surprising considering she and her husband went on to have four children (including triplets) after starting the company. Most recently, Bud took Atlas Energy Solutions (formerly Atlas Sand) public and the company began trading on the NYSE in March.

Explorationist Jana Beeson worked for Petrohawk in the early, heady days of the Eagle Ford shale. Then-president and COO of Petrohawk Energy Corp., Dick Stoneburner, is quoted in The American Shales: “Sitting in a Weber Energy office in Dallas with [Charles] Cusack, [Jana] Beeson and Sonny Tuttle, another Petrohawk geologist, we looked at the data for about 10 minutes, saw the production, saw the logs, saw the core, saw everything. I said, ‘We gotta buy this.’” (Note: See the current July/Aug OILMAN Magazine cover feature interview with Dick Stoneburner.)

Margaret (Meg) Molleston, president, GeoSouthern Energy Partners, then a major developer in the Eagle Ford shale, gets a brief mention in the book. (In discussing GeoSouthern’s success, an unnamed source told Forbes.com, “Meg Molleston is the one who made this happen.”) GeoSouthern has since shifted its focus to the Haynesville shale. In an April 5, 2023, interview with Molleston, Darbonne reflects on the early shale boom and says, “It’s kind of surprising to me to think that 10 years ago was really in the new American oil and gas timeline. That’s a very long time ago,” to which Molleston replies, “It is. It’s dog years. Ten years equals 70 [years] in oil and gas, so yes. And it feels like it some days.”

Who knows how many unnamed women were working behind the scenes, as geologists, engineers, landmen and in other roles, during those early days of the shale booms? As women continue to increase their participation in the energy industry, including the shale plays, it is satisfying that the origins of those discoveries have been chronicled and preserved for history by a woman.

“My hope was that documenting how the American shale plays came to be – and how uniquely “American” each story is – [could be] a guide for others to do the same.

“More women have become front and center in shale’s timeline, such as Vicki Hollub at Occidental, while Meg Molleston at GeoSouthern continues to build new plays, now building a second one in the Haynesville.

“And the late North Dakota Geological Survey geologist Julie LeFever is often mentioned by early-day Bakken explorers as their go-to for core and cuttings samples that were essential in their formative understanding of what they might – or might not – encounter downhole.

“As the American shale story continues to unfold, it is demonstrating that all are welcome. As the late George Mitchell said, ‘Explore! Do something!’”

– Author Nissa Darbonne

Author profile
Rebecca Ponton
Editor-in-Chief - 

Rebecca Ponton has been a journalist for 25+ years and is also a petroleum landman. Her book, Breaking the GAS Ceiling: Women in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry (Modern History Press), was released in May 2019. For more info, go to www.breakingthegasceiling.com.

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