Women in Oil & Gas: Female Geosciences Engineer Helps Solve Saudi’s Un-conventional Oil Challenges
As unlikely as it seems, Saudi Arabia imports sand, and Maryam Al Ohaly is taking her childhood passion for chemistry and her two degrees in chemical engineering to help eliminate the Kingdom’s need for this import in the area of hydraulic fracturing.
Maryam is a Saudi chemical engineer and scientist with Baker Hughes, a GE company. She works at the company’s Dhahran Technology Center on a project to localize hydraulic fracturing technology to enhance oil and gas production in reservoirs in Saudi Arabia, the wider Gulf region and globally.
“This really gives me a reason to wake up in the morning,” Maryam says during a break from her testing, which mostly takes place in a lab that’s more than half filled with large hulking equipment.
The team is looking to develop the right mix of treatment ingredients and local Saudi sand to provide the ideal hydraulic fracturing fluid solution (a liquid that combines water, chemicals and proppant/sand) that is pumped under high pressure into oil and gas fields to ‘fracture’ the tight reservoir in a way that causes the field to produce more hydrocarbons.
“This work is not only connected to what I studied previously. What I’m doing is solving problems, finding solutions and developing a product locally that can be implemented in my country and help increase the economics of oil and gas here. Me being a part of it is something not only rewarding for myself and my company, but also my country.”
“Plus, it’s truly cool and interesting,” she adds enthusiastically.
Since joining BHGE in July 2017, Maryam has seen a great deal of support for women at the company as part of a broader effort to enhance gender diversity in the workplace. As in her case, Maryam says, BHGE is investing in her fellow female engineers with training, development programs and career support.
Maryam is part of the BHGE’s Saudi Sand Project that’s looking to replace man-made proppant by locally sourced sand to be used in the fracking process. Currently, hydraulic fracturing operations in the Kingdom are importing man-made proppant. This is more expensive, takes longer, and results in excess project downtime.
If Maryam and the rest of the team can develop a local sand and the right localized chemistry for the fracturing fluid that carries the sand into the wells, it will improve the economics of fracking in the Kingdom, and contribute to IKTVA (In Kingdom Total Value Add) program, driven by Saudi Aramco and fully supported by BHGE
The chemical engineering challenges facing this project are part of the appeal for Maryam. “I always like to challenge myself.” In fact, it’s part of who she is. “In engineering, you’re solving problems. You’re a kind of problem solver. In this role, I’ve got to find a solution for every challenge.”
She’s the same outside of work. “I’m always trying to think of a solution to a problem that people might have. It kind of shapes my identity.”
Similarly, science wasn’t just one of many school subjects Maryam studied, she says. “It’s a state of mind as well – always inquisitive and wondering. As a child, the world around me constantly captivated me and inspired questions.”
Maryam earned a BSc in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dammam, and an MSc in Nano Science and Nano Technology from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
An avid reader and runner, Maryam goes to the gym most days after work and begins her day with a cardio workout. That’s a good thing, because one of her biggest surprises in her current job is how physically demanding it is. As part of her testing, she’s lifting 25kg metal testing cells boxes that she has to place inside the lab equipment.
“It was a challenge for me to deal with, and I dealt with it.”
Even having always received encouragement from her family for her studies and work, Maryam’s advice to her younger self is still: “Believe in yourself, and then the sky is the limit.” She explains: “If I didn’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t have become what I am right now.”
To young women today, she says: “Follow your dreams; don’t be afraid, and don’t put limitations on yourself. There is nothing you cannot do; [limitations] are only in your mind. If you step forward, lots of people will help you to reach your goals.”
In her own career, she’s seen how people will help, including at BHGE. When interviewing for her current role, the interviewer sketched out her career path for the next three years, including training she would receive in the United States. “Showing me my path, so that it all made more sense, was one of the main reasons for my decision to join BHGE.”
Almost immediately they sent her to BHGE facilities in Houston for training with the company’s Pressure Pumping Team to learn about the chemistry, new technologies, techniques and analysis in this area of hydraulic fracturing. It addressed “everything I needed to help build this [technology] in the Kingdom. The learning was huge and BHGE supported me in this.”