Be professional, work hard and provide a quality service, and female entrepreneurs can do very well in the male-dominated oil industry, says Kathy Neset, president of Neset Consulting Service. The Tioga, N.D.-based company provides geological and gas detection services to oil companies in the Bakken. Among her company’s 180 workers are two-person crews who work with oil companies to drill horizontally in the right rock layer and provide mudlogging services.
“About 20 percent of our two-person crews are female,” Neset says. “There are great opportunities for good-paying professional jobs as geologists, engineers and surveyors.”
She started her career in geology in 1978 and moved to North Dakota in 1979. After working for another company, she and her husband started their own company in 1981.
“Marketing was a problem at one time,” she says. But not anymore. Oil companies need services with the oil boom. By attending energy conferences and workshops along with word-of-mouth recommendations, Neset’s business continues to grow.
“Women have to make it known that they are capable. Sometimes being a woman in a traditionally male field, you have to go a step further and be more skilled,” Neset says. “The important thing is to stay professional and show you can do the work.”
She adds respect is important, as well as understanding that men work differently.
“I have no burning desire to be involved in every aspect,” she says.
While there are opportunities for women, there are also challenges that require them to be flexible. “We work in remote locations, so there are challenges just living regarding changing rooms and bathrooms,” Neset says.
Her geological services business is a natural fit for the oilfields, but she points out that women interested in starting a business just have to find a needed service.
Change creates opportunities
That’s what Gwen Bohmbach and Nellie Hofland did. Two years ago they decided that instead of working for others, they would start their own drug testing company, B&H On-site Testing LLC.
“We saw the rapid changes with the oil industry, and so we didn’t hesitate to go forward,” Bohmbach says. Both had health care backgrounds and had grown up on western North Dakota ranches so they understood the remote conditions and challenges.
They earned certification to do testing, and with the guidance of the Strom Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Dickinson, they created a business plan, set up an LLC and took the other necessary steps to get a business loan.
They set themselves apart from other testing services by offering 24/7 mobile services and went door-to-door to companies throughout the Bakken region to sign on clients. B&H takes urine and hair samples as part of spot drug checks, administers litmus quick screens, tests new hires and responds to accidents of all kinds. Accidents usually happen at 2 in the morning, Bohmbach notes. Clients include drilling companies, roustabout and trucking service companies, as well as non-oilfield distribution companies.
Keep it moving
“Trying to keep a schedule moving is the most challenging,” Hofland says. For example, the drive from Dickinson to Watford City should take two hours, but more often it takes three hours due to heavy traffic.
With friends and family throughout the region, the business partners group jobs together and stay overnight when they work hours away from Dickinson. The client list continually grows. The women upgraded from using their own vehicles to purchasing SUVs and travel enough to require monthly oil changes. They added a new part-time person on staff this summer, but emphasized they are careful about hiring good people to maintain the quality reputation they have earned.
“Word of mouth and reputation is everything in the oil industry,” Hofland says. “If you do a good job, he will tell the guy down the road.”
Because of their reputation, the North Dakota Department of Health contacted them about adding HIV/STD testing services to individuals who call them. The partners also added CPR and H2S training to their menu of services and opened up an office in Killdeer with hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Despite long hours, flat tires and stacks of paperwork, both women agree that their decision to start their own business was a good one.
“Even our bad days are good because we’re not working for someone else,” Bohmbach says.
“Our hard work benefits us,” agrees Hofland.