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Flipping the Barrel Podcast – Boys will be Boys… with Karen Olson, the Frac Queen.


Karen started in oil and gas back in the 80’s where women were few and far between. Throughout her 36-year career she has been faced with many trials and tribulations. When she decided to pursue Petroleum Engineering at LSU, she was approached by her professor with concern, he told her: “Women do not belong in the oilfield”. Karen did not realize at the time that the professor was setting her up for what would become a common thought from many men she would soon be working with.

Her first job out of college was as a field engineer in training with Western Company of North America, a completion services company. She was the first two female engineers they had hired. What is interesting about her time at Western is the stories she tells of the constant harassment that went on for over 2 years. She realized this was not what she signed up for and approached her boss, what you learn next during the episode will really surprise you.

Karen’s career changed when she decided to pursue a Graduate degree at A&M. During her time pursuing her degree, she received a Masters on Completions optimization in the Marcellus shale. This was the turning point in her career. She wrote her thesis over a DOE study on completions in the Devonian Shale. Karen wrote a proposal on how to optimize the completions in the basin. Through her research and recommendations, she received a 5M$ research grant and a job offer from Mobil.

While at Mobil she started working in the field as a Frac Engineer over the pad. During this time, she just gave birth to a little girl. With only 8 weeks off before she had to head back to work, there were a lot of changes in her life she was having to adjust to. Karen talks about how she managed being a first-time mother, while working out on location away from her family.  Not to mention, she went into labor on location.

Karen spent time working overseas in Norway for Exxon Mobil. She faced another bump in the road, when the new regime in Norway, believed Karen’s job could be replaced by her writing out a step- by-step procedure. Karen called her bluff, and decided she needed to leave. Soon after she received a job offer from BP in Norway, for her experience fracing in Midland. Karen did not realize her experience working in Midland would become extremely crucial, as the industry started to progress with unconventional plays.

Karen went on to become the Director of Technologies for Southwestern Energy due to her Completions and Reservoir experience. After leaving SWN she started devoting her time to supporting Women and young girls to pursue a degree in Engineering. She has been invited to talk at A&M multiple times and is very active with SPE. Karen has been a part of SPE for more than 36 years. She was awarded SPE International Sustainability Award in 2019. For the past three years she has been the SPE Chair for the Hydraulic Fracturing Conference. She is also one of the pioneers for Women in Hydraulic Fracturing Organization, where she heads up live events on LinkedIn every week.

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