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Professional women in energy band together

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For The State Journal

Amelia Roncone used to be an operating room nurse at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, and she did not like it very much.

So, she left her job and went into an entirely different industry — she became sales director for Bridgeport-based Lightning Energy Services, which does trucking for the oil and gas industries, as well as drilling for both. And she could not be happier with her career switch.

“It’s been great,” Roncone said during a recent interview. “I have been working on expanding both sides of the business.”

To look at Roncone, a self-described “girly girl,” you would have no idea she travels on a regular basis to Marcellus Shale drilling sites in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. A bit of an anomaly on a drilling site, Roncone wears makeup, dresses and jewelry.

“When I first started, I was intimidated by the ‘Good Old Boys Club,’” Roncone recalled, explaining that in her early days on the job she didn’t wear makeup and tried to come across as a tomboy. “But, I am a girly girl, and I need to be ok with me.”

She soon realized other women in the growing Marcellus Shale field and its related industries felt the same way and were facing similar challenges in their workplaces.

The women wanted to stay true to themselves and succeed in an industry dominated by males, Roncone said. To help women succeed in the energy business, Roncone formed Young Professional Women in Energy in 2013, which has chapters in both Bridgeport and Pittsburgh. The mission of the nonprofit, which focuses on gas, oil, coal, wind, solar, nuclear and solar industries, is to help women compete in the energy field by providing professional development opportunity through education, mentoring and networking. To date, YPWE has more than 100 members, including some men. Roncone said she is planning on starting a third YPWE chapter in Ohio later this year and a chapter in Texas in 2015.

“It’s 2014 and more women are going into male-dominated industries, like construction,” said Audrey Guskey, a marketing professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. “People, both men and women, are seeing things differently than they used to.”

The Marcellus Shale natural gas formation is located in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and parts of New York. It covers about 65,000 square miles and has been in the news for several years, both for its economic benefits and from groups opposed to its development because wells are drilled down through water tables to extract the gas. Opponents fear the underground water tables will become contaminated.

Of all the new hires working in the Pennsylvania’s shale industry, 96 percent are from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland and New York. It is believed there is enough natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation to supply the entire Northeast.

“Having worked in energy pre- and post-Marcellus Shale, I can tell you there are significantly more opportunities today and tomorrow than there were yesterday,” said Laurel Ziemba, director of local government affairs for Range Resources in Pittsburgh. “Job projections will continue to climb from entry level positions to advanced degrees and an average industry salary of $90,000.

“For me, personally, I find it very rewarding to be able to raise my family so close to where I grew up, but oil and gas (also) provides women a platform to launch a career in this region or across the globe if that’s where you see yourself. It’s really limitless.”

And that is what Roncone believes. In addition to the work she does for Lightning Energy Services and the YPWE, she also has started a catering company, Amelia’s Allegheny Catering, where, on weekends, she will drive out to a well site and sell food to the workers. She is also working with Christina Knieriem, who holds a degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, to develop a line of fireproof clothing geared to women who work at well sites. Roncone, who has to roll up the legs of her coveralls when she visits a well site, says there is not any clothing of this kind geared toward women working in the industry. Their clothing line, which includes jeans, coveralls, a baseball T-shirt and a button-down shirt, should be available by fall, Roncone said.

“We want women to say, ‘This is what I wear at work, and I like it,’” said Knieriem, who belongs to YPWE. “We are not out to reinvent the wheel. The clothing will be proper (for women) and safe.”

Roncone said it is all about women feeling comfortable in the industry.

“We are teaching women to be more confident,” said Roncone, adding that YPWE is beginning a mentorship program and is going to be going into area high schools in the fall to talk about Marcellus Shale and the various employment opportunities it has spawned.

“We need to get people focused on the big picture.”