Faces of the Industry: Cindy Yeilding

Kelli Lauletta

August 1, 2014

Faces of the Industry is a monthly series dedicated to taking readers behind the job titles to learn more about key influencers and risk takers in oil and gas. Pull the curtain back to see that it is more than just rig counts and oil prices driving our industry. It is about the spirit, creativity, curiosity and intellect of individuals at innovative companies who are writing the next chapter in industry history. This series focuses on the personal stories of featured professionals and reveals the spark that brought them into the industry, why they stay, and advice they wish to impart.

Cindy Yeilding earned her MSc from the University of North Carolina after receiving a BS in Geology from Southern Methodist University. She has worked as an exploration, production, appraisal and well-site operations geoscientist and is currently BP’s Vice President, Gulf of Mexico Appraisal. Her most recent roles include Chief Geoscientist for the Gulf of Mexico, Global Geoscience Technology and R&D Manager for BP, and Exploration Leadership positions in the US and Venezuela.

Cindy has developed and led short courses and geological field seminars, chaired numerous technical sessions and presented many technical talks. She has served as an AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) Distinguished Lecturer and was named a “Legend in Exploration” by AAPG in 2003. Cindy is also a member of the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) Board of Directors.

Cindy Yeilding is one of those risk takers whose curiosity and intellect has taken her from earning her BS in Geology to being named a “Legend in Exploration” by AAPG. She is a geologist (hence a “rock star”), leader, mentor, sleuth, mother, wife and inspiration to others. OilOnline recently sat down with Cindy Yeilding, BP’s Vice President, Gulf of Mexico Appraisal, to learn more about her story.

How did you get interested in an oil and gas career?

I have always been fascinated by the physical world around me: a passion that was fed by my mom. My family, my neighbors and a few great teachers nurtured my interest in rocks, minerals and fossils. Undergraduate (SMU) and graduate school (UNC) exposed me to the practical applications of geoscience, and I was hooked by the merger of science and art that geologists apply in their field. I found geoscientists to be caring, collaborative and fascinating colleagues, and am thrilled to have had such a long career in such an exciting and meaningful profession.

Tell us a little about your early career stage, are there any lessons learned?

I began my career at Sohio (Standard Oil of Ohio) as a summer intern, and I was then hired as an exploration geologist and a carbonate specialist. Six months later, my team was scaled back, and I became an operations geologist. In this role, I supervised geologic activity on wells and spent a lot of time on rigs onshore and offshore, where the crews were all male. I faced a few challenges at first, but eventually recognized it is was not my being a women, but a geologist, that led the engineers to assume I did not understand the drilling process. Once I was able to build relationships with each of my team members, they began to understand how my knowledge of each well’s objectives and geology could bring value to the company. Over my career, one of the lessons I have learned is that in the oil and gas industry, our brains and ability to create solutions to complex problems is what really defines us, not just our race, gender or background.

What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in oil and gas?

First, I would emphasize the great diversity of roles and experiences offered by our industry.  I’ve studied rocks all over the world, worked on five continents and have been lucky to collaborate with some of the world’s leading scientists and engineers.  Next, join us if you like challenges. We integrate complex data, and our recommendations can lead to significant business investments and economic impact. Join us if you are looking for accountability. Finally, we are a high-tech industry. We are drilling wells almost six miles deep and gathering cutting-edge data in these wells. Our imaging methods are on par with the most advanced medical imaging, and we host some of the world’s largest supercomputers.

Tell us about a “career high” moment for you?

A career highlight for me was being a part of the team that discovered Thunder Horse in July 1999, one of the largest deepwater producing fields in the BP portfolio. It consists of two adjacent fields (‘north’ and ‘south’) being developed together, with reservoirs in Miocene turbidite sandstones. The wells required to access the reservoir are some of the most challenging and deepest in the Gulf of Mexico. This discovery came only after a string of exploration failures caused us to completely rethink our approach to the geology of the Gulf of Mexico: demonstrating that challenging conventional wisdom or dogma can lead to great outcomes.

One issue that comes up frequently in this industry is the “burnout” rate. What types of strategies would you recommend to help others with work/life integration? 

Work on its own can be challenging, and it can become very complex when you’re trying to balance it with family, relationships and other real-world activities.  Weaving a sense of humor into your work can help relieve pressure, and good friends with generous listening skills can help you keep work challenges in perspective. I’ve found that honest conversations with leadership and colleagues about prioritization and deadlines can really help diffuse the stress: not everything always has to be done, at once.  I’ve also seen flexible work schedules and part-time work applied really well: often best enabled by clarity on deliverables and expectations up front.

To be candid, with two young children and a dual career, lots of things fall through the cracks at home. I’ve got very few hobbies and meals are often “assembled” rather than “created.” Truthfully, I am a strong believer in coffee: I definitely have a frequent-buyer card at Starbucks!

What would surprise most people about your job?

One of the things that may surprise people about geology is that you are a sleuth. You are using clues from the earth, outcrops and the subsurface to help you put together your best story for how the earth’s rocks were laid down and their history. I approach my job a bit differently than other people; I try to look at the biggest picture on the widest scale possible and then go out and find people who will have insights that feed into that picture. Their ideas come together to help me solve the issue or problem.

What trends do you see on the horizon in the oil and gas industry?

We face continuous challenges: economic challenge, political changes and scientific breakthroughs in our quest to safely provide heat, light, mobility and jobs for the world. It never gets simpler; yet, oil and gas will remain a significant part of the global energy mix for the world for decades to come.  Great science and engineering will always be in demand in this industry.

Faces of the Industry will feature individuals who do extraordinary things for the industry and outside the industry. If you would like to nominate someone, please send an email to Kelli Lauletta.

Kelli Lauletta
is an HR consultant with 17 years experience. She also serves as an editor for OilOnline.com. If you have story ideas please email Kelli at [email protected]