Basra, Iraq (AP)—Dawn was approaching, and Zainab Amjad worked all night on an oil rig in southern Iraq. She placed the sensor in the dark depths of the well until the sonar wave detected the presence of crude oil fueling the country’s economy.
Elsewhere in the oil-rich Basra province, Ayat Rawthan is overseeing the assembly of large drill pipes. These will drill into the earth and send key data about the rock formations to a screen a few meters (feet) away from where she is about to decrypt.
Both women are 24 years old, and only a handful of them have avoided the boring office work normally entrusted to Iraqi female oil engineers. Instead, they chose to wear safety helmets to undertake the hard work at the drilling site and became a pioneer in the country̵
They are part of a new generation of talented Iraqi women who are testing the limits imposed by the conservative community. Their determination to find work in a historically male-dominated industry is an emerging example of emerging young people increasingly finding themselves at odds with the deep-rooted conservative tribal traditions in the oil center of southern Iraq.
Amjad and Rawthan spent a long time in the oil field, and the weather was unbearable. Usually, they are asked-as women-what they are doing there.
“They told me about a field environment that only men can withstand,” Amjad stayed at the rig site for six weeks at a time. “If I give up, I will prove that they are right.”
Both the economic and political fate of Iraq ebb and flow with the ebb and flow of the oil market. Oil sales account for 90% of state revenue-the vast majority of crude oil comes from the South. The collapse in prices brought about an economic crisis; the prosperous treasury of things. A healthy economy brings a certain degree of stability, and instability often weakens the strength of the oil sector. Decades of war, civil strife, and invasion have stalled production.
Statistics from the Ministry of Petroleum show that after low oil prices have been dragged down by the coronavirus pandemic and international disputes, Iraq is showing signs of recovery: exports in January reached 2.868 million barrels per day, at $53 per barrel.
For most Iraqis, these numbers can be used to summarize the industry, but Amjad and Rawthan’s views are more detailed. Each well faces a series of challenges. Some require more pressure to pump, others are filled with toxic gas. “Every field wants to go to a new country,” Amjad said.
Given the importance of the industry to the economy, the petrochemical programs in the country’s engineering schools are only available to students with the highest grades. Two women ranked in the top 5% of the graduating class of Basra University in 2018.
In school, they were taken aback by drilling. For them, this is a brand new world. It has its own language: “Grouting” refers to the start of drilling operations, “Christmas tree” is the top of the wellhead, and “paint” only refers to grease.
Every working day, they go deep into the mystery below the earth’s crust, where they use tools to look at the formation of minerals and mud until they find precious oil. Rawthan explained: “It’s like throwing a stone into the water and studying the ripples.”
To work in the field, Amjad, the daughter of two doctors, knew that she had to find a job at an international oil company, and to do this, she had to stand out. State-owned enterprises are a dead end. There, she will be demoted to an office job.
“In my spare time and vacation, I will take a few days off, book training courses, and sign up for any possible courses,” Amjad said.
When China’s CPECC seeks new employees, she is the obvious choice. Later, when Schlumberger in Texas sought a cable engineer, she seized the opportunity. The job requires her to determine the amount of oil that can be recovered from a given oil well. She passed difficult exams time and time again before reaching the final interview.
When asked if she was sure she was qualified for the job, she said, “Hire me, look.”
In two months, she replaced her green safety helmet with a shiny white hat, which indicated that she was a supervisor and was no longer a trainee, one month faster than usual.
Rawthan also knew that she would have to work harder to succeed. Once, when her team had to perform a rare “bypass” (drilling another hole next to the original), she stayed awake all night.
She said: “I haven’t slept for 24 hours. I want to understand the whole process and all the tools from start to finish.”
Rawthan now also works for Schlumberger, where she collects data from wells that were later used to determine drilling paths. She wants to be proficient in drilling, and the company is a global leader in this service.
Relatives, friends, and even teachers are very frustrated: what to do with hard physical labor? Scorching Basra fever? How many months to live on the rig site at a time? And desert scorpions that roam the reservoir at night?
“A lot of times my professors and classmates laughed,’OK, we will see you there,’ tell me I can’t do it,” Larson said. “But it only makes me feel more uncomfortable.”
However, their parents support this. Rawthan’s mother was a civil engineer, and her father was the captain of an oil tanker who often spent several months at sea.
She said: “They understand why this is my passion.” She hopes to help establish a union to bring together like-minded female Iraqi engineers. Currently, it does not exist yet.
This work is not without danger. Protests outside the oil field led by angry local tribes and unemployed people disrupt work and sometimes even escalate into violence against oil workers. Every day there are torch stacks that point to Iraq’s apparent oil wealth, while others condemn Iraq’s corruption, poor service quality, and unemployment.
However, women are willing to bear these hardships. Amjad has little time to think about them: at 11 o’clock in the evening, she needs to go back to work.
She said: “Drilling will never stop.”