Hewitt seeks solutions in Baton Rouge

Before taking her problem-solving skills to the Louisiana Legislature, Senator Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, applied them in her community and household.  She also relied on them as a drilling and workover engineer.

They even helped her shower.

“I have a track record of solving problems, both through my career and the volunteer work I did when I came home to raise our sons,” she says.  “Engineers are problem-solvers.  I had a lot of concerns at both the state and federal levels and thought the best way to address them was to run for office.”

The oil and gas industry occupies a prominent place in Hewitt’s family.  She met her husband, Stan, during her last summer at Louisiana State University while interning at a service company.

He is now an engineering manager at a mid-sized operator in Covington.  Her brother is chief executive officer of a mid-sized independent producer in Denver.  Her father-in-law was district manager for a service company in Mississippi.  Her father, meanwhile, was a drilling manager for more than three decades.

Hewitt earned a mechanical engineering degree from LSU and immediately took a job at Shell Oil Company.  Eventually, it took her into drilling and completions work in West Texas, onshore Mississippi, the Louisiana swamps and Michigan.  At one point, she managed the budget for Shell’s entire U.S. operations.

But first, the fresh-faced, single Sharon Woodall started with the same on-the-job training as every other Shell engineer at the time, which meant she spent a year making the rounds on the company’s Gulf of Mexico rigs.

Climbing off the helicopter in new coveralls, hard hat, boots and gloves that were all so immaculate they clearly had come straight from factory packaging, she wandered about with no idea where to go until she spotted a trailer and approached while wondering how to identify the foreman.

Once inside, she spotted him immediately.

“He was the biggest, baddest, burliest guy there,” Hewitt recounts.  “He had cut the sleeves off his tattered and oily coveralls.  I stuck my hand out and told him I was the new Shell engineer. He glared at me, spit into his tobacco cup and shoved his hands into his pockets, leaving my hand hanging there.”

But when he chose that moment to announce the oil business’s two main problems, Hewitt says she felt a silent thrill at the opportunity to gain a valuable nugget of wisdom in her first week on the job.

“‘The first is O-rings,’” she recalls him saying.  “‘The second - - - is women.’”

Except if the foreman actually considered women a problem, he had been free of that trouble, Hewitt recalls.  After all, she was literally the only woman for miles — unless she counted the pin-ups and similar depictions of femininity found throughout the testosterone-soaked environment.

 “I was bunking with five men in a room with two triple bunk beds,” she says.  “The first few nights, I slept in my coveralls and boots.”

But the lack of privacy in her sleeping quarters paled in comparison to the bathroom accommodations.

 “The bathroom was a men’s locker room — just a big room with shower nozzles along one wall and urinals along the other,” Hewitt says.  “There were two doors, neither of which locked, because nothing locks offshore—it is considered a safety hazard.  I did not shower during my entire first week.  It was bad enough to run in there real quick to use the bathroom.”

Undaunted, she spent her week off considering a solution.

“As an engineer, I solved the problem,” she says.  “When I returned, I brought a 40-foot piece of rope.  When the locker room was empty, I tied the doorknobs together, since both of the doors opened outward.”

Of course, good engineers always have a backup plan.

 “I was still afraid some roughneck would break the rope, so I showered in my bathing suit,” she says.  “For my entire first year, I was the only engineer to always pack a rope and a bathing suit.”

And so it went, always as the only woman, and initially made to feel like the girl who insisted on ruining the boys’ club.  In one sense, the contrast became even starker when she and Stan got engaged and she began to plan their wedding from offshore oil rigs.

“I would be on the rig floor and a voice would come over the PA,” she says.  “Everyone would hear ‘Shell engineer, the florist is on line two.’  Roughnecks slinging pipe and mud suddenly looked up with expressions that said, ‘What the heck has happened to the oil business?’”

Despite that, Hewitt reflects, she earned her colleagues’ respect by extending it to them first while doing good work.  Now, Hewitt says, she has a number of lifelong friends gained from her Gulf days.

And while she is extremely proud to represent her district, Hewitt admits she also is proud to represent the oil and gas industry, considering its importance to the state economy and the many Louisianans who make their livings from it.  Her first year as a legislator, which featured two special sessions and a record 19 consecutive weeks in Baton Rouge, saw Hewitt gain rare experience as a freshman on the Finance Committee.

“I was at Ground Zero,” she reflects.  “I saw how state government works and have so many ideas on how we can do it better.  That is part of what I am working on in the off-season now that I have seen it and understand it.  I hope to bring a little more of the business perspective to state government.”

That includes helping fellow legislators understand the threats posed by Louisiana’s litigious environment.

“When I was managing the budget at Shell, we ranked projects from 1-100 based on economics,” Hewitt recalls.  “Legal costs, lawsuits and their risks are factors in the economics.  Companies have more projects than they can afford to do in any given year, so they have to rank them.  I don’t want Louisiana projects at the bottom.”

 

A Closer Look at Sharon Hewitt

ON RUNNING STATE GOVERNMENT MORE LIKE A BUSINESS

There is value in comparing projects between agencies and scrutinizing things a little more, as opposed to funding agencies with big buckets of money and telling them to spend it however they think best.  I want to peel back the layers of the onion, get more into the details and evaluate where there are opportunities to shrink government and spend our limited resources in the most judicious way possible.

ON LOCAL GOVERNMENTS SUING OIL AND GAS COMPANIES

We are running companies out of Louisiana, because either they are involved in lawsuits or are concerned they could be.  When a parish files a lawsuit against oil and gas companies, it is almost like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

ON HER OPINION OF LOGA

LOGA does a tremendous job in advocating for the industry and helping people understand the industry’s importance to our state.  It is a critical voice.  I hope to help with that as well.  I see part of my responsibility as adding my voice to help make sure we have legislation that is fair to the industry while it protects the environment.

 

SOURCE: LOGA Industry Report - Magazine - Story by DL Stokelorn

Senator Sharon Hewitt