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Kristen Briggs

Layers of A Well-Lived Life

Kristen Briggs.PNG

Not everyone can look back on their story and see geological patterns in their life, but Kristen Briggs can. From her nature-filled childhood to her career as a petroleum geologist Briggs' rich experiences have formed her in the same way that rocks are formed - by settling in layers, enduring obstacles, and being refined through intense pressure.

Sediment is carried off by natural processes and is deposited on a particular spot, where it accumulates over time.

Brigg's love for nature began early in her life. She spent her youngest years in Massachusetts picking apples, feeding horses, sliding on ice in the field behind her house, and skipping rocks on Wheeler Pond. When she moved to Florida at age 7, she continued nurturing her fascination with the outdoors through a special program in her school district called the Environmental Study Center. Every year, she and her fellow students embarked on field trips to Florida's exquisitely diverse ecosystems—its mangrove swamps, beaches, and lagoons—and conducted hands-on field investigations of the world around them. they collected sea cucumbers, explored mangrove swamps, and studied inlets laden with horseshoe crabs. "This was a thoroughly amazing experience," Briggs said.

When Briggs came to BYU, her love of the earth continued to accumulate into deep starts that filled her life. Once settled in Provo, Briggs began running along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and up to the Y, enjoying the carbonate depositional features of Utah she saw along the way.

Despite her clear interest in the natural world, Briggs had difficulty choosing a major when faced with the overwhelming variety of options at BYU. She liked studying English and anthropology, but it was actually a class unrelated to those disciplines that most shaped her future.

As an Honors Program student, Briggs decided to enroll in Dr. Myron Best's introductory geology course and embarked on a class field trip to the Grand Canyon later in the semester. After exploring the Hurricane Fault, hunting for fossils in the Carmel limestone, and participating in an early morning devotional on the North Rim, Briggs came to a realization. "What I saw unique to geology that I hadn't found in other science courses was how integrative it is, using aspects of math, chemistry, physics, and biology. And that struck a chord with me," she said.

After the end of the course, Best suggested that Briggs consider participating in a department-run field trip to Hawaii. through she felt underqualified to participate, she joined the group and loved her experience so much that she at last decided to declare a double major in geology and English. At that moment, the foundations for her geologic passion were firmly deposited into place.

Magma is forced into older rocks from below, cools, and hardens before reaching earth's surface. This process may permanently change the shape of the existing rock layers, but leaves the composition of the original strata intact.

In the first semester of her junior year, Briggs received the devastating news that her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next few years, Briggs split her time between studying at BYU, helping her family, and answering a call to serve a mission. Eventually, her mother's illness became terminal. While this unexpected turn of events occurred as abruptly as a magma intrusion, Briggs responded to the impending loss of her mother by learning to be flexible with her plans while internally holding true to her interests.

Though unsure what would happen after her mother's passing, or how she would need to assist her family, she felt the urgency to hurry and finish her studies. To expedite her graduation, she gave up on her double English and geology major and left BYU with University Honors in English and minors in anthropology and geology.

While supporting her family from a distance, Briggs stayed at BYU for graduate studies in geology. At last, she was able to fulfill a goal she had made as a high school student—to pursue a master's degree. When she later married, she and her husband decided that she would pursue her career while her husband built up his business. Eventually, Briggs landed a job at Chevron.

Briggs speaks with total peace about her choice. "I have never thought that I couldn't act on my own desires. It has usually been the opposite. My closest family members have asked me, 'What do you want to do, and how do you make that happen?'"

Nevertheless, Briggs recognizes that not all women find it natural to pursue their dreams. Briggs hopes to remind women in the Church that "finding out who you really are, what you really want to do in life, or what you are called to do, is possible with study, discussion, prayer, and work."

Through subtle chemical processes, sediment and sedimentary rocks transform into other types of stone before they harden.

Over the years, Briggs' life events have transformed her into a variety of roles, from a curious student to a professional petroleum geologist and now to a thriving mother. She and her husband have worked carefully to balance work and family, but the process has certainly not been easy.

"We knew that we wanted one of us to be home with our children when they were young, so my husband cared for our older two children. When we decided to have a third, our roles shifted a bit," she said. Though still overseeing drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico, an around-the-clock job, she recounts, "I woke up early or stayed up late to fulfill work responsibilities so I could keep my time with my children devoted to them."

Not only has Briggs answered the call to be flexible for her family's continually evolving needs, but she's also dealt with the all-too-common gender bias in the workplace. Briggs noted that women in the oil and gas industry need to work almost three times as hard as men to achieve the same success. "I felt some of this at times, and always did the best job I knew how to do. I established a reputation of hard work, resourcefulness, and kept my focus on being fit-for-purpose for the project at hand," she said.

Briggs has valuable advice for those facing conflicting interests. "Finding whatever balance works for you is what I advise. The happiest women I have met found what works for them," she said. "Some work full-time and outsource child care; some have family (including husbands_ that care for their children; some women work part-time; and some women love being at home. We need all of these women [because] they contribute so much to society."

Deepwater Drilling
Sedimentary rocks like shale and sandstone house crude oil and natural gas in the ocean floor. The strata of these rocks form when hydrogen and carbon combine under intense pressure.

For Briggs, keeping cool under demanding circumstances is a skill she developed not just as she's addressed the needs of home and work together, but especially as she faced the pressing challenges of her position as a petroleum geologist. Over the course of her career at Chevron, Briggs oversaw projects both in the U.S. and abroad, including in Angola. One of her more complex assignments was acting as the lead geologist for two major drilling fields in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico: one drilled to 25,000 feet below the seafloor and the other to 30,000 feet.

Because deepwater drilling costs can easily surpass 300 million dollars, geologists must consider an enormous amount f data before settling on a well location. They must also collaborate with drilling and engineering teams to diminish potential risks and plan the technical aspects of their assignments, such as determining the ranges and thresholds of drilling equipment. Briggs often led the team in making decision trees for these wells so that she and her colleagues knew immediately what type of data to collect and whom to contact if they encountered uncertainties during drilling.

One challenge arose during Briggs' first deepwater project in 2012. A colleague declared total depth (TD), or the bottom of the well, earlier than Briggs anticipated. The team halted the drilling, but Briggs' data suggested the possibility of further drilling. The team recommenced operations and found commercially viable sands 24 feet below TD, much lower than they had expected. Although a few days of drilling costs were lost because of this mistake, Briggs saved the project over $10 million dollars by keeping the team from sidetracking again. Briggs executed this advanced project under pressure thanks to the savvy she had gained from industry experience and her BYU education.

Perpetuating a Love for Geology

Though Briggs has stepped away from petroleum geology for now to spend more time with her children, she engages with nature and geology whenever she can. In addition to training with the Texas Master Naturalistic program, Briggs gives occasional geology presentations at her children's schools and has found that many kids enjoy learning about this aspect of the natural world. "When they see a really cool rock, it just makes them happy," Briggs said. "I think most geologists, including me, are big kids at heart who just get happy when they see a cool rock, and I like helping other people share in that excitement."

After some negotiation with Chevron, Briggs was granted a leave of absence extending until June 2020 to allow her to spend more time with her children. She is grateful for the opportunity to return to her career as a petroleum geologist this summer.

Through the changing circumstances and priorities of her life, Briggs has always integrated her passions with her family and career. Regardless of the stage of life, Briggs has been dynamic and resilient—just like the natural processes of the earth she loves so much.