“It's a really exciting time to be in rodeo right now for women.” - Jessica Bolerjack

Jessica Bolerjack is a Wyoming native and a Wyoming cowgirl.

She works as a land representative for the oil and gas company, Crestwood Equity Partners LP in Douglas, Wyoming.

She attended the University of Wyoming and is a former rodeo champion.

She discusses why it's such an exciting time to be a woman in rodeo and what it's like being a female in the oil and gas industry.

Show Notes:

• How Jessica got involved with rodeo
• Why is it a good time for women in rodeo
• What the rodeo lifestyle consists of
• Why is Gilette, Wyoming good for rodeo
• What it's like being a female in the oil and gas industry
• How many women work in the oil and gas industry
• What is most intriguing about living in Wyoming
• What is an open caliber horse
• Is there money in competitive rodeo
• How does the oil and gas industry see itself

Emy diGrappa: 00:08 Welcome to First, But Last. Brought to you by the Wyoming Humanities, I am your host, Emy diGrappa. Wyoming is called the Equality state because we were the first to give women the right to vote. 150 years later, we wonder what Wyoming women think about the progress toward equality now. Let's find out, and thank you for listening.

Emy diGrappa: 00:35 Today, we are talking to Jessica Bolerjack. Jessica is a Wyoming native, Wyoming cowgirl, and works as a land representative for an oil and gas company, Crestwood Midstream Partners, LP in Douglas, Wyoming. Welcome, Jessica.

Jessica Bolerja...: 00:51 Hi, thanks for having me.

Emy diGrappa: 00:53 So, it was interesting, um, just kinda getting to know you, uh, when we talked earlier, and learning that you really grew up all over Wyoming. (laughs) How did that happen?

Jessica Bolerja...: 01:03 Yeah. So, it's, it's kind of a funny story. Um, my mom and dad were in the area around Jackson, and I was actually born in Jackson, and then when I was only a couple months old we ended up moving to southern California.

Jessica Bolerja...: 01:18 My dad trained racehorses, so I got to see a lot of the broader country, um, in my younger years. Spent a lot of time down in southern California, and Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, all over the place, and we ended up making our way back to Wyoming to the Alpine and then Jackson area when I was in middle school, I'd say, and have been there ever since, or I've been in Wyoming ever since.

Jessica Bolerja...: 01:48 And then as I got older, we ended up moving to Gillette, uh, and I finished out high school here, and then attended the University of Wyoming. Lived in Wyoming area, I was in Laramie for a few years, and then back over to the western part of the state in Kemmerer, spent a little time living in Casper and Cheyenne, and now I've been back in Gillette for the last, like, I guess it's been four years now.

Emy diGrappa: 02:14 And how, how did rodeo become such a big part of your life?

Jessica Bolerja...: 02:18 Well, we, where my dad trained racehorses, we were kind of always around horses. Although, we really didn't start riding until we moved back to Wyoming, and kinda got into 4-H, you know, in, in middle school, and ended up meeting some really cool people that rodeoed and, you know, our friends were into it. And so, just kinda took off from there.

Jessica Bolerja...: 02:43 We did kinda get a little bit later start in life to it than a lot of people did, but we, we kinda hit the ground running and ou- our parents were super supportive and, you know, really have to hand it to them for, (laughs) for making it possible, 'cause that's not, not just something that you easily jump into, but, um, yeah, we just loved it. And anybody who's really involved in rodeo knows that, uh, it's hard to just have as a hobby. It becomes your lifestyle, and so that's, uh, pretty much been our lifestyle.

Jessica Bolerja...: 03:14 Since then, I did, did talk a little bit of a hiatus. I college rodeoed for the University of Wyoming and once I graduated, I, I had a, I had a young child and had to get a job, and, you know, really probably took about a 10-year hiatus from it and just, just now in the last few years have, have gotten back into it, which is, it's a really, really exciting time to be in rodeo right now for women.

Jessica Bolerja...: 03:39 Anybody who's, who's not familiar, we have an event called Breakaway Roping that just got added to kind of the professional ranks, and it just got included in the National Finals of, uh, National Finals Rodeo. So, that's a, just a really, really cool deal for, you know, young girls coming up in the sport. It gives them something to look forward to and, you know, some, and bigger goal to aim towards to continue their rodeo career after, you know, high school and college. So, pretty cool time for women in rodeo right now.

Emy diGrappa: 04:10 Well, horses, like you said, your, your dad trained racehorses. So, horses were always a part of your life but not rodeo. So, what does it mean when you have a rodeo lifestyle? What is, what is that like? Yo- does that mean that you're always training, you're always on the back of a horse, you have horses, you live at the rodeo grounds? (laughs) What, what does that look like?

Jessica Bolerja...: 04:35 I think it's different for everybody. Um, so there's one great thing about kind of rodeoing and horses is you can, you can do as much of, or as little, as you want as far as how much you go and participate. But as you know, (laughs) horses, they're, they need fed and watered and taken care of daily. And you know with that, you either have to find a place to board them, you have to have land. So. I, I would say it's different for everybody.

Jessica Bolerja...: 04:58 For us right now, working full-time, you know, I try to, try to ride a couple times a week. My oldest son, he's a, he's on the rodeo team at Central Wyoming College, so, you know, he's, he's riding every day when he's home. So, you know, it's, and of course it's all weather-dependent. We do live in Wyoming. So, this year was, this year has been extremely different. We've been able to, we were able to ride outside until the beginning of February. So, that was really, really nice.

Jessica Bolerja...: 05:26 But yeah, it's, it's, you know, whatever you can do, if, if you want to, Gillette, living in Gillette is, it's a great opportunity and it's one of the reasons we moved over here when we were in high school. There is, there's a ton of rodeo roping type of things to, you know, participate in, a lot of indoor facilities that make it a lot easier to, to do rodeo type of things in the, in the winter.

Emy diGrappa: 05:52 So, does the whole family rodeo?

Jessica Bolerja...: 05:53 No. My dad roped for a little bit. He, he hasn't been into it much anymore. My brother does rope, my sister ranches over in Sturgis. She's not, she doesn't do much of the rodeo anymore. And then my oldest son, College Rodeo. My younger two children are just kind of getting into it. They're, uh, you know, it's just, it's kind of just a fun pastime for them. They're not too serious yet, which, which I'm all right with. So, we all kind of dabble in little, little, little parts of it.

Emy diGrappa: 06:19 Well, how did you, so when you went to, uh, University of Wyoming, what did you get your degree in?

Jessica Bolerja...: 06:26 Well, I ended up getting a degree in communications. I minored in economics, and that was quite the path to get there. I, you know, started out thinking I wanted to be a lawyer, and then went to accounting, and then ended up in communication. And shortly after I graduated, I worked for about a year in, uh, Cheyenne doing public relations and marketing, and I decided that I wanted to be a petroleum engineer.

Jessica Bolerja...: 06:53 So, I went back to college and actually only ended up going for about two and a half years towards that. It was a, it was a very rigorous program. Just too many years in college, and turns out they don't pay you to go to college, and so I had to, had to get a real job and, and go on with that.

Jessica Bolerja...: 07:10 And it's, it's funny how it's worked out. With the work I'm doing now, it's kind of a culmination of all of the little things I was interested in as a youth. So in my job right now as a land man, I work a lot with legal contracts but I also, our landowners are the ranchers around here. So, most of them I know through rodeo and being in kind of the western way of life. So I, I kind of got, I think I kind of found my spot with all of my interests that I have.

Emy diGrappa: 07:40 And what, what exactly does it mean to be a land representative for Midstream?

Jessica Bolerja...: 07:46 Okay. So for those that aren't real familiar with how the oil and gas, just an oil and gas companies work. A midstream company are the companies that construct and, and maintain the pipelines that carry the oil, gas, water, what, what have you, from the paths to production facilities or, you know, they transport.

Jessica Bolerja...: 08:08 So for myself, what I do is I secure right-of-way easements across land to build these pipelines or facilities, whatever. Whatever we need. So I, I work hand-in-hand with the, with our construction crew and our legal team and operations personnel and, and the ranchers or the landowners that, that we deal with. And, you know, and that's not just when we built things, that's the life of the facility, is making sure that we're being responsible, you know, stewards of their land.

Jessica Bolerja...: 08:39 And yeah, it's, it's been, can't say enough good things about the company that I'm with. Our values really align. They treat, you know, everybody, great management team treat, you know, they're our neighbors too, 'cause we live here, you know, they treat them with the utmost respect, are, are very good about being proactive, and it's just, you know, trying, trying to create a sustainable company.

Emy diGrappa: 09:02 Well, what is it like working as a female in the oil and gas industry?

Jessica Bolerja...: 09:07 I wouldn't say it's a piece of cake all the time, but I think that's with anything. I think I've always been in fields that are predominantly male, male-dominated. And I, I think that you have to know your stuff and you have to stand up for yourself. And if you do that, I've, I've, I work with a ton of men and I've gotten pretty much nothing but respect from all of them. And I, I think that's a testament to their character and also that, you know, I, I know my stuff and I, I demand that respect as well.

Jessica Bolerja...: 09:39 I'll say it's not for everybody, but I think that's like any other job. It's not, it's just not for everybody, but I, I will say we've got a lot of good people, a lot of good people in the industry. We can always do better, like any industry, but, um, I, I would say that, and, and maybe it's being a Wyoming type of girl but it's not a big deal to me, it's not so abnormal from daily life to be, you know, to be working with, uh, predominantly males.

Emy diGrappa: 10:07 And what's the percentage of women that work in that industry? Do you know?

Jessica Bolerja...: 10:12 You know, I don't know off the top of my head. I would guess it's not large. And, you know, I think that number is a little, it's probably gonna be skewed a little bit because the majority of positions in, like if you were looking at just Wyoming, are going to be field positions. You know, lots of mechanics and stuff like that. I think if you looked at a broader like organization type where, you know, you have some bigger offices in Denver and Houston and stuff like that, I think the numbers would definitely even out. But through the nature of most of the work that's in Wyoming for oil and gas, you know, a lot of mechanical type of stuff, it's probably pretty high as far as male to female ratio.

Emy diGrappa: 10:54 So, do you, do you meet other women who are working in, like say as truck drivers or working in non-traditional jobs in the oil field?

Jessica Bolerja...: 11:04 Yeah, absolutely. I've seen all different, you know, in, in every facet of the industry. I've got a great group of girlfriends that are all industry gals and, you know, extremely professional, strong women and, uh, just great assets to their companies. Yep, and I've seen them, you know, from technicians to truck drivers to... I actually spent some time as a technician, worked at a plant, uh, you know, kind of done all of those types of things.

Jessica Bolerja...: 11:35 And, you know, I think for Western type of women, I don't wanna, you know, put anybody into a box, but I think that's stuff we do on a, you know, a lot of ranching, farming communities. Like, those are jobs that women do on a daily basis, so it's not a big, you know, jump for them to be doing it in, in oil and gas.

Emy diGrappa: 11:52 Well, I think it's really interesting that you enjoy working in a male-dominated field, and it doesn't, you don't feel any discrimination or pressure because you are a woman. And I think that that is a testament probably to your character and the fact that you have been able to stick up for yourself because I'm sure, you know, that's not always an easy thing to do.

Jessica Bolerja...: 12:17 No. I mean, I think there was, you know, in, in certain positions that I've held, I think there was, was definitely a trial period of, "Prove yourself," which is okay. I mean, that's, I think that's a challenge and I think if you are doing good a job you should be able to do it. (laughs) You know? I don't wanna get a pass just because I'm a woman. I don't want to say, "Yeah, you can be, you can be less than proficient at your job just because you're a woman." So I'm, I'm okay with having to, you know, prove myself, as they say. I think as an employee we should all wanna be, you know, proficient at our jobs.

Emy diGrappa: 12:51 What do you find most intriguing about living in, in Wyoming and growing up here? And I know you've probably traveled around the country, so you've seen other places. And what do you think about the Wyoming culture?

Jessica Bolerja...: 13:05 I will say that it is, and I think when we were, (laughs) when we were talking before, I think, you know, that the six degrees of separation, like, that doesn't exist in Wyoming. There's not a, I don't even think there's a degree of separation. I, I think that's what I love so much about Wyoming and even kind of the western states in general, is I, I feel like I can go anywhere and I know somebody who knows somebody, and there's no lack of something in common to talk about. I love that.

Jessica Bolerja...: 13:33 I love that, you know, it's just, it's a one big, huge community, which I, having lived in, you know, bigger cities and stuff, you just, you don't get that. You don't get that. And I think it's hard from, you know, people that do live in a bigger city to understand that, I mean, while we're a very big state, I think we're one big community as well. And that has to be my favorite thing, 'cause I'm not a fan of coldness. (laughs) So, there's something that makes us all stay.

Emy diGrappa: 14:03 (laughs)

Jessica Bolerja...: 14:03 Mild, mild summers.

Emy diGrappa: 14:04 Oh, my gosh, yeah. We, that, that is I think the love-hate. No, that and the wind. (laughs) That and the wind. (laughs)

Jessica Bolerja...: 14:13 Yeah. Yeah, it's, uh, after living in Laramie and Casper and Cheyenne, um, I feel like I'm up in the banana belt in Gillette now when it comes to wind, and it's pretty windy here still. (laughs)

Emy diGrappa: 14:27 It's the Wyoming wind. You can't get away from it, no matter where you are. (laughs) It's just-

Jessica Bolerja...: 14:31 Yes.

Emy diGrappa: 14:32 ... it's just there. You just have to get used to it, but.

Jessica Bolerja...: 14:35 Yep.

Emy diGrappa: 14:35 And the other thing I wanted to ask you, because I love your rodeo background and your rodeo story, what, what aspirations do you have? Is it just gonna be a lifelong hobby?

Jessica Bolerja...: 14:47 I don't think so. I'm gonna, you know, I, I have some time constraints, I do have two younger children and I love my job and don't plan on quitting that any time soon, but with the opportunities that are now available, I, I think that I'm gonna buy my card, or my permit I guess, this year and try to hit some rodeos close, uh, semi-close to home.

Jessica Bolerja...: 15:11 You know, I, I was able to get a, an open caliber horse this fall, so I've got the, I've got the wheels. So that's, I'm gonna, I'm gonna try to go a little bit. I think it's, why not? You know? You, you just never know. You never know what's gonna happen. I've got some, some great friends that are, you know, and my family's been super supportive. Just see what happens. You never know, see if I can get back into it. (laughs)

Emy diGrappa: 15:42 Well, what is a open caliber horse? That sounds really interesting.

Jessica Bolerja...: 15:47 I mean, it'd be like the pro level. Yep, 'cause I would be professional level.

Emy diGrappa: 15:51 Wow, so you are going for it?

Jessica Bolerja...: 15:53 Professional level horse. Yep. Yeah, we're gonna go for it.

Emy diGrappa: 15:57 So, tell me about the sport that you said just got entered into the National Rodeo Finals competition, that you said was really, really up and coming.

Jessica Bolerja...: 16:08 Breakaway Roping?

Emy diGrappa: 16:08 Right.

Jessica Bolerja...: 16:08 So, it's breakaway Roping, and I don't know if you've ever seen a calf roping. It's a men's event, and the men rope the calf and get off and tie it. Well, breakaway Roping is really similar, except we don't get off and tie. We have a, uh, there's a little piece of string that holds our rope on to the horn, and so when we rope the calf, the string just breaks away and the calf runs free.

Jessica Bolerja...: 16:27 So as you can imagine, it's a crowd-pleaser. You know, really, you know, easy to understand, it runs really quick. So we're, we're really hoping that a lot of the rodeo producers, you know, add it to their rodeos and keep the ball rolling, keep the momentum, and I think it's a great, great thing for our sport and a great thing for women.

Emy diGrappa: 16:48 Is, is there money in competing?

Jessica Bolerja...: 16:51 Yes. There is also lots of entry fees, but yes, there's, there is, uh, there is money to be won. Yep. Um, we, I think they've done, uh, the PRCA, which is, and the WPRA. So, it's Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and the Women's Professional Rodeo Association do a really good job at getting sponsorships and, and such.

Jessica Bolerja...: 17:14 So yeah, so a lot, it, it kind of depends on where you go. Each, each town that puts on a rodeo has different money added and, you know, they can choose if they, right now they choose if they include Breakaway or not. And, uh, so yeah, we're just trying to, right now, we're just kinda at the stage where we just all just show up and, you know, try to, try to build a fan base, I think that's a big part of it, so that people are asking for it.

Jessica Bolerja...: 17:42 And yeah, we'll see how it goes. It's a, it's definitely, it's gained a lot of momentum in the last, you know, three years. There's been a lot of gals that have been doing this for a long time that have been extremely, just great stewards of the sport, great spokespeople, you know, and huge part of, of getting this, uh, getting it to where it is now.

Emy diGrappa: 18:06 Outside of Wyoming, and I don't know if you can speak to it or not, but what is the reputation of rodeoing around the country? Do you know what that kind of, or is there just a following? It's kind of, you know, like if you're a triathlon competitor, you know it's, you know what it is, you know where to go, you know how to train?

Jessica Bolerja...: 18:26 Yep. I, I think, I think that's, you know, very similar. You know, I think, I'm sure there's some differing viewpoints on it. Overall, I think we've all, you know, been aware of it if, if you're into rodeo, you know, compete at issues, stuff like that, but I think the majority of people who really take the time and learn and, you know, get the information about, you know, what we do, I think the majority of them change their viewpoint if they had a negative viewpoint on it.

Jessica Bolerja...: 18:55 But yeah, there's, there's definitely a big following. Las Vegas hosts the National Finals Rodeo every year, and they just, I mean, they're sold out all 10 nights for the Finals every year. Um, yeah, there's a, there's a huge following. They've got, they just started a couple of networks, The Cowboy Channel and then RFD-TV does a lot, um, where they're, they're broadcasting a lot more rodeos, so I think that's a, marketing wise, that's been really good to be able to allow people to, you know, view a lot of the rodeos that weren't previously televised, so.

Jessica Bolerja...: 19:31 Especially with where we're at now, where with COVID, and they're, they haven't been able to have a lot of spectators at, at a lot of these events. So, I think it was, it was really good timing for a, for a company to come in and, and broadcast a lot of them so people can still follow. And, you know, social media is amazing in just being able to keep tabs and, you know, watch it a lot more, rather than just... I mean previously, you know, probably in the last decade, the only opportunity we really had to watch if you didn't go to a rodeo was the NFR for 10 days in December. And so being able to watch all throughout the year and, and, you know, cheer on your favorite cowboys, cowgirls, whatnot for fans I think is amazing.

Emy diGrappa: 20:11 Well, I have one last question because this is the other thing that's pretty hot on the presses right now.

Jessica Bolerja...: 20:17 Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emy diGrappa: 20:19 And that, what is, what is the reputation or, you know, how, how does the oil and gas industry look at itself right now in terms of, you know, what is being said about energy production?

Jessica Bolerja...: 20:34 Well, you know, I don't wanna speak for a, you know, company or, you know, anything, but I think personally, I think in the media and maybe by politicians, things are really over simplified or not really understood. And I think that goes, you know, goes for both sides. I don't, I think that if anybody looked really closely at, and granted I work for a great company and maybe we're, you know, I, I know we're not the exception, but a lot of the things that we do to try to mitigate, you know, carbon footprint, stuff like that, are, are very encouraging things that I think get glossed over. And I think, and I will say, I think that's on the part of oil and gas companies.

Jessica Bolerja...: 21:17 I think maybe that's our, our thing we need to work about with our messaging is speaking to people that maybe aren't really familiar with the industry in terms and things that they understand. I think we're really quick to just say, you now, "Here's facts, here's facts, here's facts." Well, sometimes that doesn't compute to the layperson, you know?

Jessica Bolerja...: 21:36 But, you know, for Midstream companies like what I do, you know, we are the safest form of transportation for oil and gas. You know? We get it so that they don't have to flare, you know? And I know flaring's been a hot topic, so that the producers don't have to flare gas. We're safer, we get trucks off the highway. You know, if there's not a pipeline in the ground to take the gas or oil where it needs to go, you've got trucks running on the highway, you know? And, and that's not, the, that's or, you know, rail, what, what have you. So, we're the safest form of transportation for that.

Jessica Bolerja...: 22:11 And, you know, as far as a carbon footprint, we reduced that, you know? If we're not flaring, if we can get a gas into the pipeline and not really change the atmosphere, that's good for everybody. And, and I think the, you know, I know we've got the Enhance Recovery Unit, and I apologize, I don't know a lot about it up here, big, you know, lots of research going on.

Jessica Bolerja...: 22:32 I think that the oil and gas industry has just loads and loads of talented people, and I think that the industry should be working with, you know, the legislative branch to, to solve some of these issues that we find 'cause I think oil and gas has a lot (laughs) of the talents that, whether it be to, uh, you know, transition into renewable stuff like that, like, I think it's a collective thing we need to do together. And I, and that's what that's, uh, hard to see right now, as there's a real split and I think if, if we all got together and, you know, just try, (laughs) quit trying to be so oppositional that some real progress could be made, if that makes any sense.

Emy diGrappa: 23:17 Yeah, that's really, really good. Yeah, that's really good to hear though, that it's always about the conversation. It's always about, you know, people being able to have an open mind and listen and hear a, a different perspective.

Jessica Bolerja...: 23:32 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and that's, you know, I know that, um, uh, what we call like an ESG sustainability type of thing, like that's big in our company. I think that we're gonna see the, which I think we were kinda on the front end of that, our leadership team is, you know, has really been on the front end of that as far as thinking about those things, environmental concerns.

Jessica Bolerja...: 23:55 And I think the oil and gas industry as a whole, you know, I've work for quite a few different companies, I think they do, they do care. I mean, I think, I think we work really good at being stewards of the land and, you know, taking care of our resources. I just, I think we get a bad rap for it a lot of times. And, you know, like I said, that's, maybe we're not getting our, you know, what we do good out there and that's, or maybe people just don't wanna hear it. I don't know. What do you think?

Emy diGrappa: 24:24 Well, I think it's a combination. I think that the energy industry goes through, um, webs and flows of being responsible, and then you have a big oil spill, or something happens, and then people just see the bad news 'cause that's what is out there in the media, is the bad news.

Jessica Bolerja...: 24:43 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Emy diGrappa: 24:45 The news media isn't in the business of reporting on the good news. (laughs)

Jessica Bolerja...: 24:49 Right. More clicks on bad stuff, yeah.

Emy diGrappa: 24:52 Mm-hmm (affirmative). And it's gonna be really important now for the energy industry to really get the word out there of what they do that's positive for the, the world, the country, and the environment.

Jessica Bolerja...: 25:07 Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep. Yep, and I think, you know, speaking to Wyoming, like I think most people in Wyoming understand, I mean, the majority of our tax money comes from oil and gas. You know? So our, I know, like, in, in Campbell County, like we have amazing schools and, you know, facilities and things like that.

Jessica Bolerja...: 25:28 So I think, at least regionally, I think it's most people understand the benefits to energy industry, but like you said, you have a couple bad actors or a couple bad spills or, you know, something like that and it, it seems like it just, you, you, we have to start over from ground zero.

Jessica Bolerja...: 25:48 Yeah. It's just, I mean I think it's gonna be an ongoing thing. I think it's gonna be, it'll be interesting to see how the next four years go. We just keep doing what we're doing. You know, that's the one thing about Wyoming, we're used to th- the ebbs and flows of the, of the energy, energy market. And so, it's, that's part of the deal when you're in this industry, is that, you know, you know that that's coming.

Emy diGrappa: 26:11 Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, thanks for sticking in there. That's great, and thank you for talking to me.

Jessica Bolerja...: 26:17 Hey, thanks for having me. I, uh, enjoyed it.

Emy diGrappa: 26:24 Thank you for listening to First, But Last, brought to you by the Wyoming Humanities. Please join us again next week as we continue our conversations with women from around the state. You can also find us at thinkwy.org, where we continue the conversation on our blog about the history, journey, and the challenges of Wyoming's intrepid women living in the Equality state. And if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show and leave us a review on iTunes. Thank you for listening.

"I've always worked in fields that were predominantly male dominated and you have to know your stuff and you have to stand up for yourself." - Jessica Bolerjack

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