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Elena Melchert, Director of the Upstream Research Division in FE's Office of Oil and Natural Gas

Elena Melchert, Director of the Upstream Research Division in FE's Office of Oil and Natural Gas

As part of our series on women in the Office of Fossil Energy (FE), we turn the spotlight on Elena Melchert, a petroleum engineer who leads the Upstream Research Division in FE’s Office of Oil and Natural Gas.   

In her current role, Melchert manages a portfolio of research related to unconventional oil and gas exploration and production, as well as offshore oil spill prevention.  But her career in the oil and gas sector began more than 30 years ago, where she worked in heavy oil stripper well production at Getty Oil.  In 1985, she accepted a position at the Department of Energy (DOE) as a production engineer in the Elk Hills oil field in California.  She quickly excelled, leading to her next role there as a reservoir engineer. In 1989, she moved to DOE headquarters. 

Since coming to DOE, Melchert has worked in a number of roles ranging from research and development (R&D) in production operations to policy development. She’s even worked internationally, serving as U.S. Coordinator of Natural Gas as part of the 1995 Summit of the Americas’ Western Hemispheric Energy Initiative. Melchert has also worked on developing maximum rates of production in the field, supported a White House Energy Task Force, and worked on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. As a project manager, she’s led R&D efforts in unconventional oil and gas resources, research on offshore and ultra-deepwater drilling, and  development of the Fuels chapter of the DOE’s 2015 Quadrennial Technology Review.

As a woman in the energy sector, Melchert says she has witnessed some expected biases against women. However, she adds that she has always felt supported at DOE. She notes that even when she was one of a handful of women in the room, she always made her voice heard and her contributions were valued. 

Melchert thinks it’s important for women to be in the science and energy industry because of the unique perspective they offer.  Her advice to young women in Science, Technology, Energy and Math (STEM)? “Just keep pushing.”  She believes pursuing a field you enjoy will lead to new opportunities. Her advice was not to be afraid of change, rather to stay invested in whatever is interesting and fun. By following this advice, she has found success, and she encourages young professional woman to stay engaged.  She also believes strongly in the value of mentorship, both formal and informal, and in learning from those around you.

This has been true in Melchert’s own life – and now her daughter is beginning a STEM career after graduating with a degree in Aerospace Engineering Astronautics and a minor in Physics.