Even Standard Oil had to start somewhere," gushes Laura Aurre, 27. "Rockefeller wasn't the only person who could do it." As founder, president and principal stockholder of the United Petroleum Corporation in Greenville, Ky., Aurre is well on her way to proving her point by making her own pipe dream come true. A former deb and flight attendant from Alexandria, Va., she taught herself the oil business by reading trade publications and talking to geologists. With a $100,000 stake from personal and family savings, she and her husband, Greg, moved from New York City to a farm in Greenville in 1982. While some old-timers familiar with oil in the Kentucky coal fields doubt there's enough oil in Muhlenberg County to make anyone a tycoon, Aurre has hit on seven out of eight wells—gas twice, oil five times. She now has 11,000 acres under lease, is drilling her ninth well and has six more sites staked out. The yield of her wells is low, and drilling for oil in coal fields is expensive. But the company earned $600,000 in 1982, and Aurre estimates last year's figure to be $1 million.

In the meantime, the boss is taking a conservative approach with the company, plowing the profits back into the business and never borrowing against future yields. "The balance sheet doesn't look great," admits Laura, "but it's the difference between making it and not making it. A lot of people expect the hits to pay for their investments. That's like counting chickens before they hatch." There's no danger that this well-bred daughter of a prominent pediatrician will give up the high-powered world of oil for the genteel life-style of her upbringing. "My dad thought I was crazy," she says, "but last summer he bought a nice, big block of stock. He keeps bugging me to move back home, but I tell him, 'Daddy, there's no oil in Virginia.' "