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Oil companies are asking Permian Basin residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to help defend the industry from the deadly disease

Through the Permian Strategic Partnership, some of the largest oil companies in Texas are encouraging Permian residents to get vaxxed — not only to protect themselves from the coronavirus but to help protect the West Texas oil industry.

By Mitch Borden

The Permian Strategic Partnership was formed by some of the largest energy companies operating in the West Texas-Southeast New Mexico oil fields to address quality of life issues in the region. Now that coalition of 16 companies, which includes names like Chevron, Schlumberger and ConocoPhillips, are trying to convince tens of thousands of people in the Permian Basin to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The companies are motivated by public health concerns that have been commonly espoused by health officials, but also worry if a majority of Permian residents do not get their shots the oil industry could be affected.

Permian Vaccination Rate Continues to Stagnates

Across the Permian Basin, vaccination rates have by and large plateaued far behind state and national averages, according to the Permian Strategic Partnership’s CEO and President Tracee Bentley. In the Midland-Odessa area, approximately 43% of those eligible are fully vaccinated. 

There was a recent bump in vaccinations earlier this summer and fall when the region was inundated with hospitalizations spurred by the Delta variant. But the majority of people in the region still have refused to get vaccinated. While watching vaccination rates flatline through the summer and fall, Bentley and her partners decided they would begin a messaging campaign to try to convince residents to get their shots.

"Honestly, our biggest concern is that we're not going to have a healthy workforce to do what we do best,” Bentley said. “You realize the 16 largest employers in the Permian, their number one goal every day they get up is to make sure their employees are safe and that they are healthy. And COVID-19 is the largest risk to that top priority.”

A Recent Bust Looms Over Economic Recovery

Last year during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the oil industry faced a historic bust as oil prices dramatically fell and briefly went negative. Drilling rigs were stacked, the West Texas oil patch went quiet as thousands were laid off.

Now though, oil demand is rebounding which is contributing to why gas prices recently have been so high. For months, oil prices have fluctuated but mostly sat around $70 a barrel. Bentley however worries that a largely unvaccinated population and variants like Delta and Omicron could reverse or stymie the recovery the Permian Basin is currently undergoing.

“This isn’t a feel-good thing, this literally is life or death and this literally could be the difference about being able to keep producing the energy that we need and all the jobs associated with it,” She said. “Number one is health and safety, but number two this could if we're not careful this could become a very significant economic issue.”

Bentley believes that some of the biggest players in the oil industry standing up and asking people to get vaccinated may reach some populations that health officials have so far failed to convince.

No Incentives — Just The Message

Permian Strategic Partnership started its messaging campaign at the end of November and plans to continue it throughout 2022. The organization is investing over one million dollars into the initiative that will span billboards, print, television and digital ads as well.

Bentley said her organization is shying away from financial incentives due to her partners and other organizations finding them not very effective. The hope is that this messaging campaign will help boost the region’s vaccination rate among eligible residents to over 70%. But according to Bentley, the campaign will be a success if it saves one life.

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.