Stories from the Permian Basin: Sister Odile Coirier

selfie of woman with short hair and glasses

Sister Odile Coirier

Sister Odile Coirier is a Franciscan Sister living out of El Paso, Texas. She also works with Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), addressing climate justice through a religious or spiritual lens. Here’s what she had to say. (This interview was edited and shortened for clarity. )

"I am a Franciscan sister living in El Paso and working with Interfaith Power and Light (IPL). We work with congregations and people of faith and conscience to address climate justice through a religious or spiritual lens.  

We educate people and work with houses of worship to do energy efficiency, solar, food production, and we work on public policy as faith advocates. In our work, we find that oil and gas industries are so prominent in our region that we have a responsibility to address pollution that affects human health, God’s creation and our climate. Oil and gas companies have an ethical responsibility for the common good and must be more accountable and follow stronger regulations that are being put in place.  

When I visit the Permian, I feel sad at witnessing the land so violated.

I am concerned when I hear the stories of families who are suffering health problems and fear for their working breadwinners. Because of the boom cycle of oil and gas I witness so much pollution and despoiling of more land and communities. In Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis talks about the “throw away culture.” As I drive in the Permian, I witness a throw away culture and wonder about those most vulnerable and future generations.  

My work here is to contact the communities and different faith-based groups and invite them to participate in our advocacy work. We have participated in the Environmental Protection Agency rulemaking for methane by getting people of faith to offer public comments, sign letters and petitions. We also connect with our federal legislators on air pollution, climate bills and water bills.   

We all live in a time of multiple crises, like climate change, migration and economic and social justice concerns. Everyone feels it.

It's quite a very depressing time. But we must be witnesses of action and hope by working with people and being rooted in our religious traditions. Even though we cannot always see the outcome of our efforts being with people gives hope because they are always very energized to do something.  

Living on the border has particular challenges because many people in El Paso are low-income and suffer economic injustices. We also have many migrants who are increasingly affected by climate change in their home countries where they suffer weather events and food insecurity and also government insecurity. There are immigrants working in the Permian Basin. These people suffer from air and water pollution and health effects that include bronchial, cancers, and hypertension. The work they do is also very dangerous and they are subjected to long hours which adds to the dangers.  

In talking with community members in the Permian region, many would like to work in renewable energy, but that transition is not far enough along and so it is not possible yet. We need to invest in new businesses and industry for a just economic transition from fossil fuel, which we know is coming. We know that the Inflation Reduction Act that was passed has the potential to help and we are waiting to see how these funds could assist our communities and environment.  The IPCC just came out with another climate report, with dire predictions if we stay the same course.

It is difficult to move forward when we see that the oil and gas industry has such lobbying power and is concerned for short term profits.

But we are already feeling the consequences of climate drought, floods and heat. In the Permian region that is intensified by poor air quality, threats to health and even the ability for children to play outside if the winds are strong and filled with toxins.  

That’s why we are working hard each day. I think our human role is to preserve this life. It is a gift. And the best way to live it, is to share it, preserve it, and make it possible that it flourishes again for the next generation."

Tell the Department of the Interior to reform the broken oil and gas program!