I recently had the opportunity of catching up with Tracee Bently, CEO of the Permian Strategic Partnership (PSP). If you will recall, Tracee was on the cover of the March/April issue of SHALE Magazine. (The issue is still available on our website.) In it, David Blackmon did an excellent job of producing a clear picture of who Ms. Bentley is and why the PSP was lucky to find such a passionate leader. In my conversation with her, I was happy to discover that in a time when nothing seems to be as it once was, not everything has changed. Tracee and the PSP members are as enthusiastic and passionate about helping the Permian Basin communities as ever.

The Permian Strategic Partnership is a coalition of 20 energy companies with the goal of creating in the Permian Basin a great place to live, work, and raise a family. The PSP has five main focus areas for accomplishing this: public education, safer roads, healthcare, affordable housing, and workforce development. It is a relatively young organization, but, thankfully, it is already established enough to withstand this COVID-19 storm.

The pandemic changed the priorities of many in the United States and around the world. The PSP is no different. Having worked hand in hand with the community, the PSP recognized the importance of stepping up efforts in two of their five key focus areas: healthcare and education. Tracee calls them “critical needs areas.” Many rural hospitals in the Permian were caught amid a pandemic without enough of the proper equipment. The member companies of the PSP helped secure the needed PPE and sanitizers that were required. Even before COVID-19, the PSP realized there were more people in need of medical care than doctors available to treat them. They contributed $5.9 million to the Texas Tech Health Science Center to expand the rural health residency program to bring more doctors and medical resources to the Permian area. Now, with COVID, the need is even more acute, but with the Texas Tech partnership in place since before the pandemic, the response is already in the works.

The need for medical resources in the Permian goes beyond COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, many residents fear seeing a doctor or going to the hospital for general illnesses and accidents. The PSP is working to spread the word that refraining from visiting a doctor because of COVID fears is most likely more dangerous than waiting the illness out at home. Tracee expressed concern that a spreadable virus might not cause the next pandemic. “The next one could have to do with mental health,” she said. And it does seem to be happening already. Right along with the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases, there are rising numbers in cases of depression, suicide, and alcoholism. In answer, while working to bring in more medical doctors, the PSP is also working on getting more mental health resources into the communities.

The second area of critical need is public education. The PSP companies donated $16.5 million, making sure the IDEA schools of the Permian Basin would have everything they needed to open this year, and Tracee is happy to report the schools are preparing to open on time this year. IDEA stands for Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement, and they are living up to their motto, “No Excuses!” (For more information on their opening plans, please see our July/Aug issue.)

Earlier this year, when schools closed in Texas and around the country, it became apparent the schools were providing children with so much more than education. For many, it was where they got their main, and sometimes only, meal. Almost immediately, food banks were overwhelmed. Board members of PSP were ready to volunteer, but they were prevented from doing so in person because of the pandemic’s nature. Instead, they made sure the community was cared for by providing for the Boys and Girls Clubs, the local food banks, the United Way, and other community organizations. The West Texas Food Bank, in particular, went above and beyond to help the Midland and Odessa area, and they are continuing to do so as the uncertainty of the pandemic lingers. To donate, please visit https://wtxfoodbank.org/give.

The other three areas of focus for the Partnership—road improvements, workforce development, and affordable housing—are not left wanting. There are still plans that were put into place well before the pandemic. Because of this, they are going to be front and center once things get back to normal. Among those in the works is the Teacher Housing Initiative. Its goal is to encourage teachers to stay by providing a 20% subsidy for rent. Roads are an essential area of everyone’s lives. The PSP is also working with the Road Safety Committee to identify solutions for priority transportation routes. And this summer, work is to begin on increasing traffic capacity along 22 miles of US 285 from the Texas state line to Loving, NM. Plus, to make sure all Permian areas get what they need, the PSP has launched a program titled, The Permian Counts. The message is vitally important—everyone needs to be counted in the 2020 census. This number is the base upon which federal funding is decided.

Tracee and the Permian Strategic Partnership are here to stay; COVID-19 and oil prices cannot change that. “PSP’s vital work to improve the quality of life for the Permian Basin families continues. Companies and corporations, including our 20 member companies, are in the Permian Basin for the long term. A growing world needs energy, and the long-term demand for oil and gas produced in the Permian Basin remains strong. While the current global market disruption means challenging times for our industry and our communities, it doesn’t change PSP’s fundamental mission or commitment. We are hard at work with local partners to advance initiatives across our focus areas,” Tracee said.

Tracee ended our time with a few words we should all remember during this particular time, “Community coming together is more important now than ever.”

About the author: Melissa Nichols is the Publication Editor for SHALE Magazine. She is also the author of “Don’t Be Afraid of Climate Change” a picture book to help children and parents cope with climate-change anxiety. It is available on Amazon.