Breaking the Cycle

Voices from the Sacrifice Zones

Episode Summary

What would you do if industry was right in your backyard? In the premiere episode of Breaking the Cycle, your host Courtney Naquin talks with four grassroots environmental activists from the Permian Basin to the Gulf Coast who are organizing in their communities and saying no to the fossil fuel industry. Kayley Shoup, a community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future in Carlsbad, New Mexico, works towards a future where the Permian isn’t dependent on oil and gas. Emma Guevara, a local organizer with Sierra Club, defends the Rio Grande Valley against exploitative industries. Elida Castillo, activist and Program Director with Chispa Texas, explains how the fossil fuel industry has radically transformed her home in the Coastal Bend. Roishetta Ozane, founder of the Vessel Project and organizer at Healthy Gulf, works diligently to expand local conversations about oil and gas in southwest Louisiana while meeting the needs of her community through mutual aid in the wake of multiple natural disasters.

Episode Notes

Connect with our guests:

Kayley Shoup

Emma Guevara

Elida Castillo

Roishetta Ozane

More information about Penny and Dee’s home 

Episode Transcription

(intro music)

Courtney Naquin: Hello, wonderful people of the world, and welcome to Breaking the Cycle, a new podcast about the impacts of oil and gas from the Permian Basin to the Gulf Coast, and the amazing people working tirelessly to defend their communities and break the cycle of extraction, pollution, and exploitation. I’m your host, Courtney Naquin, currently living in Bulbancha, also known as New Orleans, on the ancestral lands of the Houma, Chitimacha, and Choctaw people. The Permian Basin and the Gulf Coast couldn’t be any more different. The Permian is a big, beautiful open desert and the Gulf is a long stretch of coastline with beaches and wetlands. But fracking in west Texas and southern New Mexico, and now the eminent fracked gas export buildup on the coast has brought communities in both places into the same fight to protect people and the climate from polluting industry. 

The simplified definition of fracking is that it is the destructive and polluting process of drilling deep into the Earth to pump highly pressurized toxic fluid to break shale rock and extract oil and gas. And all of that gas has to be transported to the Gulf to be exported overseas. This has created what is called the fracking cycle: extraction, transport, export. And the environment and communities along the cycle are deeply affected by these operations and are treated like sacrifice zones to extractive and polluting industry.

There’s harm every step of the way along the fracking cycle, whether that's on the climate with broken unregulated methane emissions on people’s health due to chronic air pollution or contaminated water, or on the regional environment that’s damaged or destroyed by all of this industry activity. But there are solutions and there are incredible people working in their communities to make good things happen.

So, for our initial pilot episode, we’re bringing y’all conversations with four amazing women, activists and organizers that live along different points of the fracking cycle. You’ll notice that while these women live in very different places, their stories have a lot in common. For several of them the problems they found in their communities drove them away. But it’s also what drew them back to help fight for their people in their homes. They all share a similar vision for their communities, including having better, safer, more diverse jobs, preserving their lands and culture, and having even just people’s basic needs met, like access to safe drinking water and healthy air to breathe. So, with that, let’s jump into it.

First up, we’ll start at the beginning of the fracking cycle, at the point of extraction in the Permian Basin. The Permian is shared between west Texas and southern New Mexico. The Permian fracking boom over the last decade has had terrible consequences on the environment and climate. For example, fracking operations in the Permian are causing increasingly frequent earthquakes and is also one of the largest sources of methane pollution in the country. Fracked gas, which industry refers to as liquefied natural gas or LNG for short, is made up of mostly methane, which is upwards of 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide and warming the climate. Fracking has been toxic, not just for the environment, but for public health too.

(03:07) Interview with Kayley Shoup

Courtney Naquin: Hear it from Kayley Shoup, a local resident, activist, and community organizer from Carlsbad, New Mexico, who is working towards a future where the Permian isn’t dependent on oil and gas.

Kayley Shoup: My name is Kayley Shoup and I am a community organizer with Citizens Caring for the Future in Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the middle of the Permian Basin. I was born and raised in Carlsbad, and so oil and gas, you know, has always been in this region. So it was a presence in our life, but not nearly like it is now. Since the horizontal drilling boom, fracking came to town and that really started to take off in 2016, 2017, and then by 2018, 2019, you know, things were rolling. It was a whole new world. 

I didn’t really know anything about oil and gas, right, you know, I was a little bit worried about climate change but it didn't keep me up at night by any means. And I moved back home, and I saw how my community was changing, that was kind of the first thing that I noticed more than anything. At that time, I don’t have exact statistics, but I’ve heard something like about 20,000 people ended up moving here into Carlsbad, that’s the transient community. So, that was absolutely wild. We’re this small town and you know you’re used to being able to go across town in 10 minutes and all of a sudden we have all this oil field traffic, these roads are not prepared for it, and it would take 45 minutes till I get across town. and the other thing is cost of living, that was something else. It was very prominent, and you could see.

So, of course with 20,000 people coming to town, you have a lot more students. So, our schools are filling up, they’re trying to build new schools, things like that. They could not hire teachers because the teachers cannot afford the cost of living here in Carlsbad. Now, mind you, the teachers in Carlsbad are the highest paid teachers in the state. They’re paying pretty well. The cost of living was that high. It was about the same rate as Los Angeles or New York and, if you’ve been to Carlsbad, you know that that’s just ridiculous. Hotels would go up and as soon as these hotels would go up. A company like Exxon or Chevron would book all of the rooms out for like a year, a year and a half. To get a hotel room here you were paying like $600 to $700 a night, if you could find one. And then hiring for, you know, really any other sector other than the oil industry, everyone went to go work for the oil industry because they are paying such high wages. 

Now, do you have a union? No. Is it sustainable work? No. What do the benefits look like? Not great. So, that’s something you know a lot of people living here would go into the oil field, try a little while and then decide you know what, we don’t really love this. But local businesses had a lot of trouble hiring at that time as well. 

Within about a year of being back, I had a friend that, in his early twenties was diagnosed with cancer, a rare and aggressive one. My mom, at 50, ovarian cancer. Two people? Okay, that’s something. But then more people just started popping up and they all live in Carlsbad, all relatively young. And they were getting diagnosed with these cancers that were just not cancers that they should be getting diagnosed with at their ages. And things like that. That’s when I was kind of like you know what I have never noticed this amount of cancer before. The only thing that has changed is that we have all of this production around us and that’s kind of why I started to pay attention, and started to get engaged. You know, I had no idea who to talk to about this. People couldn’t answer questions, such little research was done. 

One of the first things I did was I attended a public meeting that the NMAG was putting on, this was in fall 2019, through the Produced Water Act and they were just letting everyone know what was going to happen. That ball was already in motion. I attended it and it was mainly a lot of people working in industry and then our leadership down here, very pro-industry. They were talking about the state of regulation and I was horrified. I was terrified. I was just like, this is happening? You know, no wonder I’m meeting all these people that are getting sick. This is not being adequately regulated. I was like where do you go with that, you know? It’s very overwhelming. 

That’s when I learned that Citizens Caring for the Future existed. I was so impressed to know that there were people in my community that were already doing this work. I was in awe of them, they’re all incredibly great and incredible advocates.

So, in January of 2020, Penny and Dee were awoken in the middle of the night and a pipe had burst across the street from their house. It was a water pipe that moved produced water and was showering produced water on the land. As probably most people listening know, produced water is radioactive. That’s not talked about very often, but it is radioactive. So, it was raining down on their land. They immediately called, I believe, the oil conservation division and the cops. The company got out there as well and got it to stop but at that point their whole house was soaked. It ended up being that they did go to the hospital. They refused to test them for radiation exposure at the hospital. They also, all of their animals ended up having to put them down because they were having illnesses after this produced water rained down on the land. Six inches of topsoil was taken off of their home. Eventually, they ended up, they’ve now moved. 

They ended up settling and they are now out of the community and this was their home. That was Steve’s family’s land and I believe it’s actually still in their possession, but it was a really, really devastating experience. It will probably have ramifications for their health for who knows how long. Those were the first people I’ve met that were doing this work and they right after this happened they started talking about it immediately and it’s made such a huge difference and they’re really, really brave here for doing it because people here…something that tragic and devastating can happen and some people here just [say] that that didn’t happen, that doesn’t matter. That’s a really hard toll for people to take on a personal level and they’re really incredible and continue to make a difference. They’re my heroes for sure.

So, I will say I have been hearing about earthquakes in Texas. They’re being reported here in southeast New Mexico as well, so that’s something that is just now starting to really pick up and become an issue. In terms of injection, obviously here in Carlsbad you have all of our caves around us. They have to stay a certain distance away, but I believe that there’s some rule that’s being looked at where they might be able to get a little bit closer and start drilling in areas that are close to the caves and aquifers. 

That is a problem but there’s not a ton of awareness about that locally. The Citizens Caring for the Future has done some work on those issues, but that’s something that we definitely need to start looking at because, like I said, earthquakes are becoming more of a problem and earthquakes are starting to come closer and closer to our cave systems. At this point, for our water table to not be affected, that’s highly unlikely so that’s something we need to start paying attention to a little bit more.

Then obviously venting and flaring is still going on. Routine venting and flaring have been banned in New Mexico and again the Permian is so vast that you wonder how much that is actually happening. Is the venting and flaring still going on? Then you have a problem with the Permian of Texas on the other side. It doesn’t quite have these same rules and, you know, when you’re out in the middle of the field, Texas and New Mexico you don’t know when you cross one into the other. So, really, it’s just kind of one and the same. That’s another issue with the Permian and some of it’s regulated, some of it’s not. So much of this injecting that they’re doing and this plugging that they’re doing, they have no idea how the Earth is going to take it and that is terrifying.

When the pandemic hit, production obviously went down a little bit. A lot of our workers left, and it still is not quite the same as it was in 2018-2019. You don’t have the housing shortages anymore; you don’t have any man camps completely full. Lately our production levels are back up. I think that’s because a lot of these sites are already enacted. So, they’re running and that takes less of a labor force and it’s so our town isn’t, it doesn’t feel like it’s booming in quite the same way. But I will stay with these new lease sales coming on and you know the Permian is back and so I think a lot of this is going to ramp back up. New sites are going to be enacted and some of these issues are going to just continue to get worse and worse because we’re not putting a stop to new production. 

I would like to see us obviously become a lot less dependent on this industry on a local level. And we are in a unique position here because we have a lot of infrastructure already in place in terms of manufacturing and things like that. What I would like to see is this portion of the state get into the manufacturing of renewables. Obviously, we’re a great place to have these wind farms, we’re a great place to have solar farms. But if we’re thinking about it in terms of a job, they create jobs for the short term and then those people end up leaving. 

It only takes a very small workforce to keep a wind farm running, to keep a solar farm running. To get into the manufacturing of it, to bring more stable sustainable jobs to the region for decades to come instead of a few years here and there. So those are some of the things I envision for the community and just a more sustainable economy essentially. These boom and bust cycles, we really do fill them. Things change significantly in these frontline communities when the oil industry is up or when it's down. People really feel the blows and I think that takes a toll. 

I recently went to D.C. for the People vs. Fossil Fuels event in October and I was one of two speakers from the Permian Basin. We had these big events the night before we would do the marches and protests and things like that. They announced me, I sat back down, and these are people really engaged on climate issues, and the people behind me go, “Where is the Permian Basin?” I was just like [gasp]. It’s the biggest problem, it’s the biggest problem in our country bar none. I mean, we produce two of every five barrels that are produced in the United States. We are by far the biggest climate issue in the country.

I think cutting methane emissions is one of the most fixable in terms of global warming and climate change. So, just more awareness of the Permian basin in general because it doesn’t get talked about as much, I think, because of the political landscape. There’s not as much advocacy. We’re hoping to get the word out there more and kind of change that. We have to solve the Permian problem in order to address climate change in this country.

(16:30) Interview with Emma Guevara

Courtney Naquin: The impacts of fracking aren’t isolated to the Permian. It travels because fossil fuel corporations are looking to export that fracked gas, which requires dangerous and leaky systems of pipelines and enormous polluting facilities in port towns in the Gulf to send that gas overseas. That takes us to the next stop along the fracking cycle, the Rio Grande Valley, or the RGV. The RGV is a border community of south Texas. Home to the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe and vibrant Latinx communities, it is one of the few areas of Texas that still has parts of an undeveloped pristine coastline. But the Rio Grande Valley is under threat of a LNG export buildout and it has been greatly impacted by Elon Musk’s SpaceX operations in Boca Chica, a local beach in south Texas. Currently there aren’t any LNG export terminals in the valley, thanks to years of community opposition. But there are still two fracked gas export terminals and a pipeline proposed for construction in the RGV and Elon Musk has even announced considering drilling Boca Chica for gas. Here we talk with Emma Guevara, a local organizer with Sierra Club, advising her community to defend the Rio Grande Valley against exploitative industries. 

Emma Guevara: My name is Emma Guevara. I am 23 years old and I have lived in Brownsville, Texas for pretty much my whole life. Yes, I live here in Brownsville, Texas, or unseated Carrizo/Comecrudo lands. Our community is pretty historically neglected just as a whole here in south Texas, Brownsville as well. But we make do. We’re demographically one of the lowest income areas in the entire United States. The majority of people here are primarily Spanish speaking and about 96% Latino, specifically Mexican American. So I think that a lot of times industrial business just really sees this place as ripe for the picking.

The thing about being on the coast is we are like a definite sore spot for hurricanes, we have a lot of issues with hurricanes and a lot of issues with flooding since we're technically below sea level at this point. Yeah, there’s a lot of issues of flooding, a lot of infrastructure issues, a lot of issues with wealth inequality. I think all of the things that come with that is people try to snap up and start different industries here in order to revitalize the economy or revitalize the community. The second anybody comes to this community, the first thing they see is a bunch of Brown people who are poor and can be exploited. That’s been a tale as old as time in Brownsville. A lot of people who have lived here for a long time will tell you this is not the same place that it was before 9/11. Post 9/11, we are incredibly militarized. I know most people who come here to visit for the first time will freak out, they’re like I’ve never seen this much police in my life. There’s Border Patrol, ICE agents, DHS, or DEA, or State Troopers, or…you know, we’ve got everything down here. It makes it really clear that we’re under harsh scrutiny here at all times. It also makes it difficult to organize. A lot of people don’t have the privilege to be able to even think about getting arrested or having any run-ins with the police, especially because we are of mixed status. So, we definitely have to get creative. People are naturally radicalized here just from existing.

Up until SpaceX really got here, we mostly just had oil and gas industry here in Brownsville, but we also now have two proposed LNG terminals. We have the Valley Crossing Pipeline and the proposed Rio Bravo Pipeline, and the proposed Jupiter Oil Refinery, and that’s just right now. A lot of that land where they’re trying to set up is untouched. Then, our port is really unhelpful because they sell this land for super duper cheap. I mean, SpaceX is a whole different one because they didn’t even buy the land. Cameron County let them use it and gave them tax subsidies on it. It’s all technically County land and we know otherwise; it’s not county land either, it’s Carrizo/Comecrudo land, specifically that area has, all of that is incredibly sacred to the Tribe and does have a lot of history to it, the land itself. 

So, one of the things we talk about a lot is Garcia Pasture, which is where Texas LNG and Rio Grande LNG are supposed to be built on. So, that entire area has a lot of, first of all, generational memory. But, according to the Tribe’s Chairperson, they had over 40 villages in that area so there’s a lot of remains of people buried there. Part of the Tribe, they do a birth ceremony when people are born, so they bury placentas. That’s really common in Mexico as well; I’ve heard that from my family members. You’re supposed to be able to go back and visit that spot from when you were born. It’s a piece of you, the earth, and your mother. It’s so beautiful, and they just want to drill for gas out of this because they said they haven't found anything there. But these LNG companies hire their own archaeologists and anthropologists. 

Yeah, it’s a lot. We have a lot of systemic racism that happens here, and I think you can definitely see that in where these industries have chosen to build. SpaceX being on Boca Chica Beach at the mouth of the river, it’s where the river meets the ocean. You can see it; it’s really crazy. I know there are a lot of origin stories with some of the Native people living here where they believe that’s where their People came from. It’s hard. It’s definitely really hard to organize around here. I think a lot of it has to do with the economic promises they make to this community. They really do feed off of the desperation here. All of this desperation that they’re feeding off of never finds any relief. They never actually help us. We don’t receive big changes in our economy. In fact, this is supposed to be one of the biggest economic changes that’s happening to Brownsville in a long time. And we’re all going to be so prosperous, and it’s going to really change the community and put us on the map, and everything’s going to be great. So far, things have gotten significantly worse.

They come here with SpaceX and LNG and these pipelines, and they’re like, we’re going to push really hard on STEM, and we’re going to make all of these changes. All of you are going to get to be engineers and help us go to Mars. These are things that were said when I was in high school and middle school. Which, the fact that my little sister is hearing the same things in her classes that I heard when I was in middle school, and there’s no changes, I think says a lot, you know? I have talked to some people who have said I think there’s like a few locals that are in professional jobs at SpaceX. But the majority of people that we know do get employed with oil and gas industries and SpaceX and things like that end up doing things like maintenance, construction, custodial, reception; you know, the lower level jobs. Then, we have an influx of people coming from other places now. So, it’s interesting to see how outsiders see this community and what they do with it. So far it seems like they’ve just seen us as cheap labor and a commodity.

A big industry here is shrimping and fishing because we’re, you know, we’re on the coast. It makes sense. But, the shrimpers are all really stressed out about the creation of LNG because in order to be able to get the ships into the ship channel, they would have to widen it significantly. Right now it’s mostly used by local shrimp boats, you know, sail boats, much smaller boats. So, in order to widen it, they would have to get rid of all of this untouched coastline. 

Now what the shrimpers have told us is that they don’t really have to go out into the Gulf much anymore to net their catch because there’s been so many people shrimping in this area for so long that the Permian has kind of turned into an estuary. So a lot of them really don’t even have to fully go out and they can catch all of the shrimp right there in that little channel in the turning basin because the water is warm enough. So, all the shrimp lay their eggs there. It’s super duper profitable for everybody and makes it really easy and it’s a lot less dangerous. But, if they do widen this, you know, widen the channel, that's not going to happen anymore. It’s going to really screw up the ecosystem there. That’s a whole industry it could kill, which has been really stressful because a lot of people are generational shrimpers or have been doing it for fifty years.

My grandfather was a shrimper for quite a while and owned a shrimp boat for a long time. It’s not just something where you can just go casually get another job. A lot of these guys are really stressed out because they bought a boat and the people who own them are like, pay for the port and stuff like that, so we’ve talked to a lot of shrimpers and they are very anti-LNG. SpaceX freaks them out too because they’re nervous about it polluting the water all right there. So, our shrimping and fishing industry, you would think it’s like Deadliest Catch and they’re all going like way out there but, it’s all happening right along the coast. That’s what I thought, at least when I was a kid. They’re going sailing, they’re like pirates out there. They’re like, nope, it’s all right here. And so that’s a really good part of the culture here, it’s being near the ocean, and I think it’s getting scary and a little bit nerve wracking to know how much longer we’re going to be able to have these experiences. I think about that and I always assumed that, when I have kids, I would take them to that beach and we’re gonna go do the fun stuff outside that I had always done here because that was always my favorite thing to do as a kid. You know, explore, and go outside, and go to the wildlife reserve, and go to the beach. 

Now, that gap is closing, and I’m not too sure how it’s going to play out in the future, and if it’s going to be possible with all of this industry but also with climate change as well. Like I mentioned, we’re dealing with a lot of really big flooding, much colder temperatures than we’re used to. That’s also been stressful, seeing the effects of climate change here and these industries. 

I think the main thing I want for my community is for everyone to be safe and have their needs met, ultimately, because you’d think that’s so easy or that’s just a given. But we’re not safe and I don’t know anybody here who has their needs met, and that’s the ultimate goal. I think we all really just want to see our community flourish on its own. You know, we’re tired of people who want to come in here. It happens a lot in organizing, in teaching, in businesses here, people love coming here from other places and telling us what to do or what’s going to fix our community, and I think that’s why our community has been struggling for so long. We just want everyone to leave us alone and let us live our lives and we’re also just trying to survive out here. I would like to see a lot of the focus taken off of, I guess like, trying to get rich here.

I think it is because we’re such a heavily immigrant community that a lot of people do still believe in that American idea, The American Dream. But I think we need to move past that and move past the idea that capital is the ultimate goal, and being rich is the ultimate goal, because I think it has kind of led to a nasty feeling here sometimes. People feel like you’re in competition here with everybody because we’re all just trying our best to survive, and we’ve got to hustle, and if I don’t make it, if I have to step on your toes to make it that’ll be okay because at least I’ll be alive. But we can’t live like that anymore. I think our community needs to move past this fight or flight mentality and really come together and show eachother class solidarity. I think we do have a lot of optimism for this area down here though because, as many societal issues as we face, as many community issues or infighting or disagreements that we have, we do know that we don’t belong anywhere else. This is it for us. I think that’s just the ultimate goal and our ultimate optimism is to be able to have a place by us, for us, that’s comfortable and safe for us to live in.

(29:54) Interview with Elida Castillo

Courtney Naquin: From the Rio Grande Valley, we move upwards to Corpus Christi, located in the Coastal Bend, where polluting industries, from oil, gas, and petrochemical activity, have already really taken over the area, and have severely impacted the regional environment, local economies, and public health. We joined Elida Castillo, a local activist and the Program Director with Chispa Texas, in conversation about how the fossil fuel industry has radically transformed her community. Elida reminds us that, while the Coastal Bend has lost so much at the hands of industry, there is also so much to gain, and to revive through community organizing. 

Elida Castillo: I am from Taft, Texas, born and raised. I haven’t lived here my whole life, like I’ve moved around to different parts of Texas and lived in Illinois for a few years, but I am back and I’m so excited to be here. I love my little town. I mean, I didn’t always feel that way growing up, it was just like, oh it’s so boring it’s a small town, there’s nothing to do here. But, as you kind of get older, you move away and you see things, and you come back and see how it’s changed and how it hasn’t changed. You know, I want the best for my community. This is where my heart is, you know. My mom felt that way and I would always question it. Now I feel this way too. It’s just really interesting to see how it’s grown from a cotton farming area. We used to be surrounded by cotton fields. Now it’s like industry. That’s kind of just starting to take over the community. That’s worrisome to me. 

Almost a decade ago, we fought back against Las Mesas, which is a proposed petroleum coke refinery that they wanted to build. They wanted to burn pet coke for energy and so we were successful in fighting that back. You think, okay it’s done but at the end, it’s like you have several industries that pop up after that. It’s like whack-a-mole. That’s what we feel like we’re doing right now, playing whack-a-mole. You beat one, and you have like five more behind it. 

This work is really important to me, not just because I live here, but I’ve seen the impacts that it’s had on votes and what it’s had on our environment. My grandpa used to work at Sherwin Aluminum, it used to be Reynolds back then, and my grandma developed a lung disease problem because of the asbestos exposure. My cousin Lori was one of the folks who were killed in the BP explosion. I know how this has personally impacted my family. My dad got burned when he was working at Reynolds. He had a burn and he had to get a skin graft, back when I was a kid, when I was like a year old, less than a year old that happened. So, I know how industry is here. So that’s why, when this opportunity came up, for me to work with Chispa Texas, I applied for it and I crossed my fingers because I was like this is perfect. This is back home. This is where I want to be. This is who I want to be working for, my people, because this is my community.

You don’t want to come into a community and say hey, you know what’s best for you? Because where we live, the opportunities are very scarce and I think it’s by design so we can have this dependence on the fossil fuel industries. So it’s like, we don’t want to take away people’s livelihood, but it’s also just like, how can we listen to them? How can we find out what’s important to the community and engage them? Because I think, from a small town, people just kind of take advantage of us really. I mean, industries come in, they say we’re going to give this to your organization, we’re gonna give this money to your fire department, we’re going to give this money to the schools, and they start buying off support. They say we’re going to create so many jobs and then we don’t see that happening. Because then they say oh well you’re just from a small town, people aren’t skilled, we’re gonna bring in our own folks from elsewhere because they’re skilled labor from all over that we can bring in. 

You know, when you have agriculture jobs, like we had shrimping boats in this area; these were families, these were people who had these jobs for generations. We don’t see anybody fishing or shrimping in the rock court area like they used to. That is no longer around in the area. We don’t see agriculture, you know, the farms. All those farms are now for sale and they’re being sold to industry. So, that is a big problem and a big concern because, you know, it’s not generating that long term kind of wealth for communities because they really don’t care about our communities the way community members do. They don’t know what’s being emitted into the air. They don’t know how much water it’s going to take. They don’t know it’s going to increase our property taxes. We all see the negative consequences of it, but we don’t know how that came about. Our hope, especially with my organization, is for us to be able to start engaging the community and educating them because industry is not doing that for us. Our political leaders aren’t doing that for us. We’ve got to take it into our own hands because they don’t care about protecting our bay. Because here, you have algae blooms, you have bacteria in the water, we don’t even know what’s being emitted into the air and that falls into the water. It’s poisoning this area completely. Like, my sister-in-law and my sister, they went out with a fishing guide in December, a couple Decembers ago, and they caught a deformed fish. The fishing guide was like, I’ve never seen anything like that before. And then, when you’re breathing in air and people are like oh, the water smells. The air, people are like what’s wrong with the air? Or, if they take a bath, it dries out my skin. Why is the water yellow? These are the situations that are happening here. 

Now they want to take our bay area and they want to build more desalination plants. This is not only going to affect our bay, but it’s going to convert this, the Corpus Christi bay, into the Dead Sea of the south. The sad thing is that water isn’t even slated for residential use, it’s slated for industry because Exxonmobil SABIC, the plastics facility, uses twenty million gallons of water per day. And water is such a commodity right now, and it’s something that we have to look for the future, like we shouldn’t be bending over backwards to make it convenient for industry to move into this area. That’s what our political leaders are doing right now, they’re not appreciating where we are, what makes this area so special. They not looking at, what are some innovative ideas that we can use to grow the economy here that are not going to kill the environment, that’s not going to kill our people, it’s not going to poison our air, and it’s not going to make our soil so toxic that you can’t grow anything on there.

You know, we have these proposed desalination plants to stop more industry from coming into the area, we have Cheniere LNG, which is a LNG terminal where they export LNG to other countries. We have Voestalpine, which is an iron ore factory. We have Steel Dynamics, which is a steel factory. We have proposed deep water oil export terminals and, you know, all the refineries.

I’m inspired by the work that the Karankawa Kadla Tribe has done. The Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, along with Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch, were really instrumental in filing a lawsuit against Moda Midstream, which then decided to sell to Enbridge. So, if it weren’t for their actions, we would’ve had, you know, this pier built to where they can export more crude oil from there. So, I think that it is really, really great that more people are finding out about the fights going on here. I had to take a breath because it’s just like, how many big players, how many multi-billion national corporations are here and they make so much money and they sell us on this narrative that they’re going to create jobs, and that’s where I had to push back on that. They say they’re going to create so many jobs but that’s not true. They don’t create the jobs that they say. Like, Moda Midstream, before it was sold to Enbridge, they only had thirteen permanent jobs. Same thing with this proposed blue water terminal. They’re going to have about 200 contracted jobs during their buildout stage but once it’s built, they’re only going to leave fourteen permanent jobs. So, that narrative that they are job creators…our hospitals and our school districts employ more people than industries but industries take more money in subsidies and tax abatements than our hospitals and our school districts. They don’t just get local subsidies, they get local, they get state, they get national, and, in some cases, they get international subsidies. So, they’re making billions of dollars in profits pulling a natural resource from the Earth and we’re paying for that through our property taxes, through our health insurance. You know, we’re really paying for it with our lives. You have a lot of industry, there’s shortened lifespans. I see it on Facebook or, you know, my social media feeds and all that. I’ll see a GoFundMe who’s raising money for a family member who has cancer. There’s just increased cancer rates. It’s a question of, why is there so much cancer, but it’s not connected to the polluters because they’re not even letting us know what’s being released into the air. I mean, they don’t even let employees know what special mixture of chemicals they’re working with. 

There was an explosion last year that took the lives of about five or six gentlemen because there was an abandoned pipeline. Then they went to dredge the port, and it created an explosion. So some of those burn units, when they were transferred over, they couldn’t tell them, when the doctors asked what they were exposed to, they couldn’t release that information because it was an industry secret.

What I want to see here is like what people in Europe have. They have social services, they have provided services, they have good schools, they have opportunities there. They don’t have this dependence on fossil fuels like our communities do. I want to see green, renewable jobs because nobody ever died from a wind spill or a solar spill. But people have died from explosions, they’ve died from pipeline leaks, contaminated water, and poisoned air. We need to see more jobs that can help us because we only have this one planet.

(41:40) Interview with Roishetta Ozane

Courtney Naquin: Industry’s impact doesn’t stop at the Coastal Bend either. Not at all. It travels up through Houston, southeast Texas, and most of southern Louisiana. Just over the Texas border, southwest Louisiana is under threat of a fracked gas export buildout of a massive scale, despite the polluting industry that already dominates the region. And to make the situation even more complex, the area is still recovering from many natural disasters, including Hurricanes Laura and Delta, a historic deep freeze, and, most recently, a cluster of destructive tornadoes as the next hurricane season looms over the Gulf. Our next guest this episode is Roishetta Ozane, an organizer with Healthy Gulf and founder of the Vessel Project, a mutual aid and community service organization in southwest Louisiana, founded in 2021 during Winter Storm Uri, which left people across Texas and Louisiana without electricity and heating in the freezing cold, which was largely due to the failure of natural gas to supply power to the electric grid. Roishetta, much like the activists I had the pleasure of speaking with, is one of the most hardworking and therefore busiest people I have ever met. She’s constantly on the go, making connections and taking calls, meetings, and interviews however and whenever she can. Whether that’s on the phone or in transit. So, my interview with Roishetta had to be done over the phone while she was preparing for her next event. So, heads up on the recording quality if it’s a little difficult to hear. 

Roishetta Ozane: Well, I am Roishetta Sibley Ozane. I am originally from Ruleville, Mississippi. Whenever I graduated in 2003 and moved to Louisiana, I had a scholarship to McNeese University because I graduated as the valedictorian of my class. When I got here, I had never seen industry before, like, the oil and gas industry. I had never seen refineries and all of the smoke, the smog, and flares from those refineries. It was shocking to me and I wanted to know what it was and if it was safe for us. I was always scared that something was going to blow up because we always saw smoke and fire. 

So, I began asking a lot of questions and I learned very early on that people were very sensitive about the refineries here. Everybody worked there. I had interest very early on in moving to Louisiana. I found out about the job at Healthy Gulf. I think I sent my resume and they called me and they were like we’re going to do a panel interview. Did the interview in the Wendy’s parking lot one day, just answered their questions, just was my normal self and as I'm sitting in the Wendy’s parking lot across from the Civic Center, I’m seeing all of the devastation that’s surrounding Lake Charles and I’m like, I have to do something. I felt like no one was doing anything and I saw people sleeping in tents. I knew there were parts moving and people were doing stuff but, in my eyes, I felt like people weren’t doing stuff quick enough for people who needed immediate help. And so, I saw the people in tents and I would see the posts on Facebook where people were like, there are people sleeping in tents on the beach and under the bridge and over here by the Civic Center. I was seeing that with my eyes, but I also saw posts that were like, oh no, those aren’t local residents, those are workers that came here to work. They’re sleeping under the bridge by choice because all the hotels are damaged or whatever. 

So, Healthy Gulf called me back, told me I could start with them on February the 1st. Right after I started with them, they gave me a bunch of paperwork and stuff to read about. A few days later, it was announced that a historic freeze was going to hit our area. As soon as I heard that news, I was like, okay, how are all those people that I saw sleeping in tents going to survive a freeze of 17 degree weather? 

So, I started driving up and down the streets of north Lake Charles and in low income Black communities asking people, do you think your tent or your RV or whatever, your house with the blue tarp is going to be able to sustain freezing weather that’s coming. And they were saying, no, no I don’t, I don’t think so. I was like, what are you going to do? I guess I’m going to freeze to death. These were literal answers. So I started reaching out to people on Facebook like, hey who can people contact, what can people do if they need help, where do they go? Everybody was saying go to this local ministry. I went to that organization, and they were sitting in the middle of the floor in tears, surrounded by a room that didn’t have any walls because their building had been destroyed by the hurricane. But no one had taken the time to go see that that shelter was inoperable. So, I started collecting tents from different people. I let Healthy Gulf know what was going on. They connected me with the Disaster Justice Network, talked to people in the Disaster Justice Network. They started sending tents and blankets and food and all kinds of stuff. I got that stuff, I started handing it out personally. I was like nope, people are already in tents and I’m giving them more tents. These tents are not gonna save them from this freezing weather. So, I started paying people’s hotel rooms out of my pocket and, at the same time, I’m still reaching out to elected officials, people who were on the ballot because, at the time, there was a mayoral campaign going on. So, everybody who was on the ballot to run for mayor or city council or whatever, I reached out to all those people and most people showed up and met me in the parking lot at a gas station. And we just started reaching out to people, paying for hotel rooms out of our pockets. Everybody just started pulling out their credit cards, bank cards, cash, whatever, and we started putting people in hotels. The city finally came up with a plan and we helped to pick up some of the homeless through the city’s plan. The city’s plan, it was not foolproof because, you know, people had to have IDs, or they had be at a certain place, or they had to have a cell phone, and none of that was, you know, applicable to homeless people who were in the woods that didn’t have cell phones. They didn’t have IDs. We were, I was just putting rooms in my name, putting folks in those rooms. I would deal with any type of ramifications later. But I did not have one issue with it. I ended up putting over 300 people in hotels, in hotel rooms across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas because the word was spreading so fast that I was doing it with no questions asked. People were literally just calling, saying, I’m in my car, I have no gas, I’m in the car with my children, we’re freezing. I was paying for hotel rooms and they were able to go to rooms and I was connecting them to somebody. I was like, oh my goodness, I’m running a whole call center and I’m doing case management and that’s how the Vessel Project was started. I knew then that the Vessel Project was something that was needed. People needed help and they needed help then, it didn’t matter who they were, color, creed, economic status, none of that mattered. People needed help and I wanted to help them as quickly as possible. So, I told Healthy Gulf, this is what I’m doing. I’m sorry y’all just hired me to do this, but I have to do this, this is more important. They were like, go for it, whatever you need, let us know, and they supported me 100%. People were reaching out and donating money and donating funds and we’ve been able to help several thousand people and we’re still helping people today. Yeah, that’s kinda where we are. 

I do, I still live in a FEMA trailer. We’re located right in the middle of all the industries like Indorama, Westlake Chemical, Sasol, ConocoPhillips, it’s so many. Either they’re here around us now, or they’re close in proximity to be built where I am. We have three LNG facilities that are currently operating in our area, in the Lake Charles area. We have like four more proposed in this immediate area. There’s 24 proposed across the Gulf and right now, where I live in Mosswood Estates, it’s like I said, I have petrochem and LNG close to me and everyday is constantly flaring. It’s constant smoke, whether the smoke is white or gray or black. Sometimes the flares are small, sometimes they’re big, sometimes they’re followed by deep, black smoke. It’s just, you know, it’s every day this is what we’re seeing and, at night, when we go to bed at night, we’re still seeing the sky lit up from all the flaring. So, the three ones that are operational right now in southwest Louisiana, and I know a lot of people like to say Lake Charles Lake Charles, but I want to make sure that I reiterate this is a problem for the whole southwest Louisiana. Because, a lot of times, we overlook the smaller communities that’s around Lake Charles, and those are the communities that are getting the blunt end of the stick. So, those LNG facilities that are operational right now are Cheniere, Sabine Pass, Venture Global, Calcasieu Pass, and Sempra Cameron LNG, and I live right now, ten miles or less from all three of those. And there’s a spot in Port Arthur where you can go to the top of the City Hall building and you can look across and see all of the LNG and petrochem that’s in southwest Louisiana. So, that’s how close all of this industry is to each other. And that’s the fear we have, of it being so close that one of those facilities was to explode or have a big explosion or a big spill, it will all directly affect the industries across southwest Louisiana and south Texas. 

Something people may think is miniscule or unimportant, I try to go take pictures of all the flaring. Whenever there’s loud noises, I try to take pictures and record and post it and let people know because people have become so accustomed to stuff that they’re blind to it. People don’t want to speak out, they have a fear of industry because a lot of them work there or they know someone that works there. They don’t want to lose their job, you know, and people have already lost so much here that you definitely don’t want to be seen as a person who’s trying to take their livelihood away. So, you just have to make it relatable and say things like, do you think it’s normal for us to be smelling that or seeing that or tasting that or do you think it’s okay for your children to have to shelter in place when these industries are flaring and things like that. That helps start a conversation about those facilities being in compliance and being safe while they’re operating here. That also gets people thinking and talking. Well what if we had more, what can we do to stop these plants from coming here? We may not be able to shut these down right now, but how can you get involved to stop more from coming so that we can then focus on the ones that are here. 

And also, Louisiana is Sportsmans’ Paradise. A lot of people make money off of the land, farming and fishing, crabbing, shrimping, things like that that people are getting away from because so much industry is in our wetlands and a lot of people don’t trust the shrimp, fish, and crabs that come directly from our local waterways that are full of industry now. 

I envision for southwest Louisiana us investing in more renewable energy, using these people who are trained welders and electricians to do things that are more environmentally friendly, going more towards using less plastics and actually using our natural resources and our farmlands, investing more into agriculture. That’s what I see because that’s the natural Louisiana way, that’s natural landscape. In this climate fight, we have lost focus on people. We’ve forgotten about the people that we’re fighting for. If we’re trying to save this Earth and save this land and preserve our natural resources and protect our climate, then who are we doing it for? Are we doing it so that it’s just a pretty thing that’s left here when we’re all dead and gone? No, we’re doing it regardless so that humans can enjoy it, right? And so we have to keep human lives at a focal point of this fight, and remember why we’re doing this. We’re doing this for our children, for our grandchildren, we’re human, right? So, we have to make sure these human lives have everything they need to survive. We have to fight that fight from within. We have to make sure that people have safe homes, safe shelter, safe drinking water, safe food to eat. How do we do that? How do we connect the dots so that people can see how industry is directly related? Yes, because my organizing is people-focused, and I go in to help the person and meet them where they are, you know. If I can connect that into clean energy and show them how it’s related, that’s what I do. If a mom needs diapers for her kids but she’s steadily telling me, hey, I’m not concerned about the industry, my daughter’s dad works in industry. Okay, your daughter’s dad works in industry but you just called me for diapers. So, he’s working over there at industry that say they pay out at top dollars, but you can’t afford diapers. What is really going on? So, whatever conversations we spark so that people understand that you are truly an environmental justice community. These plants are coming here on the premise of providing all of this for you, but are you really receiving it?

(56:47) Conclusion

Courtney Naquin: I hope you enjoyed listening to Kayley, Emma, Elida, and Roishetta as much as I did. There are several takeaways from this conversation, but two major aspects in particular stand out for me. First, this movement isn’t just about working against exploitative industries. It’s so much more about what we're working for and what we’re striving to protect and preserve and envision. There is an inherent element of optimism embedded in the movement because of people’s love for their community, something fossil fuel industries can’t replace or replicate. Second, while these activists are certainly incredible individuals, movements are not singular, and they are not solitary. There’s a long history of activists and leaders before us, and the ones you heard today work with and for their people. Which means that you, wherever you are, are not alone in the struggle. 

There are Kayleys and Emmas and Elidas and Roishettas near you, and if you need help finding them, reach out to us at the show and we can help get you connected. And if this episode moved you in any way, please share with your friends, family and colleagues, and subscribe so you don’t miss out on any future episodes. If you’re curious about how to get involved in the movement against fracked gas and polluting industries in the Gulf, check out our website at for more information. And if you really want to go the distance, leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. Those reviews go a long way in spreading our reach, so please hit us up. I’ve been Courtney Naquin, your host. I’ve had the help of putting this initial episode together with my good friend and colleague, Roddy Hughes, and the support of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign. Big thanks to Thomas Walsh, our podcast editor, who helped edit and produce this episode. And of course, we wouldn’t be anywhere without the music of Purly Gates. Thank you, Purly, for your contributions and activism out in central Texas. Shoutout as well to our project manager, Natalie McLendon. Our album art was made by the south Texas artist, Nancy Guevara. We hope you’ll be back for our next episode. See you then.