Through slick tactics and a host of friendly-looking faces, Shell managed to turn a community “meeting” in Beaver into a sophisticated one-way propaganda delivery mechanism.
I put the word “meeting” in quotes because it did not fit with my traditional conception of community meetings. A couple of attendees attempted to voice concerns via open dialogue in front of the entire audience, but they were quickly shut down by Shell’s team as they directed attendees to take their questions to the various Shell-staffed booths in the back of the room.
Shell did not allow the public to voice concerns about a host of issues that average citizens wouldn’t even know to ask, like:
- Why did Shell choose to swap NOx with VOC air pollution credits, which may result in a notable increase in VOC pollution if the plant begins operation?
- Will the Shell facility be able to operate at all if the global community takes the Paris Climate Agreement seriously and grows intolerant of the massive carbon emissions generated by the facility?
- Why does Shell seek to build a local facility based on fracked gas knowing that fracking has been banned in New York, Maryland, and Vermont? Does Shell believe that Pennsylvania deserves to be polluted more than our neighboring states?
- Shell indicates that their facility’s emissions are “governed by state and federal regulations.” Does that mean they will increase their emissions if regulations are weakened under the current presidential administration?
- Will Shell agree to 24x7x365 fenceline monitoring of all hazardous air pollutants in a manner that is conveniently accessible online by the public in real-time and separated by pollutant? If not, how will the public know they are not being put at risk?
- Will Shell agree to shut down their facility to address leaks of hazardous air pollutants if they exceed federal, state, and/or local limits? Or will Shell simply seek to continue operations and pay a fine, expecting the local residents to put up with any illegal pollution?
- How will Shell address the fears that many Beaver County residents have of publicly voicing their concerns about the facility? How does Shell’s massive economic footprint impact local democratic processes?
- Will Shell attempt to show its “good neighborliness” the same way that it did in Ogoniland, Nigeria, where a scathing 2011 U.N. report found extensive contamination of land and drinking water, even in locations that Shell had indicated were “remediated?”
As a filmmaker, I would show you a video of how last night’s “meeting” was handled, but the only thing I was allowed to film or even take a picture of was this sign:
Shell spent most of the “meeting” attempting to convince the sizeable crowd that good neighbors can and will pollute your air, and how that’s ok because they bought permission to do so, fixed up your swing set, picked up some garbage, and bought a house nearby. Apparently good neighbors will also send at least three uniformed policemen to “keep the peace” when they tell you all that stuff.
After traveling the country for various film projects and interviewing hundreds people across the United States about their environmental challenges, I have learned that the petrochemical industry is built upon the premise that “sacrifice zones” are required for industrial progress. I have learned that poisons regularly leak and people suffer unfairly from those leaks. And I have learned that massive corporations are really good at making you feel like they’re telling you the truth when they are just using your land, water, and air to make a buck for people who don’t care about you. Indeed, they are required by law to take as much advantage of your “pollutability” as your laws allow. Sometimes more.
What the petrochemical industry does not generally tell you is that additional safety measures are often attainable for small additional costs they are unwilling to pay. The industry does not often tell you that there are many other ways to develop a resilient economy than to burn hydrocarbons. The industry does not tell you that a little creativity can go a long way in completely eliminating the need for most plastic usage.
Finally, I believe that in order to be a good neighbor, you have to be a human being. Shell is not a human being. Shell is a multinational corporation that pays people to tell you they will be good neighbors so that you let them pollute your body to increase their profits. That doesn’t sound like a good neighbor to me. No wonder Shell worked so hard to control the message at yesterday’s “meeting.”
Article by Mark Dixon