Hidden Emissions and Histories

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By Marcia Oursler, Petrochemical Accident Researcher

As petrochemical accident researchers, we analyze publicly available discharge reports of oil companies.  We track pounds and gallons of pollution by oil refineries and chemical plants across the state to point out trends to the general public.   Unfortunately, many of the neighborhoods impacted by these emissions from a health standpoint are comprised of mostly African American and young populations.

Recently we had the opportunity to experience a Hidden History Tour, led by Leon Waters.  Mr. Waters began the tour with the statement, “this is what they don’t teach you in school.”  As a Louisiana resident, it is eye opening to hear of the 1811 Rebellion to End Slavery, also referred to as the Slavery Revolt of 1811.

Driving along River Road into Norco over the Bonnet Carre Spillway with a canvas of steam and industry in every glance, we learned of a slave cemetery that resided several hundred feet off the road, in a slightly overgrown area.  As we were informed of the history of the area, we reached a community park owned by Shell Chemical.  The land inhabited by this gift to the “community” was formerly a residential neighborhood, the Diamond Community.  Driving by a desolate playground and baseball field feet away from the Shell fence line, it felt like we were trespassing (on the industrial plant) rather than on a community park.

Further on down River Road, we slowed down at Ormond Boulevard in Ormond Estates, formerly referred to as part of Ormond Plantation.  We were then told of a vacant fenced off lot within the subdivision that is actually a slave cemetery.  Unlike the slave cemetery near the Bonnet Carre Spillway, this space was well groomed, yet deceives the eye as something like a potential park.  Both burial sites would surprise any passerby.  Hearing of the history of the 1811 Rebellion while driving the actual geography is a powerful experience.  It is interesting to see land formerly defined as sugar cane plantations now inhabited by oil and chemical industry, replacing one form of racism with another, environmental racism.

As a petrochemical accident researcher quantifying pollution totals and self-reporting of chemical refineries and plants statewide, it is clear that Motiva Enterprises (including both Shell and Motiva) is responsible for five of the top ten refinery accidents in 2012 in Louisiana.  Motiva Enterprises in Norco has emitted massive amounts of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide into the air, and is the largest air polluter of 2012.  While refineries are required to report emissions above reportable quantity, many emissions are released regularly which are considered below the reportable quantity (BRQ), for which the state of Louisiana does not require reports summarizing release information.  These BRQ releases, while they may seem small, can add up.  Shell’s corporate citizenship attempts of donating community parks are ironic until emissions are gravely reduced so that community members can be around to utilize the parks.  Descendants of those negatively impacted by the predominant industry two centuries ago living in the same geographies now experience poor air quality as a result of today’s predominant industry in Louisiana.

For more information, see the LABB Refinery Accident Database.

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