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Norco

Summary

Community Group: Concerned Citizens of Norco

On June 11, 2002 the Concerned Citizens of Norco won their hard fought battle with Shell Oil. Since the death of two community members in an explosion in 1973, the Diamond neighborhood advocated for a fair buy out of their contaminated and dangerous properties. They demanded relocation from Shell, as Shell had moved on top of them in the 1950’s.

Older members of the Diamond community – women in their 60s and 70s – recount holding signs and picketing in front of Shell in the 1970’s. Nearly thirty years later, Shell finally listened. A small, four street neighborhood convinced the world’s second largest oil company to hear its demands.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade began working with the Diamond community in 1999. We trained community members how to document Shell’s pollution in their neighborhood. We also worked hard to gain media exposure for the community. Our work resulted in 61 media stories in one 12 month period. During the final months of the campaign we organized a rally in front of Shell’s Houston headquarters. “Let My People Go” was the rallying cry. Stories appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Shell’s hometown newspaper.

The information on this site recounts steps toward the Diamond victory. Although the community’s demands were met, this victory must be seen in its context. An historic African American community has been uprooted and destroyed; community members are scattered in various places. This solution was a pragmatic response to a terrible problem. Diamond community members still tearfully recount lives lost to strange cancers and an alarmingly high rate of asthma. They recognize that relocation was the solution that could save their lives. However, there must be alternatives found; petrochemical giants swallowing towns and entire tracts of history is a sad solution.

Diamond is the site of the 1811 slave revolt, the largest slave revolt in history. The spirit of resistance is strong there. The community is mostly grassy, empty spaces now, with a Shell Chemical plant next door.

Diamond community members are now supporting other communities around the world affected by Shell’s operations. Port Arthur, Texas, and Durban, South Africa are two communities that continue to suffer the ills of living too close to Shell. The company continues to flare from its wells in Nigeria, and as recently as 2007 defied a court order to cease the flaring (http://www.foei.org/en/media/archive/2007/0502)

The following fact sheet was produced during the heat of the campaign and provides valuable insight into what issues were involved in the battle for relocation.

Fact Sheet

Norco, Louisiana
Old Diamond Plantation and Shell

The Diamond Community of Norco, Louisiana is an African American neighborhood of four streets. Diamond is directly adjacent to Norco’s Shell Chemical facility, 25 feet away from the plant’s fenceline. The Motiva refinery – of which Shell is a partner – sandwiches the neighborhood on the east side. The citizens of Diamond have been battling for relocation through their community group, Concerned Citizens of Norco.

Historical value

Residents of Diamond are descendents of the slaves and sharecroppers who worked the land decades before Shell began its operations.

Diamond is the site of the 1811 slave revolt, the largest slave revolt in American history.

Shell’s expansions have swallowed this land and left no trace of the historical value.

Property ownership

Shell has been buying property in Diamond since the early 1970’s at an average of $26,933 per home. A three-bedroom home one block away from Diamond is currently on the market for over four times that amount – $110,000.

Shell currently owns 48 of 269 lots in Diamond – 18% of the community. Eleven percent of the lots that community members own are vacant or contain abandoned houses. Community members believe that residents are fleeing rather than live next to Shell.

Shell is currently offering a minimum of $50,000 per home, far below what residents say is needed to buy another home without going into debt. Local and corporate Shell officials admitted this to a group of socially responsible investors at a meeting in New York on March 12, 2001, but have yet to admit this fact to the community and try to resolve it.

Health

Diamond residents note that odors from Shell facilities cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, congestion, sore throats, and difficulty breathing on a regular basis.

Many residents report improved health when leaving Diamond for periods of time. They also report that health problems re appear upon return to the neighborhood.

In a 1997 health survey by Xavier University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, 34% of children surveyed had asthma.

One-fourth of the women and children surveyed had to visit a hospital emergency room because of respiratory problems.

Accidents and chemical releases

Air samples taken by Concerned Citizens of Norco’s (CCN) Bucket Brigade over the last two years reveal cancer- causing chemicals in the air, including methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and benzene, at levels that violate even Louisiana state standards.

Shell reported 66 accidents in an 18-month period over 1998 – 1999, an average of over three accidents a month.

In 1973, Helen Washington and Leroy Jones were killed when a Shell pipeline erupted and blasted into Mrs. Washington’s home. Mrs. Washington’s sister later sold the lot to Shell for $3,000. Leroy Jones’ mother received $500.

Odors, noises, and lights from Shell permeate the neighborhood nearly 24 hours a day.

Many residents of Diamond report that they sleep in their clothes with a bag packed so they will be prepared to jump out of bed and run in case of an accident.

Negotiating Practices

Intimidation. On August 22, 2000, a number of cars were parked outside of Margie Richard’s home, as a television crew was due to begin interviewing Diamond residents about relocation. A police car drove by the house at least three times that morning. Residents note that there is unusual police activity in their neighborhood whenever there is a community gathering. They believe it is an attempt to intimidate them into giving up their struggle.

Divide and conquer. During meetings with the community, Shell managers oftentimes communicate information to a few individuals in offhand conversations, instead of to the group in the official meeting format. Shell has also mailed letters with conflicting information, leading some residents to believe that confusion is their goal.

Exclusive meetings. Shell repeatedly refuses to have open meetings with the community. In July of 2000, Shell held a meeting that was “invitation only.” The company turned community members away at the company gates, saying there weren’t sufficient “provisions” for people to attend the meeting. In November 2000 they refused to debate Diamond citizens on relocation on the grounds that an honest conversation would be “divisive.”

Disputing the right of association. Some Shell managers attempt to interfere in the business of Concerned Citizens of Norco by trying to dissuade the community from inviting community advisors – technical experts, lawyers, organizers – to attend community meetings with the corporation. On one occasion, Shell management disputed the credibility of a fax on the basis that it was sent to the company from a city outside Norco. The community maintains the right to counsel from any and all sources.

Press Releases

    Narratives

    Hear the testimonials of people who live next to the Shell Refinery and Shell Chemical Plant in Norco, La.

    Simply right click on the orange link and save the file, then launch it when it is finished downloading.

    Iris Carter Audio Clip1
    “It’s our right to have clean air and to live the best we can. It’s our God-given right – God didn’t make pollution, man did. And it’s time to stop right now!” (14 sec; 350 KB).

    Iris Carter Audio Clip2
    “It’s real ! It’s happening every day. Children have asthma, tumors, all this is happening now because we have all these diseases. The more you stay, the more you get, that’s all I can say.” (15 sec; 358 KB).

    News Coverage