By Thaddeus Popovich
Shell Pipeline Company rolled into Raccoon Township Fire Hall this month, their usual company entourage and multimedia show in tow.
More than a dozen employees – clad in slate-colored golf shirts with the orange company logo – milled about the room setting up large topographical maps of the Shell Falcon Pipeline route on tri-pods. The meeting started and followed a format that Shell adheres to when visiting its soon-to-be neighbors in Beaver County.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of attending a Shell “information session,” here’s how it goes. Several local police officers station themselves outside and inside the room, creating an aura of intimidation for many in attendance.
Shell leaders then stand before the audience and present basic facts to the audience, on this particular evening waxing about the “robust design” of the pipeline and how the Falcon was routed “away from potential geologic and sediment” problems and “high-density populations” which we know to be not true.
Shell finishes by allowing people to take their questions to the back of the room where four or five tables are set up across the back –Community, Environment, Rout and Transportation and Construction – manned by Shell employees.
This format is intentional. It encourages the silo-ing of residents and prevents any open dialogue where residents might absorb information and learn from one another. In fact, it encourages residents not to ask questions at all because people in general don’t like standing in long queues and asking questions when they cannot hear the responses over the din of shuffling feet and others talking at the same time.
I am part of several Beaver County-based groups that have repeatedly asked Shell to be a good neighbor and engage in an open dialogue about the public health concerns and risks raised by the expansion of the petrochemical industry that will surround our homes and communities.
We’ve sent our questions out as letters-to-the editor. Held educational forums on threats to the Ambridge Reservoir and private wells and the prospect for renewable energy jobs in the region. We’ve even submitted questions directly to Shell employees when they’re here.
Not once has Shell responded to us to offer anything in the way of a sit down, open dialogue. The only responses – if you can call it that – have been the result of lawsuits filed by groups like Clean Air Council to force industry’s adherence to air and water emission regulations that threaten to poison our community.
Law-abiding, concerned residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania deserve more than intimidation, isolationist practices and company-spin. We need a real community forum that allows us to stand up and ask questions and receive honest, science-based answers.