Shell petrochemical plant and Pollution in Norco, USA


In 1916, Motiva, a Shell affiliate built an oil refinery on Sellers, a community that previously was the site of an antebellum plantation. The corporation established there the New Orleans Refining company (NORCO) and the name of the town was changed to Norco. In 1953, Shell bought a historical plantation site to build a chemical plant. Local communities, mainly black sharecroppers, moved across the road from the plantation and into a subdivision that became known as the Diamond community. This neighborhood of four streets in the town of Norco was dominantly African American. Accidents and health concerns dominated this community during decades while little action was taken from the corporation. An explosion in 1973 caused the death of two members of the community. A second explosion in 1988 killed 7 workers, injure 48 residents and workers, and caused the evacuation of 4,500 people. Despite the two accidents, several health deprivations (including respiratory diseases and different types of cancer) have accompanied this community since the establishments of the corporation.

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Basic Data
NameShell petrochemical plant and Pollution in Norco, USA
CountryUnited States of America
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Chemical industries
Oil and gas refining
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsExplosion in 1988 released 159 million toxic chemicals into the air.

By 1995 Shell Oil was refining 300,000 barrels of oil a day.

Release of chemicals such as methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and benzene.
Project Area (in hectares)405
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population4,000-5,000
Start Date1916
End Date11/06/2002
Company Names or State EnterprisesRoyal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands
Motiva Enterprises from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersConcerned Citizens of Norco, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, EarthJustice, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, the Refinery Reform Project, Greenpeace, the Coming Clean Campaign, the Environmental Health Fund and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution
Potential: Air pollution, Global warming, Oil spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
OtherHeadaches, nausea, asthma, dizziness, congestion, sore throats, and difficulty breathing
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Negotiated alternative solution
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The opposition attracted major media attention and applied a combination of legal and citizen science techniques; they secured full relocation and buyout by Shell.

Although the residents won their battle, this historical community itself is dispersed and dismantled, friends and families are scattered in different directions.
Sources and Materials

Lerner, S. and Bullard, R.D. (2004) Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor


The Toxic Terror of Louisiana
[click to view]

Shell Games: Divide and Conquer in Norco's Diamond Community
[click to view]

Community Group: Concerned Citizens of Norco
[click to view]

'Shell Games'
[click to view]

New York Time's Article: Death Toll Up to 6 in Blast
[click to view]

Media Links

Margie Richard of the Diamond Community of Norco
[click to view]

Only a narrow street separates Diamond, an African-American community in Norco, from a giant Shell refinery and chemical plant.

This basketball court, all that's left of a school that once stood on the site, is a stone's throw from the smokestacks.

© Mark Ludak / Impact Visuals
[click to view]

Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta Information
ContributorAlejandro Colsa Pérez, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update27/10/2016