Appalachian Basin

Residents of the Marcellus Shale are Not Silent Sacrificial Lambs

Local psychologist Diane Siegmund recently gave a presentation in Athens on “A Silence of the Lambs” and her beliefs of why more individuals don’t speak out against the natural gas industry. It was littered with anecdotes, fear, and a sweeping misguided generalization of the residents of the Marcellus Shale.

I recently attended a presentation in Athens, Pennsylvania by Diane Siegmund, a local psychologist, entitled, “A Silence of the Lambs: Exploring the Psychological Impacts on Life in the Pennsylvania Gas Fields.” You can view an earlier version of the slideshow here, although the more recent presentation included more photographs. The presentation used a strategy we’ve covered a few times where Siegmund showed images to invoke an emotional appeal from her audience, but didn’t explain them or any information surrounding the incidents. And, while Siegmund did, for the most part, stick to her area of profession, she made sweeping generalizations about the population residing in the Marcellus Shale that does not line up with the sentiment of the majority of the populations of Bradford and surrounding counties. More on this after the jump.

What’s in a name?

Siegmund’s title refers to the 1991 movie of the same name where Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who has long since crossed the line between genius and insanity, helps FBI Agent Clarice Starling with a case involving a serial killer from the confines of his prison cell. More specifically based on the focus of her presentation, it refers to a scene where Starling describes a traumatizing childhood event where she witnessed the slaughtering of lambs on her family’s ranch.

“No. First I tried to free them. I… I opened the gate to their pen, but they wouldn’t run. They just stood there, confused. They wouldn’t run.” Clarice Starling, IMDB

It says a lot about Siegmund’s views of her fellow Bradford County residents, suffering from “cognitive dissonance” or “motivated reasoning” and in a sense, thus becoming lambs ready for the slaughter because of their silence.

Cognitive Dissonance: The term cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs.

Motivated Reasoning: The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.”[2] This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives.”[3]

The following image from Siegmund’s slideshow describes some of the reasons she believes people are silent on the topic of natural gas development, and since her only mention of positive benefits was summed up in one word, “money,” you’ll notice terms like satisfied, content, happy, etc., don’t make the list.


Now, I am not a psychologist, and I don’t pretend to be, but based on the above definitions and the knowledge of the overwhelming support of the natural gas industry across the Marcellus Shale in areas of active development, one has to wonder if Siegmund isn’t herself suffering from a case of motivated reasoning.

I mean think about it. You have the practice of developing natural gas which has been around for a long time and has a proven record of safety, combined with expressed sentiments of content or satisfaction from a majority of community members, including many elected officials, while a very vocal minority “cling[s] to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence.” But, according to Siegmund, it’s the community trying to reconcile their beliefs  and forming ill-conceived notions of the safety of a natural gas industry developing natural resources in their backyards.

This could be the case, or perhaps more plausibly, what exists is one psychologist who can’t understand how anyone would allow the “turning of country into an industrial zone.”  She began her presentation with this thought and apparently looks to her profession to make a sweeping generalization about an entire population that makes more sense to her, namely that they are sacrificial lambs.  She simply cannot accept the truth; the possibility these individuals could actually want the natural gas industry in their community. Whether one is a psychologist or not, it certainly brings up questions, when, as you’ll see in a moment, the presenter obviously has a biased agenda.

Show much, tell little.

What was most interesting to me about the whole thing, aside from her choice of title, was the images she used. Why is that? Well, because if I was trying to prove an individual was a victim of contamination, I wouldn’t use pictures of people where multiple government agencies have determined the water to be safe and/or their accusations against the natural gas industry to be false. But that’s just me, and when you don’t describe the people you’re showing or the cases in any detail other than, “This woman’s water was contaminated,” I guess you’ve already told your audience all of the details you want them to know about the situation.

But, that’s not right. And, it certainly doesn’t show you have any faith in the story you’re telling if you can’t let individuals come to their own conclusions based on scientific data. So I asked Siegmund about it:

You show some pretty public cases in your presentation (Julie Sautner/Victoria Sweitzer of Dimock and Crystal Stroud of Wyalusing). A few of them have had results released and decisions have been made based on those tests. Whether you agree or disagree with the EPA and DEP in one instance and the DEP in another on their findings, why would you choose not to include the information that the test results and findings are available?

Crystal Stroud's accusations were found to be false in July 2011.

Slide from Siegmund’s presentation, but Stroud’s accusations were found to be false in July 2011.

Siegmund went over some reasons why she doesn’t agree with the tests including asking me what tests have findings, but never actually answered my question as to why she wouldn’t let her audience know that information is out there. Dimock was probably the highest profile case in our area, but that doesn’t mean people recognized the photo of the two women she featured and the same goes with Crystal Stroud.

Well, perhaps it’s because even if Siegmund disagrees with the findings, they’re kind of hard to dispute and doing so probably wouldn’t have helped her argument. After all, in Dimock, not only did DEP declare the water safe, but so did the EPA.

As for  Stroud, well, the DEP found the barium in her water to not be the fault of the natural gas industry back in July of 2011. From the letter DEP sent to Crystal Stroud:

The Department’s investigation reveals the water quality conditions observed in your water supply are consistent with those observed in several nearby water supply wells sampled as part of this investigation, and those that have been historically documented in the North Branch Towanda Creek valley. The Department’s investigation indicates that the conditions documented in your well reflect background conditions/pre-existing and that gas well drilling as not impacted your water supply.

That’s a pretty clear statement that wouldn’t be very helpful to Siegmund’s argument.

But, then she does the same thing with other aspects like road damages, showing the before, but not the after, giving the impression roads are never repaired and certainly not describing the quality of them once they are. From start to finish of the presentation, it was literally one fragment of the whole picture after another as she tried to create an inaccurate image for the audience of what is and isn’t occurring in the region.

Giving to the Community is Bad.

Now, Siegmund discussed a lot of things, but one point that really stood out to me was her belief that natural gas companies giving back to the community was somehow evil.  The name Chesapeake Energy kept coming up in her talk as if she had a grudge. Her belief, which tells us so much about her view of others’ opinions, is  that charitable giving effectively silences members of the community.  It sounds to me like she’s the one who wants to silence opinions.

The most ironic part of  the whole discussion was the fact the meeting took place on one of the streets in Athens where, after the devastating flooding from Tropical Storm Lee, Chesapeake Energy sent its employees to help clean up. Standing on the street after, one wouldn’t know the trauma those residents, businesses and churches faced in 2011 and that’s in large part thanks to companies like Chesapeake who shut down operations when the communities their employees reside in needed their equipment and manpower.  From the article:

Normal operations will resume as conditions allow and through direct coordination with regulators and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Rory [Sweeney, Chesapeake’s media relations coordinator from the Towanda office] said.

Meanwhile, Chesapeake has been working with local emergency management officials since remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped heavy rain across the Twin Tiers and caused a swollen Susquehanna River to spill over its banks.

So far, Chesapeake has donated 21,000 bottles and several tanker trucks of fresh drinking water, pumping equipment services to various townships, numerous cots and air mattresses for public shelters and help with transportation of equipment and materials.

On Wednesday, scores of Chesapeake workers helped residents with everything from demolition to cleaning.

Seeking to prove a point, she ignores the good done by Chesapeake Energy because that helps her justify, in her own mind, why others are silent in not joining her campaign. Money, after all, is the only benefit of natural gas development as she sees it.

1315958446Would she have companies like Chesapeake stop giving time and money to benefit the community? Would she have them stop providing jobs? What about the ancillary businesses who have benefited? Should they also not help their community because the monetary and time donations would somehow taint the opinions of a population Siegmund obviously views as a bunch poor dumb rubes?

She clearly thinks they need her help instead, which is, when all is said and done, what it’s all about.  Siegmund is angry no one is listening to her.  It’s that simple.

Thankfully, even as Siegmund’s own presentation shows, her views are in the minority and the majority of residents are appreciative of the positive impacts the natural gas industry has brought to Bradford and other counties. If she’d stop to listen to a few of them, I think she’d find they’re often not as silent as she believes them to be.


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