Chevron pizza 'scandal' isn't one in Pa. town
BOBTOWN, Pa. - Critics are raging after an energy giant offered pizza coupons to a community near a natural gas well that exploded last month, killing a worker.
News stories, TV shows, and blogs - many sarcastic or scornful - spread the word far and wide. "Shame on you," one person wrote about the offer from Chevron Corp. "How insulting!" said another. Comedy Central's Colbert Report skewered it.
But the 750 or so residents of the hamlet of Bobtown? Not one has signed an online petition demanding an apology for the pizza offer. In fact, during a recent visit, the Associated Press found the talk of the town was about the furious response by outsiders.
"We feel it was something outside groups generated," said Pete Novak, a codirector of the Polish American Club, a local gathering spot. None of the patrons has voiced outrage, he said, and residents laughed about how people who have never set foot in Bobtown claim to speak for its citizens.
On Feb. 11, a Chevron well outside Bobtown exploded, killing Ian McKee, 27, who lived about a half-hour away, in Morgantown, W.Va., and who worked for a contractor. The fire burned for a week, and emergency responders, state regulators, and crews with special equipment clogged or blocked narrow roads in the area.
Several people noted Chevron's pizza offer was made to apologize for traffic after the fire, not to downplay the loss of life.
"I thought it was pretty decent of them," said Ray Elli, 54, who noted the fire was about a mile outside town on a ridge, and that people in town didn't feel threatened.
Bill Sowden, co-owner of Bobtown Pizza, the area's only restaurant, said 12 people had redeemed the coupons Chevron distributed. The whole issue, he said, was blown out of proportion.
"We're just a food place," he said.
The outsize reaction from people not directly affected by the accident illustrates the passions surrounding the fracking debate.
About 12,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that Chevron apologize, according to petition organizer Karen Feridun.
"There are a few from nearby communities, but none right from Bobtown," Feridun wrote in e-mails this week to the AP. The petition isn't even on public display in Bobtown, about two miles from the West Virginia border.
Company spokesman Kent Robertson said in an e-mail that Chevron works to be a good partner in communities, that it had been "overwhelmed by the support" from residents, and that it appreciated their understanding.
Statistics suggest major fires are relatively rare. Wild Well Control of Houston, which specializes in oil and gas well accidents, says it responded to five surface well blowouts last year accompanied by fires and 25 other surface blowouts with no fires.