Last Tuesday, residents of the small town Bobtown, Pennsylvania woke to an explosion and a massive, high-temperature fire, at the site of a fracking well owned by Chevron. With one worker injured and another missing, in a town full of terrified citizens, that Chevron would need to engage in an extraordinary public relations effort.  Instead, they’ve offered the townspeople a coupon each for a free pizza.

This was no ordinary fire. The Pittsburgh Gazette reported on 12th Feb:

More than 12 hours after an explosion that “sounded like a jet engine going 5 feet above your house,” as one neighbor put it, the fire, fueled by the well’s gas, continued to shoot flames and smoke into the air, causing a hissing sound that could be heard a quarter-mile away.

The heat from the blaze — which caused a tanker truck on site that was full of propane gas to explode — was so intense that first responders from local fire departments had to pull back rather than risk injury.

“They essentially retreated to let the fire burn,” said John Poister, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which had three people on site investigating.

Carol Siverly lives about one mile away from where the explosion took place. She said,

“Everybody’s really sad. It’s very emotional.”

Michelle Popernack lives only half a mile away from the well site. She said,

“Just at that moment it was an explosion. It was the loudest boom I’ve heard and the fire just shot immediately straight out. It was very, very scary. You knew somebody had to be hurt somewhere with that explosion,”

So how did Chevron respond? Well, first they released a statement, saying:

“Chevron would like to express our sincere regret to those who may be affected by the incident. We’re working to contain the fire and ensure the safety of our employees, contractors and the surrounding community.”

And five days later, Chevron Appalachia Community Outreach sent a gift certificate to those who lived in the vicinity of the blast offering them a two litre bottle of soda and one large pizza. No, this is not satire.  On February 16th, residents received the following letter with a gift coupon for Bobtown Pizza attached:

“Dear Neighbor,

We are sorry to have missed you.  We wanted to provide you with a status update on the February 11 incident that occurred on Chevron’s Appalachia’s Lanoce 7 H well pads in Dunkard Township and see if you had any questions or concerns that we could address.

Chevron recognizes the effect this has had on the community.  We value being a responsible member of this community and will continue to strive to achieve incident-free operations.  We are committed to taking action to safeguard our neighbors, our employees, our contractors and the environment.

If you have any questions, please call our toll free community line at 1-877-847-8408.

Thank you,

Chevron Community Outreach Team”

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With this offer, Chevron have communicated exactly how much value they place on the quality of life of the local community – about a pizza’s worth.

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About The Author

Kerry-anne Mendoza is a writer, blogger and activist. She is the author of the Scriptonite Daily blog which explores matters of current affairs, politics, economics and ideas. She is also a contributor to New Internationalist, openDemocracy, Trebuchet Magazine, the Occupy News Network and others. She is based in the UK, and left her career as a Management Consultant having held senior positions in banking, local government and the NHS to be part of the Occupy Movement. She has since worked as a writer and campaigner for social, economic and environmental justice.