On Feb. 11, an explosion at a Chevron natural gas well in Bobtown, Pa. exploded, killing one worker. The fire burned for four days and gas and heat are still emanating from the site. The cause of the explosion remains unknown at this time and residents of Bobtown remain understandably concerned about the safety of other wells in the area.
The situation at the well "remains serious," Chevron said in a statement Tuesday.
But the oil giant is threatening to turn this very serious and tragic event into a farce with one of the worst PR moves in recent memory: In an effort to compensate the community, Chevron is giving residents of Bobtown a certificate good for one free pizza and a 2-liter bottle of soda.
To be clear, this is not a joke or a story from The Onion. The Philadelphia Daily News, CNN and various other news outlets confirm the 'pizza and a soda' apology and copies of the certificate and accompanying letter have been posted on the Web.
The letter from Chevron includes a number for a "toll-free community hotline" that rolls into a voicemail for an unidentifiable person, presumably a member of Chevron's 'Community Outreach Team', the same team presumably responsible for the "brilliant" idea of sending a certificate for pizza and a free soda to the concerned citizens of Bobtown. The Daily Ticker left a message on the voicemail and will update this story if Chevron responds. (Update: No direct reponse from Chevron as yet but the voicemail message on the 'hotline' has been changed to a more official PR response. "Your call is important to us, we will get back to you within the next 24 hours.")
Presumably, Chevron's corporate PR didn't approve the "pizza and a soda" strategy, although it did confirm the corporation offered "a token of appreciation" to Bobtown residents, CNN reports.
Again, Chevron has turned a very serious and tragic event into a farce that's almost certain to be tackled by The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live and the late night talk shows in the coming days. For example:
- Did you hear Chevron's 'pizza and soda' gift certificates expire on May 14? Well, at least they'll still be good on Mother's Day...so you can get Mom what she really wants.
- REALLY Chevron?!? You thought pizza and soda was a good way to make up for killing a man and scaring the bejesus out of an entire town? REALLY!?? It's a good thing your PR team wasn't working for BP or citizens of the Gulf would've gotten a bread-bowl full of gumbo and a bottle of wine from 'Two-Buck Chuck' after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
On a much more serious note, the 'pizza and soda' apology has put Chevron in a harsh spotlight, spurred outrage on social networks and brought national attention to the well explosion itself, heretofore a local story. For all the economic benefits of America's energy boom, there are legitimate concerns about the safety and wisdom of hydraulic fracturing and Chevron has essentially given a gift to the anti-fracking movement.
Big Oil isn't isn't exactly known for being sensitive but, as my colleague Lauren Lyster notes, Chevron would've been better off saying (and doing) nothing than coming up with such a ham-handed response to the Bobtown explosion.