Legend has it Marie Antoinette, when told during one of France’s famines that peasants had no bread, replied, “Let them eat brioche,” or more popularly, cake. Actually, it’s unlikely the queen ever said this. Opponents of the monarchy during the French revolution never used the quotation, but it was later cited – or perhaps invented – by some historians to illustrate how oblivious and detached the ruling class had become.
We admit it’s a little unfair to compare Chevron Corp. to the 18th-century French monarchy, but its response to residents living in the vicinity of a raging well fire last week in Greene County was widely and similarly interpreted: Then let them eat pizza.
The fire, which burned out of control for days and finally extinguished itself Saturday, killed one worker and injured another. The effort to control the blaze resulted in even more traffic and disruption than the drilling and operation of the Marcellus gas well, and so Chevron sent employees door to door to about 30 people in the area to thank them for their patience and understanding and to give them gift certificates to Bobtown Pizza. The certificates, worth $12, are good for a large pizza and a 2-liter bottle of soda.
Opponents of the gas industry immediately lit up the blogosphere with derisive and sarcastic commentary about Chevron’s magnanimous gesture. The fact Chevron made $21.4 billion in profits last year and addressed the situation in Greene County by spending $1,200 on 100 gift certificates was more than ample fuel. We wonder ourselves about the debate around the corporate table; whether giving away, say, $15 coupons would have been overly generous and fiscally irresponsible.
But the value of the compensatory gifts is not the point; more to the point is that the corporation in its gesture appears to be oblivious of the effect its operations have had on its neighbors. As important for the future of this region and this nation as the Marcellus Shale may be, extracting gas from it has negative impact on our water resources, on the air we breathe and the roads we travel. Those who live near gas wells must deal with noise, heavy truck traffic and the possibility of accidents that could force their evacuation. Certainly, the gas industry has brought jobs to the area and pumped money into our local economy, but this has not come without the surrender of some of our quality of life.
A free pizza does not even the score.
The public relations folks at Chevron would have done better to have done nothing. They might have done best by simply offering a public apology for the disruption caused by the accident at the well, and a pledge to increase its commitment to safety.