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March 7, 2014

Chevron pizza 'scandal' isn't one in small town

BOBTOWN, Pa. (AP) — 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 outright scornful — spread the word far and wide. "Shame on you," one person wrote about the offer by Chevron Corp. "How insulting!" said another. Comedy Central's satirical "The 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 is more the furious response by outsiders.

"We feel it was something outside groups generated," said Pete Novak, a co-director 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.

Several people noted that 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 that 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, says 12 people have redeemed the coupons distributed by Chevron. The whole issue, he said, was blown out of proportion.

"We're just a food place," he said.

The outsized reaction from people not directly affected by the accident illustrates the larger passions surrounding the fracking debate. Many critics seek stricter regulations or bans to protect air and water from pollution, while supporters speak of the economic benefits for an energy-hungry nation. Each side claims the high moral ground.

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