Natural gas opponents and some media types with agendas had a field day in Bobtown when Chevron passed out pizza coupons but the reality is a far different matter.
One of the great biographies of all time was Whittaker Chambers’ Witness. Chambers had been a communist in his younger years, became disillusioned, exposed Alger Hiss as a fellow traveler and later served as an editor at Time Magazine and National Review. The Hiss case was highly controversial at the time, although the guilt of Hiss was later established beyond any doubt when USSR files were released.
What made the case controversial, more than the fact Hiss was a high-level State Department official, was the nature of the two men. Hiss was a handsome aristocrat, an elitist much admired with Washington circles, whereas Chambers, though a superb writer, was an unappealing, frumpy sort of guy who never quite fit into society. It was hard to believe Hiss could be a liar, let alone a traitor, but it was easy to imagine Chambers might be lying. High society rallied around Hiss; he was one of them. Chambers most definitely was not, though he had the facts on his side and ultimately proved to be the truth-teller.
Natural Gas Parallels
Chambers understood the significance of the battle that embroiled him. It’s a battle that preceded the Hiss matter and continues to this day, especially in the war environmental elitists have made against natural gas and other fossil fuel development, but on many other fronts as well. He captured it this famous quote from Witness (emphasis added):
No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them. It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.
How does this relate to natural gas? Well, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the hypocrisy of a Scranton Times columnist who was ranting and raving against Chevron’s gesture of offering free pizza coupons to residents of Bobtown in Southwestern Pennsylvania following a tragic accident that occurred when its worked tried connecting an already drilled and fracked gas well to a gathering line.
The fake outrage on the part of that particular writer was, sadly, all too typical among those who write the headlines, the members of the “fourth estate.” It was, for about a week, one story after another suggesting Chevron had insulted the community, shown callous disregard for everyone but itself and otherwise revealed itself as the corporate monster it was suggested to be.
One thing was missing from those stories, though; the real input of local residents. What we heard instead was the incessant voices of “those who affected to act, think and speak for them,” as Chambers put it so well. Fortunately, those voices are now being heard via one reporter who thought to finally ask them. Kevin Begos, of the Associated Press, decided to practice journalism and here is some of what he found (emphasis added):
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.
About 12,000 people have signed an online petition demanding Chevron apologize, according to petition organizer Karen Feridun.
“There are a few from nearby communities, but none right from Bobtown,” Feridun wrote in emails this week to the AP. She lives about 250 miles away, at the other end of Pennsylvania. The petition isn’t even on public display in Bobtown, about 2 miles from the West Virginia border.
One petition signer from New York City mentioned “Chevron’s cavalier arrogance.” Other signers came from Alaska, Florida and many other states, as well as Australia, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Germany and Italy…
Chevron representatives visited about 100 people five days after the fire, seeking concerns or questions and leaving a gift certificate for a large pizza and 2-liter drink at Bobtown Pizza, which had just opened.
Elli, who was born in Bobtown, said he feels for the worker who died and his family, but that the well fire didn’t threaten other residents. And while there are differing opinions about the drilling boom in the community, he doesn’t see a problem with it.
“We need gas. Better than getting it from other countries,” he said. His current priority is not getting an apology from Chevron, he said, but getting ready for the spring wild turkey season.
He noted that many locals have made money off the drilling boom, both from royalties — which can reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for landowners — and jobs.
Overall, Pennsylvanians support the drilling boom, said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. A January poll by the school found that 64 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly favor the gas drilling industry, compared with 27 percent who somewhat or strongly oppose it. In some conservative rural areas with active drilling, the support is even higher.
“I think it’s pretty fascinating that folks in the community” aren’t openly upset with Chevron, Madonna said, agreeing that such kerfuffles are surrogates in the political fight over American energy production.
Novak had some advice for all the people who think they know how Bobtown residents feel: “Come to this small rural area and see for themselves.”
Natural Gas Lessons
Whittacker Chambers died in 1961, some 53 years ago, but his wisdom lives. The elitists of the second estate, today’s nobility, who fund the war against natural gas and fossil fuels (e.g., the Heinz, Park and Rockefeller families) combined with the fourth estate, the press, to speak on behalf of the “plain men and women” of Bobtown. The contact name at the top of the petition against Chevron, in fact, is a representative of the Mountain Watershed Association, a Heinz Endowments front group.
These elitists failed, in doing so, to “distinguish between reality and unreality” and now, just like Alger Hiss, they been exposed. What has also been exposed is the complete hollowness of the elitist case against natural gas. This is why the fractivists are losing a little more everyday, as the rest of America and the world grasps what they cannot–that natural gas is a critical part of our energy future and one that is reviving the American dream.