Fracking Dilemma – It’s Not the Promised Land

cover for the movie "promised land"

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I recently went to see the new movie Promised Land starring Matt Damon, as rising star salesman Steve Butler. What does Steve sell? The promised glory to landowners if only they’ll sell off the rights to their land so the power companies can drill for natural gas on their property. Steve makes up figures and tosses out promises so some desperate landowners in western Pennsylvania are convinced they’ll become millionaires, if only they’ll allow the drilling. He doesn’t go into detail about the process, which is called fracking. Fracking allows drillers to go deep into the earth to extract natural gas. Recently, in states sitting on the rich resource, some homeowners have water so contaminated with chemicals they ignite.

The Associated Press published an article this past week that suggests the Environmental Protection Agency may be shying away from bringing charges against the companies using the method of “hydraulic fracturing.”

The article leads with this paragraph: WEATHERFORD, Texas (AP) — When a man in a Fort Worth suburb reported his family’s drinking water had begun “bubbling” like champagne, the federal government sounded an alarm: An oil company may have tainted their wells while drilling for natural gas.

But then the EPA changed its mind and decided to leave the company alone.

The movie Promised Land has been vilified by the natural gas industry for painting an unfair portrait of fracking. The Marcellus Shale Coalition  even purchased ads to run before the movie. When we saw the movie, the ad played about ten minutes before the show so when the movie started, the ad was forgotten and not seen by the twenty or so folks who came in afterwards.

The industry says the process of fracking is safe. Scientists, environmentalists, and some who live close to the drilling sites say differently. It’s a dilemma, and one faced by Steve Butler in the movie once he begins to see his victims as real human beings he’s lying to. The fact is he doesn’t really know anything about the science behind the drilling. He’s just in their homes to sell a pipe dream.

It’s a complicated issue, and it needs much more study before we go any further. Even the Sierra Club first endorsed the process because they felt natural gas was the solution to ridding the world of “dirty coal.” But not anymore. Now they put fracking in the same category as coal mining.

The Promised Land is a work of fiction with a particular viewpoint that explores the dilemma of bringing natural gas up out of the ground fast and cheap. I’ve heard criticisms of the ending, but I’m not sure I understand why. I won’t give it away here because I’d like you to go see the movie and make up your own mind. It’s important to remember the movie is a fictional account of one man’s struggle between his job and his moral integrity.  It’s up to him to decide if the two are mutually exclusive. And guess what? It ends the way the writer decided to end it. Period.