Setting up corporate executives as the villains is as old as Tinseltown itself. But when it comes to Damon’s new flick, the only novel element is that in order to maintain the formulaic cliché, scriptwriters had to go through re-writes so convoluted as to be worthy of a contortionist.
The story takes place in rural Pennsylvania against the backdrop of shale gas drilling. It’s important to keep in mind when viewing the film that the process of hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for more than 60 years, and that recent technological advances are have unlocked so much natural gas that it’s considered a game-changer for U.S. manufacturing that will be crucial to supplying America’s long-term energy needs.
The 2010 documentary Gasland by avant-garde artist and filmmaker Josh Fox manufactured a litany of baseless claims, blaming hydraulic fracturing on everything from groundwater contamination to flaming water faucets. The table was practically set for a movie like Promised Land to capitalize on that false narrative.
Unfortunately for Promised Land’s writers and filmmakers, Gasland has since become so thoroughly discredited as to destroy much of its premise. Environmental Protection Agency groundwater studies cited by Fox were so deeply flawed that they were recanted by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson herself. The iconic flaming kitchen faucets were found to be the result of naturally occurring methane unrelated to drilling. Far from an environmental threat, cleaner-burning natural gas was actually a major contributor to a drop in U.S. energy related carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s June energy report.
With Gasland’s smear job against shale gas drilling collapsing while Promised Land was in production, the script was reportedly doctored to position the formerly protagonist environmentalist character, played by John Krasinski, as being a clandestine operative secretly working on behalf of Big Oil executives to discredit opponents of hydraulic fracturing.
As if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, it turns out the film is in part financed by a company that is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates. As one of the world’s top exporters of crude oil and natural gas, the UAE is not exactly incentivized to help the United States achieve greater energy independence.
As state economies struggle to recover, natural gas and oil drilling offers an opportunity for economic recovery. Off camera in the real Pennsylvania, state coffers have taken in $1.6 billion from drilling companies to help pay for better schools, more roads, and increased fire protection. The oil and gas industries contribute $14.9 billion to Pennsylvania’s labor income and $28.4 billion to the commonwealth’s economy overall. At a time when most of the American economy is still reeling, the industry supports more than 275,000 Pennsylvania jobs. In light of this success, officials in neighboring New York are now taking a look at shale drilling as a potential game changer.
Only in Hollywood can people creating high-paying jobs be cast as villains while fear-mongering job-killers are portrayed as heroes. It’s enough to make you choke on your popcorn.