by Tina Gerhardt, via The Progressive
Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking, is a contentious issue, and Hollywood has not overlooked it.
Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matt Damon, takes on fracking, which involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into rock, often shale, in order to extract the oil and natural gas within the formations. Critics argue that the process wastes colossal amounts of water; contaminates air, soil, and drinking water; and may be implicated in causing earthquakes.
The screenplay, written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, is based on a story by Dave Eggers. It’s a decidedly mixed bag.
In Promised Land, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is a salesman, who — along with his colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) — travels to rural Pennsylvania. He sees fracking as a chance to help struggling farmers. Working for Global Crosspower Solutions, they sign lucrative leases: the farmers earn money by leasing their farmland, while Global earns by extracting its resources.
Having grown up in rural Iowa, where his grandfather owned a farm, Steve knows first-hand the struggle of farmers, so sees no issues with his mission at first. All the arguments from “can’t survive on federal farm subsidies” to “it will fund the rising cost of a college education” are included in the sales pitch and made in quick succession.
As in real life, heated debates among the area residents ensue. The farmers, who are struggling financially, are tempted to take the badly needed monies to make ends meet. Yet Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), a science teacher at the local high school, expresses concerns at a town meeting about the long-term effects of hydraulic fracturing on the region, its soil, water, and air, and consequently on livestock and residents’ health.
And then Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), an environmentalist, arrives in town, expressing just these and other concerns, too. Who will pay for the clean up that might be needed, once the resources are depleted and the company moves on? The company? The state? The local coffers? Who will pay for any adverse effects on health that might be incurred? Who will replace the lost jobs that the boom and bust economic wave might unleash? A one-man organizer, he goes farm to farm, talking to the residents and putting up signs in their front lawns that read “Global Go Home” and are adorned with images of dead cows.