The movie “Promised Land” offers an entry point for learning more about natural gas drilling controversies in Pennsylvania. StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Susan Phillips highlights some facts to be aware of.
The Gus Van Sant film “Promised Land,” starring Matt Damon, Frances McDormand and John Krasinski, offers a good entry point for learning more about the controversies surrounding natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. Like most Hollywood productions, the absolute truth is sometimes embellished in the name of presenting a good story.
What did you think of the movie? Were facts sacrificed for story? Does the shale gas industry have anything to fear from this film?
1. Dead cows
In the movie, anti-drilling leaflets featuring images of dead cows are distributed by fractivist Dustin Noble, played by John Krasinski.
StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported links between the deaths of cows and stillborn calves to exposure from waste water from fracking. The state’s Department of Agriculture disagrees with the findings the report is based on.
2. Burning water
No kitchen taps are set on fire in the movie, but a fractivist character pours household chemicals on a toy farm and sets it alight — thereby confusing the issue of methane migration, which StateImpact has looked at several times.
3. A house divided
The movie portrays a community divided between those who want the jobs and wealth that come with the gas boom, and those who bemoan the loss of their rural lifestyle and safe drinking water. StateImpact looked at a hotbed of this tension in Dimock, Pa.
4. Spies among us?
In the attempt to separate facts from spin in the real-life battle between the gas industry and anti-fracking activists, sometimes loyalties are unclear or undisclosed. There are rumors that some fractivists may be on the coal industry’s payroll. StateImpact has not confirmed that any are actually working for the gas industry. Most are retired working people, says Phillips.
5. Land deals
In the movie, Matt Damon’s character tries to get landowners to lease their mineral rights to the gas drilling company. He has orders to go as high as $5,000 an acre with 18 percent royalties, but the residents jump for the first offer they get.
In reality, farmers in the early days of Marcellus Shale drilling did accept prices as low as $25 an acre, with 12 percent royalties, but now landowners are much more savvy about how to negotiate a good price. Some have gotten as much as $6,000 an acre, with 18 percent royalties.