Damon film sheds no light on critical issues

The wind power industry was probably breathing a sigh of relief last week as a new movie about a different energy industry debuted in theaters across Maine.

“Promised Land” is Hollywood’s take on the hydraulic fracking boom that is transforming U.S. communities from New York to Kentucky and reshaping the nations’ energy outlook.

The script was originally about the wind-power industry, but by the time the movie came to production the fracking boom seemed like a hotter topic, according to one of the film’s four producers.

Which just goes to show that when it comes to the Hollywood take on corporate behavior, one industry is as good a target as another.

Although star Matt Damon starts out as a slick-talking salesman trying to convince simple farm folk to sign over their land to an oil conglomerate, he becomes more enlightened as the plot develops

Actor Hal Holbrook is a “flinty” high school teacher who begins to raise unanswerable questions during public meetings with landowners.

The trailer for the movie describes an unexpected event that causes Steve Butler (Damon) to begin questioning his own beliefs.

Of course he does. You really didn’t expect Damon to emerge as a corporate hero who brings riches to impoverished farmers and saves his nation’s economy by providing cheaper, more reliable fuel.

The equation for a box-office winner is simple: Big industry is bad; crusading environmentalists are good.

That’s a really simple narrative, but this is not a simple subject and it would be a shame for Americans to receive only one side of the story.

There have been several dominant threads to the anti-fossil-fuel argument during the past 40 years.

First, the U.S. has a dwindling supply of oil and we are running out.

Second, dirty fuels such as coal and petroleum are causing global warming and other health threats.

Third, our dependence on foreign oil from unstable regions threatens our national security.

And they were all true. But the development of hydraulic fracturing has spun the old debate in three new, complex directions.

First, we now believe the U.S. is sitting atop a vast and untapped reservoir of natural gas and oil.

Second, that we can gradually become less and less dependent on hostile OPEC nations; and

Finally, much cleaner natural gas is already replacing coal and oil for electrical generation and, possibly, for transportation as the use of hybrid and electrical vehicles spreads.

Unfortunately, in scattered places the petroleum industry seems to be following the prevailing Hollywood script.

Some landowners have been misled about how their land will be used or talked into signing deals that they later regretted.

In some places, injection wells have leaked chemicals or natural gas into rural water systems, contaminating drinking water for farmers or their neighbors.

The high-stakes land-buying process has sometimes turned neighbor against neighbor and public meetings into angry shouting matches.

“Promised Land” will do little to educate or inform viewers about the real risks and rewards of hydraulic fracturing.

The fate of fracking in the U.S. will, instead, depend upon two things:

First, the oil and gas industry must deliver on its promise to do fracking without unreasonable environmental damage.

Second, it must convince the American public that the public benefits of fracking far outweigh the risk to human health and drinking-water supplies.

Unfortunately, “Promised Land” will do little to clarify the important issues at stake.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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JOANNE MOORE's picture

Google map

Just for the heck of it, I Googled the map of the Alberta tar sands. Miles and miles of nothing but devastation looking like a nightmare from hell. I followed a road, named the Amaco Road and saw with my own eyes what this fracking is all about. God help us if that ever comes to Maine.

 's picture

So what's reasonable?

You wrote, "First, the oil and gas industry must deliver on its promise to do fracking without unreasonable environmental damage." Fracking is by definition environmental damage. Injection by the industry's own advertizing creates small fissures in the Marcellus Shale through which pollution can reach drinking water. That's damage nature does not create. The result has been earthquakes in Cleveland along with widespread pollution almost everywhere. The question is when do the economic benefits and there are benefits for everyone living in America outweigh the obvious damage done.
Right now economics wins. Therefore, the agreements, regulations, contracts that permit exploration should lean over backwards for the owners of the land. Remediation should be guaranteed even if the drilling company goes bankrupt.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

I agree........

I don't trust the oil and gas industry to tell us the truth. Just look at the Gulf of Mexico. We are supposed to believe they have cleaned it up after the spill? Tar balls are still being washed up on the beaches.

I wish they would come clean about the methane released in fracking. Methane is 25 more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere and about 4 to 7 percent is lost during fracking. So fracking for oil and gas may not be much better environmentally than burning coal, perhaps worse, if you add in the factor of destroyed aquifers.

Economics seems to always win over the environment but without a healthy environment we all lose.

 's picture

I agree

There is no reason to trust the Oil and Gas industry or any other Corporation that stand to make trillions in profits. The Gulf is, contrary to the industry, in desparate condition. Wildlife populations are down. Chemical pollution overwhelming. Which leads to my first rule: If an industry or corporation is advertizing some thing; its because it has to; which means the more frequent the advertizing the more misleading it is. The more frequent the advertizing that says fracking is safe, the more likely it is very dangerous and that advertizing has been everywhere all th time.
Fracking's greatest environmental damage is that it destroys the rock formations which even if they are 6500 ft down will have an effect on everything above and almost all of the impacts are unforseeable in the short run (coal has the same problem except for open pit mines which have a completely different set of problems). The environmental impact of any energy source has to be comphrensive covering extraction, processing, and use. All fossill fuels may be equally bad. We don't know because all studies are intended to persuade not inform.
But the damage done from wars over energy; lack of economic growth; poverty etc mean we have to pick someting in the fossil group for a while. For now. We need pro-green policies to provide the innovations that will make that unnecessary in the future.
Wind is a partial answer in limited areas. Solar is a partial answer. Recycling is a partial answer. A dramatic change in society is a partial answer. But none of them nor any combination of them is the complete answer now.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Jon, 13 01.07 14:30

Jon, 13 01.07 14:30 hst
Your premis is wrong " Fracking is by definition environmental damage. "
Acid Rain is , by definition environmental damage . We are talking about no trees of the western slopes of Maine's mountains . Denuded . Natural Gas burns clean . It gives off H20 when burned. You can ( in fact ) burn propane inyour houses for heat and cooking . That's why . L N G = Liquid Natural Gas . Let's hope they build a dock in ME to receive this from LA where they are ." Pumping pain ." ( propane :)
Here . try this one on f0r size. I am nobody. Nobody is perfect Therfore i am perfect ? Pefect logic . It is also a fallacy
Hug a child today . Plant a tree . Arbor Day is coming soon Did you participate in the http://audubon.org Christmas bird count this past season ? To late now hth ? /s Steve

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Re: Christmas bird count this

Re: Christmas bird count this past season.
Yes, there were way more quacks than we could count. Oh, well.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Damon film sheds no light on critical issues

Ed. 13.01.06 19:40 hst
. .Hollywood and political causes are strange bedfellows. . almots always . Take ' Bedtime for Bonzo ., " for instance . even ' Back to the Future ' joked about an actor becoming President
We're glad to hear it was a ' Silkwood ' film which did , in fact , shed some light on a disturbing topic : Three Mile Island
Fracking is H U G E out west in North Dakota and Southern Canada . One sees the very positve effects ( i despise the word ' impacts ' ) it is having on depressed economies out there after major floods -- the Red River of the north -- two years ago and now a wicked drought .
We ride AMTRAK® every year and usually take the scenic Empire Builder Portland , OR - Chicago - Portland Me and then back
Frackers use AMTRAK ® . There is no other way to get there unless one drives and a lot of these guys have their CDLs and do drive for a living . Theye work three weeks straight , sleep in their rigs ( no housing ) transporting sand and water and then take a week off to go back to their families in Oregon , Idaho or elsewhere
The pay is great ( all you CDL drivers in Maine ), the work is steady , and the companies seems to treat workers well load wise Housing is the problem . But you guys know about all this already . You are the modern day cowboys
Thanks for transporting just about everything everywhere for US safely ?
/s , Steve Dosh , Hawai'i

Amedeo Lauria's picture

OMG, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Rhoades...

this really is going to be a great year I can feel it.

Hollywood was rushing to get the next "China Syndrome" (1979) into theaters and cash in. A film which has, in my opinion, cost energy ratepayers in America an uncountable amount of money since it's release.

While not stopping those who produce and release this stuff from jetting around the country, driving their entourages around in monstrous SUVs and living in private gated estates the size of Rhode Island. So here we go again.

There is hope for the folks at the Lewiston Sun Journal; or perhaps they just finished paying their monthly energy bills before penning this editorial and had enough!

Steve  Dosh's picture

Amedeo , 2013 kick - off

Amedeo , 2013 kick - off ? 
This is best paper in Maine • It rivals many others much further south on multiple levels including photo journalism , editorial opinions , and local humor . Occasionally the - o t h e r - paper in your fair cities ( not counting magazines ) will publish something worthy of reading like -->
<- . . ..but don't hold you breathe waiting for it
Alo'ha from Pahoa , Steve , Bates '78 :)

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Had to get the cheap shot in

Had to get the cheap shot in there somewhere, didn't we?


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