More on Movies…

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

As chance would have it, a week after I argued the need for environmentally-themed mainstream movies, I saw a preview for Gus Van Sant’s upcoming “Promised Land.” The movie tells the story of a gas company rep who arrives in a rural town looking to drill for natural resources, to the distress of local residents. The cast is headed by Matt Damon and John Krasinski (who co-wrote the screenplay), along with other notables such as Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook. The all-star cast and the environmental message it carries have the potential to make a dent in the national debate about fracking, which is what this movie centers on.promised-land Not surprisingly, there have already been various reactions to the announcement of the film, from those who hail it as serving an important purpose to those who denounce it for its biased and inaccurate portrayal of the fracking industry. So, the question is: will this film be good or bad for the anti-fracking fight?

For those who don’t know, fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting natural gas from shale rock that would otherwise be too hard to access. The process is controversial because it requires pumping sand, millions of gallons of water and chemicals into the wells at high pressure. And, currently, companies drilling for natural gas are not required to disclose the chemicals used during fracking. The reason this is of concern is that scientists have found that dangerous and carcinogenic compounds are used during the process and could contaminate drinking water. Additionally, the process emits harmful pollutants to the air, methane included, which is the meanest greenhouse gas out there (more than CO2, believe it or not).

“Promised Land” isn’t the first movie to focus on the issue of fracking, although perhaps it’s the first non-documentary. In 2010, a documentary titled “GasLand” by Josh Fox was released, which exposed the dangers fracking poses on the health of communities located near drilling sites. In response to this provocative film, some people sought a reaction, a retort: a pro-fracking film project on Kickstarter became the most popular project in its category. Within three weeks, funding for the project (the movie will be titled “FrackNation”) had reached the desired goal of $150,000. The film is meant to serve as a direct response to “GasLand” and will argue that there is negligible evidence to suggest that fracking has a negative impact on citizens’ health. “FrackNation” was supposed to be completed this past summer, however I haven’t heard any news of its imminent release.

Those in support of fracking argue that this process would allow us to extract enough oil and gas to provide the United States with energy for over a century, also helping America alleviate its dependence on foreign oil. Supporters insist that the health of citizens living near drilling sites would not be compromised. And thus they denounce the upcoming “Promised Land” as a modern-day horror story that is largely fictionalized and designated to scare citizens into opposing fracking efforts in the country. Opponents of the movie draw attention to the fact that a big funder for the film was a UAE royal family, who would therefore have a vested interest in keeping America dependent on foreign oil…

Clearly the debate on fracking, like most other environmental topics, is far from coming to a consensus. I’ve done a little research and ultimately share the worry of environmentalists and scientists alike, although that could be attributed to the fact that I’m an ardent environmentalist. For an interesting and informative infographic on fracking, check out this one, created by the GasLand filmmaker (and yes, I understand it could be biased).

But whether we believe those who denounce the film as bogus or those who champion it as important and relevant, we still have to wonder whether this film will do any good or bad for the fracking industry. I’m sure some people will go to see this movie simply because Matt Damon is in it, and then walk out feeling terrified. Others will shake their heads, insisting that it’s all overdone and too ‘Hollywood.’

Will the indecision recede? I doubt it. But I do think the film will get people thinking, get people talking and debating (as we can already see), and that is the greatest benefit. Even if the movie doesn’t convince everyone to fight against the fracking industry, it will prompt people to seriously consider the issue. Fracking will get more attention than it has in a while. And ultimately, if people are encouraged to inform themselves and take an opinion on the subject (whether they are pro or con), the film is already achieving a lot.

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