ALLENTOWN — The new movie Promised Land digs into the fierce national debate over fracking, the technique that's generated a boom in U.S. natural gas production while also stoking controversy over its possible impact on the environment and human health.
Written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, the film set to open nationwide Friday comes at an opportune time for a big-screen exploration of the issues surrounding the shale gas revolution, with cheap natural gas transforming the nation's energy landscape and fracking now a household word.
But viewers shouldn't necessarily expect a realistic treatment of drilling and fracking. It's not that kind of film.
Lending an air of authenticity, the movie was shot in Pennsylvania, where thousands of wells have been drilled and fracked in recent years.
But Promised Land spends little time explaining how energy companies actually go about pulling natural gas out of the ground, and what little explanation the movie does provide is simply not very accurate.
The Focus Features release instead concentrates on another aspect of the drilling boom – the battle for hearts and minds as gas companies seek to lease land for drilling while environmentalists warn of the perils of punching a bunch of holes in the ground. Bewildered landowners, meanwhile, are left to sort out the competing claims and counterclaims.
Promised Land follows Steve Butler (Damon), a gas company salesman who shows up in an economically struggling small town in Pennsylvania that happens to sit atop a vast reserve of gas. His task: To get residents to sign on the dotted line, promising them they'll become instant millionaires once the gas starts flowing from the shale underneath their land. Standing in his way is Dustin Noble (Krasinski), an environmental activist determined to convince townsfolk they don't want what the driller is selling.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, plans to run ads in 75 percent of Pennsylvania's movie theaters, encouraging Promised Land audiences to visit a website that it set up earlier this year to answer questions about shale gas.
It's difficult to fact-check a work of fiction, so I don't know if we're going to be able to do that any more than we can fact-check ‘Batman,' said spokesman Steve Forde.