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Rosemarie DeWitt (left) and Matt Damon star in
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BY MICHAEL RUBINKAM
ALLENTOWN, Pa.--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 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 as industry heavyweights pull huge volumes of gas from the sprawling Marcellus Shale, a rock formation deep below the surface of the Earth. 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.
It's potentially fertile territory. In real life, drilling companies injected millions of dollars into moribund local economies, transforming sleepy villages in Pennsylvania and other states into boomtowns almost overnight. But the industry also sowed division, pitting neighbor against neighbor as some residents complained of ruined water wells and other environmental degradation. Many others, judging by recent public opinion surveys, heralded the prosperity that drilling creates and the abundant homegrown energy it produces. Even here, though, the movie seeks to entertain more than enlighten, with an implausible plot twist undermining what could have been a realistic portrayal of life as it is really lived in the gas fields.