“Promised Land” meets opposition from oil and gas groups

Advertisements direct movie viewers to various websites

By Jamison Cocklin



A Pennsylvania-based oil and gas trade group launched a two-week campaign Friday to coincide with the release of the film “Promised Land” to highlight the differences between the movie’s fictional portrayal of the industry and how it actually operates.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition purchased a series of 15-second advertisements to run during movie previews across Pennsylvania, where the film takes place.

The advertisements direct viewers to the group’s Learn About Shale platform online. The coalition is also targeting social media with factual information to counter Promised Land’s cinematic effect in once again driving a controversial wedge into what has recently been a relatively tame debate about the fracking process across the country.

“This film is purely a work of fiction and is not reflective of the work our industry undertakes — all done within an aggressive and effective regulatory framework,” the group wrote in a press release.

MSC is not alone in its efforts. Last month, the industry outreach group Energy InDepth launched an informational website called “The Real Promised Land,” aimed at providing talking points and featuring positive testimonials from landowners in rural areas touting the beneficial impact the oil and gas boom has had on their communities.

“Promised Land,” directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, depicts a landman charged with the task of arriving in a small Pennsylvania town in economic decline to negotiate mineral rights with landowners.

Some of the film’s characters are eager, and others are deeply reluctant to sign the leases that give oil and gas companies a right to frack on their property, a process by which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into shale rock formations below the earth to extract the oil and gas trapped inside.

Though the film was intended to be objective, neither opposing or supporting the industry at large, in reality, the landman’s job, as portrayed by Damon, has caused rifts in many communities across the country where the gas boom has taken place, including here in the Mahoning Valley.

Travis Windle, a spokesman for the MSC, said his group’s goal in airing the advertisements was to “insure that folks who see this film understand that in no way shape or form does it reflect how the natural-gas industry conducts its business.”

Meanwhile, blog posts and an uptick in social- media activity are evident on both sides of the film’s quarrelsome effects.

Not since the 2010 release of the documentary “Gasland” has a movie pushed the fracking debate back into the mainstream and many of the film’s critics have expressed positive reviews for its plot line while disparaging its scientific accuracy.

But others, such as Jane Spies, a member of Frack Free Mahoning Valley, who saw the film on opening night with other activists, said “Promised Land” is not about the science of hydraulic fracturing, but rather the sociological effects on the broader community.

“Matt Damon wanted to start a conversation, and we’ve been calling for that,” she said. “We would like a national dialogue, and we welcome this movie. I don’t really think they said anything that wasn’t based in scientific reality, of course the industry isn’t taking to this film; it’s raising some truths that they might not like to hear because it’s based in reality.”

The film largely flopped at theaters nationwide on its opening weekend, coming in last with only $4.3 million in ticket sales, compared with the No. 1 film, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which grossed $23 million.

In Youngstown, though, employees at area theaters said the film was a strong performer over the weekend, but no sales reports were immediately available Monday.

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