promised land

promised land

Promised Land is getting a wide release on Jan. 4, 2013, but a limited release on Dec. 28, 2012, likely to qualify for some of the awards this season. It’s already scored a Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review.

But mainly, the reason I love that it’s getting in front of audiences now is because of the important subject matter — fracking. One of the first films I watched about fracking was Gasland, Josh Fox’s excellent documentary about what he discovered after receiving a letter from a company asking to lease his land for drilling. What Fox discovered was a trail of secrets, lies and contamination so bad that people could actually set their faucet water on fire.

First, a little explanation: hydraulic fracturing — a.k.a. fracking — is a means of natural gas extraction used in deep natural gas well drilling. Once a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected, under high pressure, into a well. The pressure “fractures” the shale and props open fissures whereby natural gas can flow more freely out of the well.

Horizontal hydrofracking is a means of tapping shale deposits containing natural gas that were previously inaccessible by conventional drilling. Vertical hydrofracking is used to extend the life of an existing well once its productivity starts to run out. Horizontal fracking differs in that it uses a mixture of 596 chemicals and millions of gallons of water per frack. This water then becomes contaminated and must be cleaned and disposed of.

promised land posterFor each frack, 80 to 300 tons of chemicals may be used. While companies are not required to reveal what chemicals are used during the hydraulic fracturing — thanks to the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill of 2005 — scientists have identified such volatile organic compounds as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. As noted in Gasland, some of those chemicals can find their way into the water supply used by people for drinking, cooking, feeding farm animals, etc.

While Gasland was frightening and eye-opening, I think Promised Land will probably reach a larger audience and really bring home the dangers of fracking because of the star power and wide release.

Matt Damon plays a corporate salesman named Steve Butler who arrives in a rural town with his sales partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand). The town has been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years, and the two outsiders see the local citizens as likely to accept their company’s offer — for drilling rights to their properties — as much-needed financial relief.

What seems like an easy job for the duo becomes complicated by the objection of a respected schoolteacher (Hal Holbrook) with support from a grassroots campaign led by another man (John Krasinski) who counters Steve both personally and professionally.

I think people will identify with Promised Land because it poses some tough questions. During tough economic times like this, we need to feed our families, provide a roof over their heads, and build great communities with good school systems, etc. All of that takes money.

The natural gas companies might offer a way for families and communities to do all that, but at what cost? Is the money worth endangering the health of the residents and future generations?

Promised Land is directed by Gus Van Sant, who worked with Damon on Good Will Hunting, and written by Damon and Kraskinski. See what you think of the trailer, and leave comments below.

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