By Meher Ahmad on January 18, 2013

Cover for the movie "Promised Land"Before Gus Van Sant's latest film Promised Land even premiered, the energy industry was up in arms, gearing up to counter the film's apparent anti-fracking stance with a barrage of "community" responses (read: thinly veiled corporate PR).

James Schamus, chief executive of Focus Features the distributor of the film, expressed shock about the attacks on Promised Land: "We've been surprised at the emergence of what looks like a concerted campaign targeting the film even before anyone's seen it." With blogs, astroturf websites, Facebook pages, internet ads, and theater ad buys in advance of the movie, the industry is working hard to spin the conversation in a more fracking-friendly direction.

The film chronicles the story of a gas industry salesman, played by Matt Damon, and his attempt to convince the residents of a rural Pennsylvania town to agree to fracking development. The questions raised by actors in the film mirror the debates taking place in communities across the country. What type of chemicals are used in fracking? What is the effect of fracking on air and water? While the industry may make a few struggling families rich, what is the cost for the community as a whole?

Conveniently, the fracking industry has launched a number of websites to answer these questions for you.

Energy in Depth Launches "Real Promised Land" Site

The fracking industry was caught unprepared by the brilliant, 2010 documentary Gaslands by Josh Fox, whose indelible images of tap water bursting into flames introduced fracking to the American public. Having learned their lesson, the industry was not eager to repeat its mistakes.

Before it was even released, Energy in Depth (EID) took issue with the new movie, which is not a hard-hitting documentary like Gaslands and has more romantic content than factual content. Through a new website titled RealPromisedLand.org, EID rolled out "real stories" from "real Americans" about their positive experiences with fracking. Videos from Ohio, Colorado, Texas, and Pennsylvania highlight seemingly ordinary citizens who have benefited from fracking development in their area. On their glossy Facebook page you can learn that: "the natural gas industry takes all the safety measures possible in order to protect the earth and water from any contamination" and other tall tales.

The website does not disclose that EID was launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America to serve as the PR mouthpiece for the gas industry. As CMD has documented, EID is funded by the likes of Shell, BP, Chevron, and XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. EID has also privately described itself, in a memo, as the "online resource center to combat new environmental regulations."

Industry Buys Ads for PA Movie Theaters

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the drilling industry's biggest trade group in Pennsylvania, cut ads to run before the film aired in Pennsylvania theaters. The ads direct viewers to their website, learnaboutshale.org, which seeks to dispel the "complete work of fiction" they call Promised Land. Would-be viewers of the film are implored to engage in a "straightforward" and "honest" conversation on natural gas. Folks worried about fracking's impact on water will not be told what chemicals are used or how many wells have been contaminated, but they will be reassured that water sources will be just fine -- as long as the drillers follow all state and federal regulations.

"Propaganda Specialists" Fight Anti-fracking Narrative

"To be honest," said Schamus of Focus Films, "if I could afford the kind of propaganda specialists the fracking industry has sent after our little movie... They're pretty impressive at what they do."

Curiously, none of the countless websites and articles published against Promised Land have countered any of the movie's factual claims about hydraulic fracturing. The attacks against the film are more centered on the notion that the film's narrative is flawed, not that it presents false information.

Despite finding no factual errors in Promised Land, the gas industry will not take bad PR lying down. In response to Gasland, the industry produced a film called Truthland. We can't wait to see what their next "blockbuster" will be, Broken Promises?


Learn more about fracking battles taking place across the nation at Food and Water Watch's Fracking Action Center.

Comments

This is capitalism at work. Healthy debate is good. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The benefits of fracking have the potential of creating huge tax revenues, union wage jobs and other opportunities that would benefit this country. I object to extremism on both sides, especially when it comes to showing bubbling well water that ignites, which is propaganda at its worst. Many of these wells had natural gas in them prior to any fracking and the environmental lobby knows it. Likewise, there are many questions the energy industry lobby must answer before we march blindly into this. Everybody needs to calm down and let things sort themselves out.

How can you say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle? There is a great deal of evidence to indicate that this is just not the case. Why would the State of PA put gag orders on doctors? Why would people be stepping forward with illness that we have not seen prior to fracking? Why are farmers seeing 19 of 20 calves being still born? No, the statement "the truth lies somewhere in the middle" is a sentiment that allows people, such as yourself, a way to deny what is happening. We need to stop these greedy dirty energy criminals from further polluting the air, water and land. If we don't what will become of our children and grandchildren? What kind of suffering are we heaping upon future generations? Did you read the prior posts before writing your own? If so, how can you possibly tell a person who has been poisoned and had their health destroyed to calm down and let things sort themselves out. That's just the kind of attitude that has allowed things to go this far.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was amazed that the main financial supporters for this movie is Abu Dhabi and United Arab Emirate.
Is Ahmad is also subsidize by those middle east oil producer and working for their interest?

If anyone wants to read my story of a Daily LIVING HELL, you can contact me at gfrms@charter.net I have been poisoned with Methane/Natural Gas.

The personal moral choice stories and the suffering from pollution and even the increase in earthquakes that nobody is talking about all come under entertainment in comparison with the contribution of fracking to catastrophic global warming. Anything that distracts from the ultimate issue that is not being dealt with seems unhelpful and even sometimes self-serving. If Promised Land does tell more truth than Gasland, I'm already disappointed.

I have not seen any of the films referenced here. All I have to say is that Wyoming experience with fracking has been tragic, with poisoned water wells, residents made terminally ill and properties made unsaleable. This sparsely populated state's regulatory mechanism was an abject failure. Who in a more populous state like New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio can assure us that the regulatory effort there will not become corrupted as it was 30 or 40 years ago out west? (see Eli Lustgarten's excellent articles on Wyoming fracking)

Unfortunately Promiseland is TRUE as is Gasland which can be watched on PBS Internet. I can say this because I have been poisoned with Methane/Natural Gas and I have all the test results and pictures to prove what is in my lungs, blood and my entire body are all identified in Methane/Natural Gas. I have pictures of all my cancers surgeries, tests, scans. YES FRACKING will the DESTROY the US and it's human and animal inhabitants. I inhaled Methane Gas, but Fracking is MUCH worse as it poisons the soil, water, eco system, water table and spread to lakes, rivers and streams. Cattle are dying from drinking toxic waste water from fracking and being tested across the nation, all test results show the toxic effects of fracking chemicals. If these cattle do not die, but sickly and cannot produce, will these toxic animals be put on the market for food consumption? WHY are Gag Orders being put on Doctors in PA so they can NOT release to their patients what is in their test results??? Cattle tests can be released, but NOT human tests, BUT animals cannot talk, but humans can. If you had cancerous toxic chemicals in your test results, wouldn't you like to know so you could start treatment? THIS is a Patients RIGHT to know their test results that they paid for. WHAT are the Gas Companies and Politicians AFRAID of to put these gag orders on the doctors? I am sending my story around the world anyone wanting a copy can contact me at: gfrms@charter.net It is long, so I have to break it up in sections or it doesn't go through.

Gerry Seger, Michigan

Particularly when said "things" concern potentially profitable ventures involving coal, oil, or natural gas.