Aside from the fact that only one of them gets to have Matt Damon in the credits, there are a couple of key similarities between Gus Van Sant’s new feature film Promised Land and Josh Fox’s budget documentary Gasland. Both are set in Pennsylvania, and both make a connection between fracking and pollution that has eluded investigators for decades. Public awareness about the risks of fracking has also proved elusive, but with Promised Land due for wide release on December 28, that may all be about to change.
Fracking and Pollution
Fracking is a natural gas drilling method that involves pumping a chemical brine underground to loosen gas deposits from shale formations.
In the past, evidence of water contamination and other hazards from fracking was anecdotal at best. There were no direct chemical fingerprints for investigators to compare because drillers were exempted from federal disclosure regulations, and they were entitled to keep the ingredients of their fracking brine a secret.
That’s been changing under the Obama Administration, and hard evidence is slowly (very slowly) beginning to mount. Last year, the EPA found fracking chemicals in a Wyoming water supply, and its results were recently confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that EPA has linked fracking to water contamination in Pennsylvania, where Promised Land is set.
Fracking and the Marcellus Shale
The Pennsylvania connection is no accident, and that brings up another change affecting the gas drilling industry. Fracking flew under the public radar for many years partly because it was concentrated in thinly populated areas far from media centers.
More recently, drillers have been focusing on the Marcellus shale formation that runs under high-population states and major media markets including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
Promised Land and Pennsylvania Fracking
Our friends over at Grist have a lively plot synopsis of Promised Land, which also stars John Krasinski of the hit TV show The Office and Frances McDormand of the movie Fargo. A complete Promised Land cast and other production details are available at imdb.com, where you can also watch the Promised Land trailer.
Back in real life, Pennsylvania has become ground zero for public activism against fracking. Many Pennsylvania natives could also tell you (disclosure: I’m one) that there really is a Promised Land in Pennsylvania, Promised Land State Park (yep, been there), though the film was shot in another part of the state in the town of Worthington.
Promised Land (the movie) makes its points about the devastating effect that fracking could have on fragile rural economies that depend on agriculture. The risk of harm to sensitive environments also leaves tourism-based economies exposed, and somewhat ironically Promised Land (the park) was the scene of a visit just last summer from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who stopped off there on the second leg of a kayak trip promoting tourism in the state.
In real life, Governor Corbett is unpopular in some circles due to his support of the fracking industry. That includes weakening the home rule principle that forms a key plot point of the Promised Land movie, in which local citizens would have a say over whether or not to allow drilling in their town.
No surprise that on an earlier step of Corbett’s tourist trek, real-life fracking protesters where there to greet him as he drifted down the Delaware River.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.