The controversial drilling technique known as fracking is part of a natural-gas boom that many hope will bring down energy prices and limit America’s reliance on foreign oil. But it’s not without its vigorous critics, including many in Hollywood. The latest skirmish is over The Promised Land, in which Matt Damon and Frances McDormand portray two fracking salesmen trying convince a small town to sign over its drilling rights. The trailer, released earlier this week, shows them promising one hard-up resident a “state-of-the-art high school” and hinting to another that “you could be a millionaire.” Then the cows start dying, activists start pamphleting, and Damon turns to threats. “We’re a $9 billion company; do you know what we’re capable of?” The message of the movie, directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dave Eggers: Fracking comes at a price.
However, it appears that anti-fracking politics makes for strange bedfellows. Heritage Foundation blogger Lachlan Markay noticed that one of the film’s backers is Image Media Abu Dhabi, owned by Abu Dhabi Media, which in turn is wholly owned by the United Arab Emirates, which, it just so happens, is the world’s fourth largest oil exporter.
As Markay points out, more domestic gas production means less imported oil (including from the UAE).
All of this suggests a direct financial interest on the UAE’s part in slowing the development of America’s natural gas industry. Pop culture can be a powerful means to sway public opinion. While Promised Land, like anti-fracking documentary Gasland, appears to inflate the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, it may have an impact on the public’s view of the practice.
True, fracking is still a relatively new phenomenon whose full ramifications remain unknown, but fracking-related methane seeping into drinking water supplies in Wyoming, Colorado, and Pennsylvania suggests its dangers are real enough. What’s harder to understand is why Promised Land’s producers went ahead with the Image Media Abu Dhabi partnership, despite the obvious damage that could do to the movie’s green cred.