MOVIE REVIEW: “Promised Land” Comes to Morgantown, WV

by Duane Nichols on January 6, 2013

Promised Land Movie

Complex fracking issue buried in Hollywood gloss in ‘Promised Land’

From the Morgantown Dominion Post, by David Beard, January 5, 2013

“Promised Land” is an OK movie — If you see the movie, don’t take the little kids. It’s rated R for heaps of profanity, and they’re not saying “frack.”

Promised Land is predictable but touching and emotional. It tells the story of what happens when a high-powered fracking company — fracking being the once-pejorative nickname for one portion of the shale gas extraction process that’s evolved into a generic term for pretty much the whole industry — comes to an impoverished farming community promising the end of the rainbow.

“Promised Land” isn’t about fracking as such, and shouldn’t be used to help you decide if fracking is good or bad. It’s too superficial and Hollywood manipulative for that. Fracking is a complex, weighty issue, and this scribbles it in a few broad crayon strokes.

But it does visit one important issue that ripples from fracking: What is a community, and is economic salvation worth turning a rural community into an industrial zone?

Steve Butler (played by screenplay co-writer Matt Damon) is a kind of superlandman — a master of lowballing mineral rights leases to desperate, ignorant rural folk. But he’s not a onedimensional villain. He’s a farm boy himself who truly believes these people need the money his company, Global Energy, can offer, and who truly believes all questions have been answered.  “I’m not selling them natural gas,” he says. “I’m selling them the only way they have to get back” a decent life.

He and his partner (played by Frances McDormand) fare well until environmental activist Dustin Noble (cowriter John Krasinski, of “The Office”) swings into town and wins hearts with the tale of the destruction of his Nebraska family farm by Global Energy.

The town is never named — it’s supposed to represent “Anywhere USA” — but it was filmed in real fracking country, western Pennsylvania, and they don’t bother to disguise the Pennsylvania plates on the vehicles.

True to Hollywood, Butler begins to suffer pangs of conscience. There’s a bit of a love story tossed in that plays a role in his transformation. But the artificial plot twist that sets up the climax is something only two actors with word processors could dream up.

You can find thousands of pages of research papers about fracking: The science and technology, the economics and the environmental challenges. Legislatures have spent thousands of hours debating regulations. “Promised Land” never touches on the regulatory issues. It covers everything else with a picture of dead cows, a couple references to dirty water, and Noble’s overthe-top grade school demonstration of a toy farm going up in flames.

The movie is at its best visiting — not deeply exploring — that important issue referred to above. Take a drive through Wetzel County, or talk to the folks in Plum Run, Marion County, to how fracking can affect a community, and how the potential for prosperity can divide a community. 

Of course, there are stories of fracking done right. For instance, Northeast Natural Energy, in talks with the Morgantown Utility Board, took extra steps to protect the city’s water supply. Its two Monongalia County wells sit on private land in the Morgantown Industrial Park along the Monongahela River, and to date, no problems or dangers to the water supply have been reported.  Meanwhile, studies continue of fracking’s effects on the air, the land and the water. There are no final answers yet.

The movie is stirring debate. The Marcellus Shale Coalition is running ads in Pennsylvania theaters (none appeared at the Morgantown theater I attended) referring viewers to its new website,

The Twittersphere is abuzz. Comments range from reasoned critiques to indignation (“The oversimplication of #PromisedLand drowns out real success stories which is shameful and provides a disservice to all,” and “Matt Damon’s new antifracking movie—is a crash course in stagnant, platitude-burdened storytelling.”) to nearly glowing (“Promised Land effectively highlights the very real costs that communities confront when fracking comes to town,” and “Promised Land makes you think. Thinking and #fracking don’t mix.”)

Even Krasinski chimed in: “Man, I can’t tell you how much it means to have all these supportive Promised Land tweets! Thank you so much! Really hope you like it!”


BRIEF: From Morgantown Dominion Post on January 4, 2013

Northeast Natural Energy wants new gas well at Blacksville site

Northeast Natural Energy hopes to drill a third well on its Blacksville Marcellus well pad. Northeast published a legal ad in The Dominion Post announcing its intention to apply for a permit to drill the well — to be called Statler 6H — on its Rebecca Moore pad visible off W.Va. 7, just east of Blacksville. Northeast already has two producing wells on the pad — Statler 1H and 3H.

According to the ad, people interested in commenting on the proposed application may contact the state Department of Environmental Protection at, or calling 304-926-0450 or writing to Permit Review, Office of Oil and Gas, 601 57th Street SE, Charleston, WV 25304. Comments must be received by Feb. 2. Note the county, operator and well number.

Northeast President Michael John said he doesn’t expect they would begin any work until the weather turns warmer — perhaps late spring or early summer.

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Doddridge County Watershed Association January 6, 2013 at 3:54 pm

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