Appalachian Basin

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Foundation Takes a Look at Promised Land

Elizabeth Stelle from the Commonwealth Foundation discusses the movie Promised Land’s inaccurate portrayal of Pennsylvania.

“Promised Land” is a film about natural gas development based somewhere in Pennsylvania, so it only makes sense that Matt Damon and his crew came to the Keystone State to film the movie.  What doesn’t make sense is the film’s demonization of natural gas development, despite the facts and the real-life rejuvenation of small communities in the state.  Having seen the benefits of natural gas development firsthand, the Commonwealth Foundation decided to set the record straight on Hollywood’s frackaphobic film.

In Pennsylvania, fracking has created over 102,000 jobs, lowered utility bills, and helped farmers like Bradford County’s Jim VanBlarcom, who was able to double his dairy herd size by leasing his land.  And contrary to Hollywood’s hopes, fracking has not contaminated the water supply.

In addition to getting the environmental facts wrong, Commonwealth Foundation learned that the film has controversial financial backers.  One of its financiers is a state-owned enterprise of Abu Dhabi.  The Abu Dhabi government-owned oil company operates in direct competition with American gas and oil, which has become more accessible and cheaper thanks to fracking.  In other words, oil barons in the Middle East are partnering with Hollywood to attack the greatest energy boom in a generation.

Next, Commonwealth Foundation uncovered more than $4 million in tax credits that Pennsylvania taxpayers shelled out for the film through the controversial Film Tax Credit program.  In contrast to Hollywood’s portrayal, the gas industry has boomed in Pennsylvania without taxpayer subsidies and paid all the taxes common to other businesses plus a special impact fee.  This is a sharp contrast to the movie studios who demand a special tax break to operate in Pennsylvania.

Is there any truth to the film?  We interviewed real-life land man Mike Knapp who has worked in the communities where the movie was filmed to find out.  He told us:

The first two acts of the movie do a pretty good job of accurately portraying land men.  Butler is very caring about the landowners and has full faith that his company is doing the right thing.  But in the end he is flabbergasted by challenges from environmentalists about the negative effects of drilling.  In reality, people in the industry know how to respond to concerns; we deal with them every day.

Like Mike Knapp, Pennsylvanians and moviegoers across the country didn’t buy into the film’s propaganda either.  Despite talk of Oscar nominations before the movie’s release, Promised Land bombed at the box office.  The film grossed a meager $4.3 million (10th place) and Harrisburg Patriot-News columnist Donald Gilliland found the  film lacked any semblance to the reality of drilling in Pennsylvania, writing, “The anti-fracking politics of the film are no less misleading than Josh Fox’s ‘Gasland’ documentary, but more ham-handed.”

New York Post film critic Kyle Smith agrees, calling it “a groaner of an agenda movie” and a film that “gets so cheesy that I suspect it was also secretly funded by Velveeta.”

If you want to know the truth about natural gas development in Pennsylvania and how we can rebuild our economy without sacrificing our environment, check out Commonwealth Foundation’s Truth, Lies & Answers on Natural Gas Drilling.

Also be sure to stop in at the Real Promised Land website or Facebook.

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