One of the more anticipated movies to be released this month is Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land. Starring Matt Damon (who also has a screenplay credit), Frances McDormand, and Hal Holbrook, the film centers around one of the more controversial environmental issues of the day – the technique of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” by oil & natural gas production companies.
Promised Land tells the story of a landman (Damon) as he attempts to negotiate fracking/drilling rights with landowners in a small Pennsylvania community. He soon meets resistance and the movie explores what happens next. (See Promised Land trailer, here.)
In the real world, the technique has allegedly caused contamination of drinking water supplies in various locations across the United States and elsewhere. Accusations that fracking is dangerous, under-regulated, and/or should be banned have been made by environmentalists and other concerned citizens.
Fracking involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of fluids and substances into an oil or gas reservoir. The injected materials fracture the reservoir rock and keep the fractures open to allow oil and gas to flow to wells. Without such fracking, the “tightness” of the formation keeps the oil and gas from flowing.
Fracking is not a new technique and has been around for years. According to California’s Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), it was first used in 1947 in Kansas and has been used in California for over 30 years with no reported environmental problems. Indeed it has been used in Kern County with little controversy in the past. Perhaps this is because much of the drilling occurred in areas that were not overlain by usable drinking water, or perhaps it is because there simply haven’t been any problems with the technique here.
In any event, California adopted new regulations on December 18, 2012, to address the issue. As can be expected, the oil industry saw this as a good first step toward addressing any possible problems while many in the environmental community saw it as a weak effort.
As to Promised Land, it opened nationwide today, December 28. However, one would be hard pressed to know it in Bakersfield or Kern County. None of the theaters in town are showing it yet. Such a circumstance often happens in Bakersfield when certain new films open. Many other popular films have opened days, sometimes weeks, before they were shown locally.
However, one wonders if the subject matter of this particular film and the demographics of Bakersfield and Kern County might have something to do with it. Bakersfield and Kern County are the center of the oil and gas industry in California. Literally millions of barrels per year of crude are produced here, and the industry employs thousands and thousands of people.
Some people have reported concerns that the oil industry has been planning a smear campaign against the film, even before it opened. Because of the controversy, perhaps the local theater chains have become concerned how the film may play in our oil friendly area.
A similar situation occurred a few years ago with the release of “There Will Be Blood,” an award winning film about the history of the oil industry in California, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Movie fans throughout Bakersfield raised a ruckus when that film debuted because none of the theaters in Bakersfield would show it until weeks after its release.
What do you think? Has the oil industry’s presence in Bakersfield had an effect on whether Promised Land opens here or not? Please post your comments below.