Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Damon's film 'Promised Land' overlooks fracking's boon to U.S.

By William Bennett, CNN Contributor
updated 7:45 AM EST, Wed January 2, 2013
William Bennett says Matt Damon's
William Bennett says Matt Damon's "Promised Land" is heavy on scare tactics and light on facts.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: The new Matt Damon movie "Promised Land" tells anti-fracking tale
  • He says film's message relies on scare tactics and anti-capitalist theme, offers little support
  • He says fracking bringing U.S. economic boon; even EPA chief says it can be clean process
  • Bennett: Freeing public land for well-regulated drilling will benefit Americans

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- There are "a lot of scare tactics in play here," Steve Butler, protagonist of the new anti-hydraulic-fracturing film "Promised Land," warns a local politician skeptical of the benefits of hydraulic fracturing. Played by Matt Damon, Butler is an earnest salesman for the energy giant Global Crosspower Solutions, bent on convincing a rural town in Pennsylvania that hydraulic fracturing will save its outdated agrarian economy from collapse.

At first glance, Butler seems like a savior to the town, promising poor, unemployed farmers an economic renaissance. But he quickly becomes a villain -- a henchman of the big, bad corporation out to exploit the destitute and uninformed through bribes and get-rich-quick promises. That is, until a wizened old man (representing the film's voice of justice) stands up to Butler at a town meeting and exposes the alleged dangers of hydraulic fracturing that Butler was covering up.

William Bennett
William Bennett

The town, taken aback, puts its hydraulic fracturing decision up for vote. Butler feels confident in his ability to persuade the town until an anti-fracking environmentalist named Dustin Noble appears on the scene. Noble is David taking on Goliath, saying he wants to stop Butler because Global's fracking allegedly destroyed his family's longstanding farm with water contamination.

With charm and wit, Noble wins over the town and leaves Butler at the point of despair. But then the film takes an unexpected twist.

I won't give away the film's ending, except to say that its anti-fracking message relies predominantly on -- to use Butler's own words -- scare tactics. Never once does the audience see hydraulic fracturing in action or even a well or the controversial wastewater. "Promised Land" lacks any substantive scientific evidence illustrating the alleged dangers of fracking.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Obeidallah: Hollywood movies can (mis)educate us

Instead, the film falls back on many conventional anti-capitalist themes. The "only reason you're here is 'cause we're poor," declares a farmer to Butler at one point.

Of course, what the film does not explain is the incredible economic revolution that hydraulic fracturing has already brought to much of America. From 2008 to 2011, natural gas production in the U.S. has risen a staggering 10%, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts U.S. natural gas production will increase 44% by 2040, thanks in large part to increased shale gas production made available by hydraulic fracturing.

Matt Damon's solution to water crisis
Matt Damon works for clean water

The energy boom is bringing jobs and increased tax revenues back to rural America and not just to the pockets of big energy companies, as Damon and his co-writers would have you believe. Inflation-adjusted income in America's rural areas is up 3.8% per person since 2007, while it has declined in urban areas. The unemployment rate in North Dakota, home of much of the Bakken shale reserves, is a stunningly low 3.1%.

And contrary to Damon and company's screed, it's not all about the money. Many states, such as Texas and Oklahoma, use the tax revenues from oil and gas to fund state education projects, health care obligations and rainy-day funds.

As to the controversy surrounding the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing, "Promised Land" offers little credible, scientific evidence to illustrate the alleged dangers of hydraulic fracturing. It's worth noting -- because "Promised Land" does not -- the head of the Environmental Protection Administration, Lisa Jackson, is on record as saying, "In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter ground water." Furthermore, Jackson said in February, "(Fracking technology) is perfectly capable of being clean. It requires smart regulation, smart rules of the road."

A monumental energy revolution is under way in this country.

And while industry leaders and politicians are debating the best way to effectively and safely bring the benefits of this revolution to millions of Americans, Damon and his colleagues instead aim to frighten the potential benefactors of this revolution.

Clearly we cannot take this energy revolution for granted. "Promised Land" will not be the last of its kind. The public deserves to know the truth about America's energy potential.

By freeing up more state and federal lands for drilling, cutting unnecessary, burdensome restrictions while protecting wells and ground water with safe and smart regulations, every American might soon get his own slice of the real promised land.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT