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
January 2, 2013 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
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Global Crosspower Solutions, bent on convincing a rural town in Pennsylvania that hydraulic fracturing will save its outdated agrarian economy from collapse.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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT