Promised Land: The popcorn was great.

Another pipeline path cuts across Loyalsock State ForestThe hype made it out to be a movie about frackers coming to a small Pennsylvania town, population 880, and buying up leases from unsuspecting farmers. And then …

The “and then” was a little unclear, even in the trailers, but there was considerable implication there would be conflict of some sort. Alas …

As the story begins,

Steve Butler, a landman for Global Inc., shows up and offers a township supervisor a portion of the $35 million in natural gas company engineers have estimated to be under the town.

Before their business lunch in the local diner has ended, Butler – who, by the way, has just been told he’s been promoted to regional land manager – is interrupted, and it turns out the gas play is estimated at about $40 million. The supervisor is noticeably dismayed by Butler’s apparent dishonesty.

It turns out, Butler has been successful at obtaining many signatures from farmers willing to trade promises of cash for the gas they are told will bring millions of dollars to the township, and by extension, to the farmers bearing the weight of the national economic recession. The gas money, Butler tells them, will allow them to buy new cars and send their kids to college without taking out loans from banks or the government.

But the town, prompted by the slightly eccentric resident Frank Yates, played by Hal Holbrook, has scheduled a vote on whether to allow fracking in the township.

Error the first: The Pennsylvania legislature passed a law in March – nine months before the movie’s release, prohibiting municipalities from controlling where natural gas drilling and fracking may be done.

Yates, a retired engineer turned high school science teacher, admits natural gas could be a welcome, relatively clean-burning, fuel sorely needed by our carbon-addicted society, but he cautions the means of obtaining the fuel poses huge potential risks, particularly to the water supply.

Fracking is a process of drilling more than a mile down, then as far or farther horizontally, and pumping a mixture of water sand and chemicals into the hole under high pressure to fracture the deep shale, releasing the gas it contains. There is widespread fear the chemicals could poison the water supply.

Into town comes a tree hugger from Nebraska. He has pamplets purporting to show cattle lying dead in fields – a consequence of fracking. Sue Thomason, Butler’s partner played by Francis McDormand, offers the environmentalist a bribe, which he accepts – then uses to buy placards depicting the aforementioned field of dead cows.

At this point, in the interest of not giving away the spoiler, I’ll stop. Suffice to say it gave plenty of signals along the way, and when it finally occurred, anyone familiar with the topic probably knew exactly what was about to happen.

And who would get the girl.

If the movie was funded by Marcellus Coalition opponents as a means of showing how dishonest the drilling companies are, it failed on over-simplification; most of us already suspect the wild claims of jobs and wealth are a bit hyperbolic. If, as it’s hype suggested, it was intended to show the dangers of fracking, it failed miserably.

(Note: The original post erroneously said, “If the movie was funded by the Marcellus Coalition.” It should have said, as it now does, Ïf the movie was funded by Marcellus Coalition opponents.” I apologize for the editorial oversight.”)

“Promised Land” is a nice, almost G-rated, pastoral tale, and the popcorn at my favorite movie theater is one of the reasons I choose it over it’s local competition – in short, an entertaining evening, but not a tale to compete with the likes of “Erin Brockovich,” “The China Syndrome,” or “Pelican Brief” – three of my personal favorites in the conspiracy theory genre.

In the end, Damon appeared in “Promised Land,” like his character Steve Butler, a nice enough guy, but clueless about the real controversy surrounding fracking.

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