Fact-Checking Matt Damon’s ‘Promised Land’

By: Steve Maley (Diary)  |  January 8th, 2013 at 04:00 PM  | 

I wasted $7.75 on Hollywood’s latest anti-fracking agitprop “Promised Land” (1) so you won’t have to.

You can read movie reviews elsewhere. From what I’ve seen, they’ve been rather lukewarm. And in its first weekend of nationwide distribution, audience response was tepid at best. In the words of lead actor/screenwriter Matt Damon, “Who ****ing wants to go see an anti-fracking movie?

Not only is the subject matter right in my wheelhouse, Damon et al bring the lies and distortionright into my backyard. Quite literally.

Oh, and did I mention that the film was partly funded by a state-owned media company in the United Arab Emirates?

Let the fact checking begin.

Plot spoilers follow. I promise.

The movie tells the story of Steve Butler (Matt Damon), the new VP of Land Management for $9 billion Global Crossover Energy. His task is to acquire leases to develop the Marcellus Shale in and around a small, rustic Pennsylvania town called McKinley (2). When his coworker says the countryside looks like Kentucky, Butler replies, “Two hours outside any city looks like Kentucky.”

Small town boy Butler is convinced that small towns can no longer make it on farming economies, and that natural gas development provides the way out of their current economic jam. Gas means “F*** You money”, Butler tells his prospective lessors, allowing the landowner to say “f*** you” to the banker, the mortgage company, and the bill collector.

Given his PhD, kindly old science teacher Yoda Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) would be in the best position to offer the townspeople a scientific justification for his anti-development stance. The best he can do is “Just Google the word fracking.” The very first hit, he says, gives you an idea of people’s concerns (3). Yates says that there are cases of water contamination “all over the country” (just don’t ask the EPA). Every other argument is baseless fear of the unknown: gas development will “scorch the earth” (but how?); the worst “probably won’t happen … but what if it did?”; “The potential for error is just too high.” And so on.

I can’t debunk the movie’s science, because there’s no scientific argument. Just fear, mostly irrational fear.

We see Damon/Butler negotiating with a landowner, signing him to a lease for $2,000 per acre and an “8% share of the profits”, knowing that his company is willing to pay $5,000 and 18%.

This highly misleading exchange is wrong on multiple levels. A royalty paid to a landowner under an oil and gas lease is a non-cost bearing share of a well’s gross revenue, not “profit”. Hollywood types know the difference between “a percentage of the net” and “a percentage of the gross”; the latter is a lot more valuable, and is risk-free to the owner. Also, 12.5% royalty is the minimum permissible rate under Pennsylvania law [58 PA. STAT. § 33, pdf link]. In can be double that, or more. By the way, I found that link on Google.

Also using Google, I found a 20-page pdf file from the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service entitled Natural Gas Exploration, A Landowner’s Guide to Leasing Land in Pennsylvania. It explains, in very clear layman’s language, the terms and provisions of an oil and gas lease, the contract that dictates the relationship between the operating company and the landowner. It also advises the landowner to engage an attorney (you can find one of those on Google). Maybe screenwriters Damon and John Krasinski should have read it, so they could understand 1) that dealing with an energy company is not a one-way negotiation, and 2) leases cannot contain provisions preventing the landowner from “talking about it in court”.

Read More:  http://www.redstate.com/2013/01/08/fact-checking-matt-damons-promised-land/

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