Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking, is a contentious issue, and Hollywood has not overlooked it.

Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Matt Damon, takes on fracking, which involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into rock, often shale, in order to extract the oil and natural gas within the formations. Critics argue that the process wastes colossal amounts of water; contaminates air, soil, and drinking water; and may be implicated in causing earthquakes.

The screenplay, written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, is based on a story by Dave Eggers. It's a decidedly mixed bag.

In Promised Land, Steve Butler (Matt Damon) is a salesman, who -- along with his colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) -- travels to rural Pennsylvania. He sees fracking as a chance to help struggling farmers. Working for Global Crosspower Solutions, they sign lucrative leases: the farmers earn money by leasing their farmland, while Global earns by extracting its resources.

Having grown up in rural Iowa, where his grandfather owned a farm, Steve knows first-hand the struggle of farmers, so sees no issues with his mission at first. All the arguments from "can't survive on federal farm subsidies" to "it will fund the rising cost of a college education" are included in the sales pitch and made in quick succession.

As in real life, heated debates among the area residents ensue. The farmers, who are struggling financially, are tempted to take the badly needed monies to make ends meet. Yet Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), a science teacher at the local high school, expresses concerns at a town meeting about the long-term effects of hydraulic fracturing on the region, its soil, water, and air, and consequently on livestock and residents' health.

And then Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), an environmentalist, arrives in town, expressing just these and other concerns, too. Who will pay for the clean up that might be needed, once the resources are depleted and the company moves on? The company? The state? The local coffers? Who will pay for any adverse effects on health that might be incurred? Who will replace the lost jobs that the boom and bust economic wave might unleash? A one-man organizer, he goes farm to farm, talking to the residents and putting up signs in their front lawns that read "Global Go Home" and are adorned with images of dead cows.

Promised Land complicates what could be a simplistically rendered battle between outside salesmen seeking to profit from struggling local farmers by presenting the fissures within each group: the differing opinions among the farmers about the best course of action, and the increasingly conflicted viewpoint of Steve Butler.

The film portrays the increasingly bleak economic prospects in the rural U.S., which Steve, increasingly frustrated with the resident's skepticism, depicts at the local bar, Buddy's Place: "You think about how much you made on your best day ... and then you think real hard about much you made on your worst. Cuz let's be real honest with each other, they're all starting to look like that more and more, aren't they? These people? This town? This life? It's dying and damn near dead."

In Promised Land, the decision about whether or not to allow fracking is ultimately brought to the town for a vote. Debate exists about whether hydraulic fracturing should be regulated at the federal, state, or local level. To date, numerous towns and cities nation-wide have passed local bans. Both New York and Maryland have suspended fracking, in order to assess its environmental and health impacts. New York City has stated that hydraulic fracturing's risks are too great to risk contaminating the drinking water of its 8.5 million residents.

Unfortunately, the film leaves Steve's moral education up to local high school teacher Alice (Rosemate DeWitt) and science teacher Frank, who used to be a scientist. Alice once lived in Manhattan but moved back to her grandfather's farm because when it came time to give up the property, she "did not want to be that person." Now, she brings students to visit the garden in the backyard, so that they "learn how to take care of things." It's a line she gives Steve when he first tours the yard and one he cites during his last speech. The implicit narrative: Leave it to the women and elderly to be the moral compass that (may) educate men and have them realize a sense of ethics. (And teachers are mainly people who have been successful elsewhere rather than choosing the profession for its own merits.) Yawn.

Also disconcerting is the fact that the environmentalist comes from outside the community rather than from within the community. This distorts the broad base and local roots of the anti-fracking movement.

The clichéd depictions of non-urban spaces as all alike also smack of bi-coastal unfamiliarity and may rub audiences the wrong way. The film quips "two hours outside any city looks like Kentucky." In fact, as anyone who has ever driven through Kentucky and Pennsylvania knows, the two are not the same, in vegetation, in people's demeanor, or in shale deposits.

Promised Land contains superb acting and beautifully shot landscapes, but unfortunately it offers a rather superficial take on fracking and clichéd images of rural residents.

The film opened in select cities on Friday, December 28, making it an Oscar contender, and opens nationwide on January 4, 2013. To find a theater near you: http://focusfeatures.com/promised_land

Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic who covers international climate negotiations, domestic energy policy and related direct actions. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, The Nation, The Progressive and the Washington Monthly.

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It's finally setting in: Trump is Trump and he’s not going to change because of winning the nomination.

The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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