Oil, gas industry faces Hollywood’s take on fracking

Oil, gas industry faces Hollywood’s take on fracking by Adam Voge, November 26, 2012, Star-Tribune
Fracking in popular culture

On Dec. 28, “Promised Land,” opens to a limited release. Gus Van Sant directed the flick. Matt Damon acted in, wrote and produced the movie. John Krasinski also wrote and acted in the film. Damon’s character represents an energy company that wants to frack in a rural area, which Krasinski’s character opposes. The Los Angeles Times says the film is being considered for an Academy Award.

“It’s frustrating for the industry,” said Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance. “Fracking has become one of those four-letter words in our culture. People know so little about it but they can be so influenced by Hollywood.” Industry advocate reactions to fracking’s rise to Hollywood prominence run the gamut, but they all agree on one thing — it’s important that discussions about the production technique are based in fact. “The thing that’s concerning is that when people throw out this term, they’re using it in a sense that it’s doing irreparable harm,” said John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “It’s almost a new buzzword being thrown around but not really understood what it means. Oftentimes, such as in Hollywood, it’s being used derogatorily.”

For most industry groups, it’s not easy to respond. Popular films and media are more likely to reach a wide audience than your typical trade group — and media also have many weapons industry groups can’t use. “It helps to have a Matt Damon on the set,” Wigley said. “We’re not whining about it but we’re held to a higher standard of facts, not allowed to play emotion game. Movies can do that effectively.” In the wake of films like “GasLand” and in anticipation of “Promised Land,” organizations do what they can to spread their message. Robitaille said his petroleum group hosts or attends a number of educational meetings to make sure the general public — especially people with limited prior knowledge — have a chance to hear all sides before making judgment. “We try to be very open and very honest with them,” Robitaille said. “Right now our president is running around the state giving presentations about what oil and gas means in Wyoming. It’s a slow process; it’s going to take a while.” Other groups respond to the attention by using media similar to what earned the attention in the first place. The API hosted “Big Screen Energy: A Fracking Film Festival” in Washington, D.C., this July. The event was well-attended and generated even more discussion, according to Porter.

Whether people go to the movies or listen to music to be educated is up for debate. Robitaille said he probably won’t see “Promised Land” in theaters, but hopes others will remember the genre and purpose of the film — a fictional drama aimed at winning awards. “I go to the movies to be entertained and not be swayed politically or any other way,” he said. “At this point I hope that people look at it in that light as, ‘It’s a Hollywood story, and that’s all we need to know.’” Wigley said members of his alliance aren’t worried about the film, but he wasn’t quite as optimistic as Robitaille. “It’s certainly not going to help our cause,” he said. “People are greatly influenced by entertainment.”

“The facts are out there and they’re pretty good.” [Emphasis added]

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