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Oil and Gas Industry Prepare Smear Campaign Against New Matt Damon Flick "Promised Land"

Here's what has the industry so spooked.

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All this begs a simple question: is it really the portrayal of slick landmen that scares the drilling industry? Or is there something else that worries them even more?

The answer to this question comes about 20 minutes into the film.

Half the town has gathered in the local gymnasium to discuss drilling and hear from the landmen about its benefits. But the high school science teacher objects.

“I would encourage all of you to go home and Google this word [fracking] and see what you find. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as simple as what Supervisor Richards just laid out,” he says. “Now, listen, it’s true there is some money to be made having this industry coming in, but can we at least not pretend that it is not without cost?”

The town decides to hold a vote on whether or not to allow drilling to move forward, setting up the main battle of the film.

This is the part that is so frightening to oil and gas companies -- the simple fact that there is a vote at all. It conjures up a possibility that the industry cannot tolerate: local control.

For most oil and gas companies, a depiction of landmen as willing to peddle in half-truths and play on locals' sense of desperation no longer represents much of a threat. The recent land rush for drilling rights in shale areas has, in many of the most promising areas, already passed. So the industry is less dependent on these salespeople than it was four or five years ago.

Local control, on the other hand, remains a very real possibility. And if local governments individually hold the reins on fracking in their area, the drilling industry will face a new battle in each town and may need to make concessions in order to win support -- if it wins at all.

Lease rates may be openly discussed instead of privately negotiated. Environmental risks might be openly weighed and assessed by those who will actually bear their brunt. Potential economic benefits could be more carefully reviewed in towns and cities atop the shales.

Across the U.S.,  dozens of cities and towns have already passed local bans or moratoria. And courts have so far upheld the right of many communities to control if and how fracking is conducted in their locale.

This is the true nightmare for an industry long-accustomed to getting its way with state-level legislators and regulators.

With this specter in mind, the likes of Mr. Knapp and the industry he represents are already in high gear. Their goal is to frame the film as heavy-handed and anti-fracking. Their pitch is that Hollywood Elites just can’t understand Average Americans.

The industry has also already leaked the movie’s script online, in the hope of stealing some of its dramatic thunder by revealing plot twists. The Independent Petroleum Association of America  has said it plans to set up "fact-check" websites and to distribute pro-fracking material to moviegoers and film critics.

Others plan a more playful approach. “We’re ready,” Chris Tucker, a long-time spokesperson for Energy in Depth  told gathered executives at an industry conference last month.

“It’s not a Gasland thing, where you’re gonna put together a 6,000 word rebuttal. There’s no sort of rebuttal to a Hollywood fictional film -- you don’t want to be silly about it,” he said, describing “hilarious” plans to arrange visits by celebrities and the entertainment press to drilling sites.

Shell plans to use the film’s publicity to bring attention to their advertisements-cum-cinema,  “The Rational Middle,” their PR workers have said.

 
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