What if I told you that we have a new source of fuel? begins New York Times technology reporter David Pogue in a recent CBS Morning News cover story. Its cheap, it burns cleaner than coal, its found right here in America, and theres enough of it for the next hundred years. This fuel is natural gas and its source is gigantic deposits of shale rock from miles underground.
And more good news? Pogue reports that with our 36,000 fracking wells in America, the price of natural gas dropped by 33 percent since 2006, and supplies are plentiful enough that we are about to export it. It also can make millionaires out of struggling farmers.
In Promised Land, Matt Damon is Steve Butler, who represents a $9 billion a year natural gas company and buys rights from farmers and rural townsfolk to use their land to set up fracking wells. Problem is, the process of fracking is imperfect, and even potentially dangerous.
Sure, it’s a clean and efficient resource, says the towns trusted science teacher Frank Yates, played by Hal Holbrook. But the way they go about getting it is some dirty business.
Heres how the “dirty business” works. The gas is locked inside the shale rock, so we drill about a mile down below the water line, then make a right turn horizontally before injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals at extremely high pressures to open the rock and free the gas and oil. As Pogue points out, weve been fracturing rocks for oil for more than 60 years. But in the last decade, weve totally transformed the process by adding that horizontal business . . . all the chemicals . . . and the colossal pressure of the water.
The integrity of pipesmany of the mile-long pipelines leak over timeand the undisclosed chemicals used by the companiesits proprietary information, but according to the EPA, includes benzene, toluene, xylene, diesel, hydrochloric acid, and glycols crystallize the problem with fracking.
Youve got spills, youve got aquifer pollution. Fracking is a very industrial process that uses chemicals that are toxic, carcinogenic, endocrine-disrupting, explained environmentalist Ramsay Adams, of Catskill Mountainkeeper, to CBS Morning News.
We did not find evidence for the chemicals in fracturing fluids, reported Duke University Professor of Environmental Science Rob Jackson, who studied water at hundreds of homes near fracking wells. What we did find was much higher likelihood that you would have gas in your watermethane, ethane or propane, the things that are in the natural gas itself. We think the simplest explanation for that is poor well integrity.
Damons Promised Land character believes the risk is worth it for rural America, where the farming town fantasy has been shattered. Im not selling them natural gas, the well- meaning Butler says. Im selling them the only way they have to get back. The scriptwritten by Damon, co-star John Krasinski, and based on a story by Dave Eggersis not a predictable corporate-bashing tale, but rather an adept portrayal tackling the complexities of the issues. [Butler] sees himself as a realist whos helping them, but with limits, Damon told Written By, a Writers Guild magazine.
For the original story, Eggers drew from interviews with rural residents faced with the difficult choice to allow fracking. As the townspeople in the film grapple with the promise of financial gains over the potential destruction of their land, these same real-life discussions are happening across America as thousands more wells are built each year.
What protections are in place? None yet. The EPA is conducting their first studies, with results not due until 2014. The EPA plans to study the impact of drinking water during the fracking process, the chemicals injected in the ground, the drilling wells and waste-storage wells construction, and the potential for toxic fluids to migrate from deep underground to near-surface drinking water supplies.
Over time, its a good bet that regulations and public pressure will make fracking get cleaner and safer, says Pogue. But the pressure to drill remains as intense as our insatiable need for fuel. Perhaps its time to reinvigorate our efforts toward alternative energy sources. With a critical eye, of course.
The writers for Promised Land admit that wind farming, not fracking, was the scripts original target. We read about how some people were erecting wind towers, and not even plugging them in, just selling the energy credits to coal companies, Krasinski told Written By. But a series of New York Times articles led the writers to fracking. The biggest compliment to Matt and me would be that [the movie] starts a discussion, Krasinski continues. It doesnt matter to us which side you fall on. Were not trying to convert anybodywere just saying, This would be a great time to get involved.