Damon plays an earnest corporate rep who arrives in a rural Pennsylvania town to buy drilling rights from the economically hard-hit residents. But what looks like an easy sell becomes unexpectedly complicated by opposition from a slick environmental activist (John Krasinski) and a wily old schoolteacher (Frances McDormand).
According to LiveScience, 'Fracking is also one of today's most hotly debated environmental and political issues. While advocates insist it is a safe and economical source of clean energy, critics claim fracking can destroy drinking water supplies, pollute the air and contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.'
If you are unfamiliar with 'fracking' (also known at hydraulic fracturing) it's one of the most controversial techniques with the sole purpose of recovering gas and oil from shale rock.
Simplified, the process involves two technologies: hydraulic fracturing used since the 1940's and horizontal drilling which became widespread in the 1990's. The process starts with a well that is drilled down into our earth approximately 1-2 miles to a deep layer of rock where natural gas or oil exists. Then the well is encased in steel or cement to prevent the well from leaking into groundwater. Once drilled vertically to reach the desired location the drilling moves horizontally along the rock layer extending more than one mile.
After the well is drilled, fluid is pumped down into the well at very high pressures, to 'fracture' the surrounding rock and create cracks through which oil and gas can flow. The fluid that is pumped is mostly water but also contains a wide range of chemicals from detergents, salts, acids, alcohols, lubricants and disinfectants. It's these chemicals that create a problem environmentally and from a health perspective.
Here are some examples of the problems, health concerns and environmental dangers of fracking:
1. Just a few weeks ago, NBC reported about a study published in early October 2013. In the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers found high levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in the water and sediments downstream from a fracking wastewater plant on Blacklick Creek in western Pennsylvania.
2. The U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey Office of Communications and Publishing division released a report in October 2013 indicating, 'since January 2009, more than 200 magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes have rattled Central Oklahoma, marking a significant rise in the frequency of these seismic events.' In addition the report indicates, 'the analysis suggests that a contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes triggers may be from activities such as wastewater disposal--a phenomenon known as injection-induced seismicity.'
3. The Earth Institute at Columbia University recently reported, 'a new study in the journal Geology is the latest to tie a string of unusual earthquakes, in this case, in central Oklahoma, to the injection of wastewater deep underground. Researchers now say that the magnitude 5.7 earthquake near Prague, OK, on Nov. 6, 2011, may also be the largest ever linked to wastewater injection.
5. For some of the economically depressed areas of the country, fracking has saved some land owners from going bankrupt, as they lease their land to large oil and natural gas companies. For others fracking on their land has created contaminated ground water with a wealth of contaminates and brought about significant health problems and concerns; everything from deformed chickens, human cancer emergencies, and water from their kitchen faucet suddenly igniting.
6. According to a information reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, District II New York State, 'veterinary medicine provides a sentinel for potential human health outcomes, and reveals reason to be concerned about the effect of fracking on food supply. Animals are exposed to the same environmental challenges that we are, but are more vulnerable because they have fewer protections and more exposure.'
The report goes on to say, 'anecdotal reports have found that both companion animals and livestock that lived in pastures or barns and drank water from nearby run-off from natural gas drilling operations have experienced direct mortality, and among survivors, failure to breed, stillborn and congenitally deformed offspring, and worsening reproductive health in successive breeding seasons. Additionally, some animals have developed unusual neurological conditions, anorexia, and liver or kidney disease.
Some livestock that were exposed wound up in the food chain, either as feed for other animals or perhaps even on a supermarket shelf. Also, there are reports of deleterious effects on wild mule deer populations, with an increased risk of early mortality, reproductive failure, as well as weakness and death of newborns.'
The potential dangers of fracking have prompted this organization to call for 'a moratorium on hydrofracking in New York until these aforementioned concerns have been clarified in a Health Impact Assessment, and that any uncovered risks have been adequately addressed to protect the health and well-being of New Yorkers.'
Is fracking bad for your health and the health of your dog?
The scientific jury may be out on that conclusive fact. But what is known is there are instances (mentioned above) that show anecdotal correlations of health concerns, determining that more testing and safety is definitely needed to keep our ground water safe for humans and animals alike.
If you'd like to find areas in the US where fracking occurs, the FracTracker is one of the best sources of information by state, and also includes reported incidents of health concerns by those living near where fracking occurs.
See a preview of Promised Land:
If you don't subscribe to HBO, you can rent the video on Netflix, watch on Amazon Instant Video, or purchase the DVD from Amazon.
Sources: Live Science, USGS, Wall Street Journal, Alaska Dispatch, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, District II New York State. Photo courtesy: Jeremy Buckingham MLC and JSF539.