Fracking on Film

As Promised Land opens, group warns of dirty drilling damage to health and the environment

Environment Massachusetts

As the new Matt Damon movie, Promised Land, opened in theaters today, Environment Massachusetts sounded the alarm about the prospect of fracking coming to the Bay State.

Concern over fracking has grown since last December, when an industry-affiliated group met with Western Massachusetts landowners to discuss the prospects for drilling in the Pioneer Valley. Real life experience, however, in states like Pennsylvania, suggests that drilling would take a severe toll on the Western Massachusetts environment and the health of its people.

“Spoiler alert: The truth about fracking is even worse than what you see in the movie,” said Anika James, field associate for Environment Massachusetts.  “In other states, dirty drilling operations have contaminated drinking water and made nearby residents sick.”

The movie is set in a fictional town in western Pennsylvania, where a natural gas salesman works to convince farmers to hand over the rights to their land to allow hydraulic fracturing (or fracking),  the controversial form of gas drilling that injects chemical-laden water deep into the ground to force natural gas to the surface.  Damon’s character meets resistance from the community as more and more residents consider the terrible effects that fracking could have on their land, water and health.

Fracking is far more than a Hollywood fable.  For viewers who want to learn more about fracking’s impact on real people, James recommends Marcellus Shale Stories[1] – a short film by Environment Massachusetts’ Pennsylvania affiliate in which real residents tell their personal stories of how fracking has affected their lives, their health and their environment.

In addition, Environment Massachusetts cites the following examples of fracking damage elsewhere:

  • In several communities – including Dimock, Pa. [2], Bainbridge, Ohio[3], and Pavillion, Wyo.[4], residents’ drinking water wells have been contaminated with dangerous levels of methane and/or toxic chemicals from fracking;
  • In Colorado, 340 drilling leaks and spills have contaminated groundwater in the past five years.[5]
  • In the Dallas-Forth Worth region of Texas, air pollution from oil and gas extraction is estimated to equal to 70% of the smog-forming pollution from all cars and trucks in the area.[6]

Moreover, the fracking boom is turning forest acres and rural landscapes into industrial zones and releasing global warming pollution.   And yet the dirty drilling practice is exempt from key provisions of our nation’s environmental laws.

Massachusetts also faces the threat of other states’ fracking wastewater being trucked into the state. Laced with cancer-causing and even radioactive materials, this wastewater has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico.[vii]  In Pennsylvania, gas drilling operations have produced more than a billion gallons of wastewater, and much of it is being exported to surrounding states. If New York gives the go-ahead for fracking, drilling operators could soon be eyeing Western Massachusetts as a convenient dumping ground for their wastewater.  (Last year, Vermont banned the processing of fracking wastewater, along with fracking itself.)

Environment Massachusetts is calling for a statewide ban on fracking and on the importation of fracking wastewater from other states.

Promised Land only begins to tell the story of fracking’s dangers,” says Environment Massachusetts’ James. “We can’t afford to gamble our drinking water for a quick buck. We must ban fracking in Massachusetts now before it takes hold.”



[2] Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP Fines Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. $56,650 for Susquehanna County Spills (news release) (22 October 2009).

[3] See Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Report on the Investigation of the Natural Gas Invasion of Aquifers in Bainbridge Township (September 1, 2008) at 

[4] Mark Drajem,” Diesel in Water Near Fracking Confirms EPA Tests Wyoming Disputes,” Bloomberg (September 27, 2012) at

[5] See Bruce Finley, “Drilling Spills Reaching Colorado Groundwater, State Mulls Test Rules,” The Denver Post (December 9, 2012) at

[6] Al Armendariz, Southern Methodist University, for Environmental Defense Fund, Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Area and Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements, 26 January 2009.

[vii] See Joanna Prukop, “Setting the Record Straight on the Pit Rule,” Farmington Daily Times (September 17, 2008) and  Joaquin Sapien, With Natural Gas Drilling Boom, Pennsylvania Faces an Onslaught of Wastewater,” ProPublica (October 4, 2009).