There's a memorable line in Promised Land, the new Matt Damon movie opening Friday about a gas drilling company buying land rights in a declining farming community. One character fighting the industry's arrival tells Damon, who plays the gas industry's morally ambivalent landman, "We're not fighting for land, Steve--we're fighting for people."
It's a pity, then, that the Middle East-funded film takes such an anti-people approach to fracking. The film assumes that gas drilling is bad for the environment, laying waste to land and livestock, and that the industry preys on a suffering community's desire for wealth and good schools just to turn a profit.
So far, so Hollywood. Big industry rarely gets more than this false celluloid caricature, even though in Pennsylvania, fracking has created over 102,000 jobs, lowered utility bills, and helped real farmers like Bradford County's Jim VanBlarcom, who was able to double his dairy herd size by leasing his land. And contrary to popular belief, fracking has not contaminated the water supply.
Moreover, the gas industry has boomed without taxpayer subsidies and paid all the taxes common to other businesses plus a special impact fee. That's the double irony of Promised Land: It isn't only anti-people on fracking, it's anti-Pennsylvanians because of the Film Tax Credit used to fund its Pittsburgh-area filming.
Pennsylvania taxpayers doled out more than $4 million through the Film Tax Credit for the movie. For those unfamiliar with the Film Tax Credit, it is unique among tax breaks in that it is "transferable." That is, even if the production company (in this case, Gramercy Productions) doesn't owe any state taxes, they can sell the remainder of their tax credit to another company.
We've noted how corporate welfare for Hollywood studios doesn't "create" any jobs, but shifts economic activity from one area to another. A tax break for one industry requires higher tax rates on everyone else, hindering job creation in every other sector of the economy—which hurts Pennsylvanians everywhere.
In real life, natural gas drilling has revitalized communities across Pennsylvania and helped people to better lives and incomes. For more stories of families benefiting from gas drilling in Pennsylvania, check out The Real Promised Land .