Promise Land Panned: Mike’s Story

In the movie Promised Land, Matt Damon plays a smooth talking land man who is sent to rural Pennsylvania to secure the rights to drill for natural gas on locals’ land. We talked to real life Pennsylvania land man Mike Knapp to find out how his experience compares with the portrayal in the movie and how he feels about the films negative take on natural gas drilling.

CF: Tell us about your job as a “land man” in Armstrong County Pennsylvania?

Knapp: Today I’m in a more managerial role, but for four to five years I was a land agent (or land man) working mostly in Armstrong and Indiana counties. I enjoyed meeting the people and having a positive impact on the community, lightening people’s burdens with extra income.

CF: How are you and Steve Butler (Damon’s character) alike?

Knapp: The first two acts of the movie do a pretty good job of accurately portraying land men. Butler is very caring about the landowners and has full faith that his company is doing the right thing. But in the end he is flabbergasted by challenges from environmentalists about the negative effects of drilling. In reality, people in the industry know how to respond to concerns; we deal with them every day.

CF: In what ways are you and Steve Butler different?

Knapp: Steve is not a local, he is an Iowa native and comes to town from New York. I grew up in Armstrong County. I drink the same water, breath the same air and send my kids to same schools as everybody else.

CF: Are there other inaccuracies in the movie that stand out?

Knapp: It seems like the films goal in general was to breed mistrust of the industry. That’s very unfortunate given the positives that this could bring. They never mention the jobs benefit of drilling. Our small company started out as four to six people in 2006 and today we employ more than 100. These are good-paying, family-sustaining jobs with benefits.

And the movie poorly portrays landowners. They come across as inarticulate and irresponsible. In one instance, a landowner goes out and blows his check on a Corvette. For folks where the difference between a $100 gas bill and a $200 gas bill can mean not paying other bills, I think it is pretty obnoxious for Mr. Damon to Mr. Krasinski to say you can’t drill a well on your property because they don’t think it is a good idea.

The movie portrays all energy companies as bad actors. The vast majority of companies go far above and beyond what the minimum regulations are at great expense to their bottom line. That stuff goes on every day and no one reports on it. Plus many of these companies do a lot of philanthropic work and they go out of their way to hire local people. The Snyder family here owns a couple of companies including natural gas related businesses and they just donated the land where they build a new YMCA for the community.

Finally, the environmental concerns are overblown. There have been more than 350,000 wells drilled, some years ago before many regulations, and we just haven’t seen any sort of widespread contamination.

CF: Do you feel betrayed by Hollywood?

Knapp: Disappointed would be the best word. You’d have to have trust in them in the first place in order to feel betrayed. They’re advancing their agenda. With the first amendment they certainly have that right. The way I view it is that the movie will create a broader conversation and get people involved and maybe help them learn the real facts because if you look at the science there’s not much of an argument against natural gas drilling.

CF: How do you feel about your state tax dollars going to fund the film?

Knapp: It adds insult to injury, certainly. I don’t care for the fact that we paid our tax dollars to let a company come in and use our backyard to make a movie that threatens our livelihood. Matt Damon certainly has plenty of money, if he wants to go make his movie he can pay for it himself.

CF: What does natural gas drilling mean to you? Has it created a Promised Land in Pennsylvania?

Knapp: It’s a chance at prosperity. I graduated from high school in 2001 and there was barely a thought in my head that I was going to be able to stay here in western PA and get a decent job. I think that promise for the future is what this is about—learn from our mistakes in the past and use this newfound economic success wisely and build a sustainable economy that will last longer than the gas.

# # #

For more information on the natural gas drilling, read Truth, Lies & Answers on Natural Gas Drilling.