Fracking Group Buys Ads to Run in Front of Matt Damon's 'Promised Land'

The Marcellus Shale Coalition will run commercials in front of 'Promised Land.'

ByABC News
January 4, 2013, 11:47 AM

Jan. 5, 2013— -- When the new movie "Promised Land" featuring Matt Damon opens in theaters around the country today, viewers in one state may be surprised by what they see: a commercial from the natural gas industry.

The movie, written by Damon and John Krasinski, is a fictional account of a Pennsylvania town grappling with whether to allow natural gas drilling, known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." The gas drilling process has been controversial among environmental groups.

Fracking crews blast sand, water and chemicals into the rock to draw out previously unreachable deposits of oil and gas. Proponents argue that the U.S.'s ability to draw fuel from the country's vast shale deposits has the potential to turn America into an energy giant that could rival OPEC. Critics, however, argue that fracking threatens to pollute water supplies, foul the air and poses a health threat to people.

In response to the movie's release, a gas industry trade group called the Marcellus Shale Coalition has released a 15-second commercial that will run before the movie in about 75 percent of movie theaters in Pennsylvania, according to Travis Windle, a spokesman for the group.

The coalition represents drilling companies and manufacturers that produce drilling equipment, Windle said. The group decided to run the ad spot because they felt the film was "a purely fictional movie that is in no way, shape, or form reflective of how the natural gas industry deals with land owners."

In the movie, Damon plays a gas company executive and Krasinski plays an environmental activist battling to win over the allegiance of landowners. The film focuses on potential environmental risks of fracking.

An American Oil Find That Holds More Than All of OPECThe ad suggests that viewers who have questions about the drilling process look for answers on the group's website, Learn About Shale.

"Recognizing that this purely fictional Hollywood film would increase focus on our industry, which supports 240,000 jobs in our state, we said, how about we do in-theater promotions of this website where some folks may have additional questions," Windle said.

"So it's just 15 seconds, a reminder to folks that if you have questions, we recognize and appreciate and understand that many folks in the region have questions despite the long history of drilling in Pennsylvania," he said.

The group has also compiled negative film reviews culled from critics who "widely panned the movie," Windle said. The reviews were provided to ABC News.

Windle noted that the ad will run for two weeks in theaters only in Pennsylvania because that is where the group is based.

James Schamus, the chief executive of Focus Features, the studio that produced the film, called the coalition's actions "propaganda."

"To be honest, if I could afford the kind of propaganda specialists the fracking industry has sent after our little movie...They're pretty impressive at what they do," Schamus said in a statement to ABC News. "Gus (Van Sant), Matt (Damon), and John (Krasinski) made a wonderful and entertaining film about what happens when big money collides with small town values, so I suppose we should have seen this coming."