A new film starring Matt Damon presents American oil and natural gas producers as money-grubbing villains purportedly poisoning rural American towns. It is therefore of particular note that it is financed in part by the royal family of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.
The creators of Promised Land have gone to absurd lengths to vilify oil and gas companies, as Scribe’s Michael Sandoval noted Wednesday. Since recent events have demonstrated the relative environmental soundness of hydraulic fracturing – a technique for extracting oil and gas from shale formations – Promised Land’s script has been altered to make doom-saying environmentalists the tools of oil companies attempting to discredit legitimate “fracking” concerns.
While left-leaning Hollywood often targets supposed environmental evildoers, Promised Landwas also produced “in association with” Image Media Abu Dhabi, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, according to the preview’s list of credits. A spokesperson with DDA Public Relations, which runs PR for Participant Media, the company that developed the film fund backingPromised Land, confirmed that AD Media is a financier. The company is wholly owned by the government of the UAE.
The UAE, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has a stake in the future of the American fossil fuel industry. Hydraulic fracturing has increased the United States’ domestic supply of crude oil and natural gas in areas such as the Bakken shale formation and has the potential to increase domestic production much more in the foreseeable future. That means more oil on the market, and hence lower prices for a globally traded commodity.
Hydraulic fracturing is boosting the country’s natural gas supply as well. While the market for American natural gas is primarily domestic, the Energy Department recently approved Cheniere Energy’s plan to export about 2.2 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas per day from Louisiana. The Department is considering LNG export applications from seven other companies.
A strong global market presence for American natural gas could also work to the UAE’s disadvantage. The Arab nation ranks seventh worldwide in proven natural gas reserves. For instance, Japan’s energy imports are expected to rise significantly over the next five years. The country is currently a major importer of UAE natural gas. If it decided to import more LNG from the United States to accommodate its increased energy demands, it could deal a blow to the UAE economy.
Another source of competition might come from other industries that use natural gas to manufacture other products. As American gas grows cheaper the United States becomes a more attractive destination for industries that manufacture petroleum-intensive products. The UAE, meanwhile, has invested billions attempting to shore up its own share of the plastics and chemicals markets, both of which rely on petroleum products and are likely to gravitate towards the cheapest sources of those products.
All of this suggests a direct financial interest on the UAE’s part in slowing the development of America’s natural gas industry. Pop culture can be a powerful means to sway public opinion. While Promised Land, like anti-development documentary Gasland, appears to inflate the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, it may have an impact on the public’s view of the practice.
Lachlan Markay is an investigative reporter for Heritage’s Center for Media and Public Policy. His reports can be found at The Foundry Blog.
Follow Mr. Markay on Twitter: @LachlanMarkay