Fracking has become a major concern in many parts of Europe and North America. Hydraulic fracturing—as it is properly called—is a novel technique by which gas hitherto unavailable for extraction can be extracted from beneath rocky earth formations. The process of releasing natural gas from shale deposits involves blasting underground drilling beds with water and sand. Not only does this technique have an impact on groundwater levels and the ground ecology of an area, it also deposits a host of chemicals and toxic substances into the ground that represent a potential threat to humans, animals, and vegetation. This topic has been picked up in a number of critical documentaries, most notably the controversial ‘Gasland’ and ‘Gasland 2’ directed by Josh Fox. Promised Land, however, represents a fictional exploration of the fracking experience, directed by Gus Van Sant and based on a story by the author and journalist Dave Eggers. The movie stars Matt Damon and Frances McDormand as corporate executives who come to a small town in the American Midwest with the brief to make the local farmers sign over mineral rights so that their company can start fracking. The town is rather typical for many in the ‘Rust Belt’ with a declining population, few economic opportunities, and farming as the only, but diminishing, base of survival. The movie then immerses the viewer immediately into the approaches of stakeholder engagement of modern corporations. Damon and McDormand’s characters are initially quite successful at pitching their company’s project to local farmers since they can provide the poor farmers with a much-needed, sudden boost of income. However, after a short period of success, resistance grows within the local community, led by a local teacher who raises concerns over the safety of fracking for the local community. Further problems arise for the frackers when an NGO activist, played by former The Office star John Krasinski, enters the picture providing evidence of environmental pollution at other sites, including his own family’s dairy farm. The movie provides a dramatic illustration not just of the complexities of firm–stakeholder relations, but also of the dynamics between different stakeholder groups and their respective networks. It also exposes the challenges of corporate engagement and ‘management’ of those stakeholder relationships and the often disconcerting experiences this may entail for individual corporate managers far away from the security of the office environment at headquarters. The twists and turns of the story are entertaining and the film helps to bring the different perspectives of firms and their stakeholders to life. However, Promised Land met with rather mixed reviews, partly because it caricatures somewhat these differences for dramatic effect. It certainly does little to rescue the ‘bad guy’ reputation of fracking companies, but then NGOs also end up receiving a blow to their credibility. Perhaps the most significant aspect is that fracking and the different stakeholder positions around the issue have evidently become accepted Hollywood fare. This all points to the fact that the impact and responsibility of business for local communities, the environment, its employees, and other stakeholders is now firmly embedded in the public eye.


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