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Hollywood version of fracking

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VICTORIA -- Hollywood hates big business. Movies portraying business leaders as greedy villains have been common for decades, but the film that inspired today's moviemakers has its roots right here in British Columbia.

Michael Moore's 2004 documentary The Corporation, written by University of British Columbia law professor Joe Bakan, features a procession of leftist luminaries including Naomi Klein and Michael Moore himself uttering such pronouncements as "a corporation has no moral conscience" and "the problem comes from the profit motive."

Hollywood's war on business has now escalated to where a great many movies feature an anti-corporate "moral" message, the most popular of which portray industry as uncaring pillagers of the environment. For example, the plot of James Cameron's blockbuster film Avatar features a greedy mining boss intent on destroying the ancient forest inhabited by native humanoids on the distant planet of Pandora in order to mine a precious mineral called unobtanium.

But anti-business filmmakers haven't been focusing only on adults. Watching animated movies with my grandchildren has revealed Hollywood believes in the adage "get 'em while they're young." The popular Fern Gully, wherein the magical fairy folk help stop a logging company from destroying their forest home.

While mining and forestry are frequently cast in the villain role, the oil industry has been the most popular target. But you can only sell so many oily movies. Who would have predicted natural gas, an energy source that can't be spilled and burns cleaner than all other hydrocarbons, would hand Hollywood a new villain to demonize, or should I say Damonize?

The newly released film Promised Land, starring Matt Damon, takes aim at hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, that's unlocking the enormous potential of natural gas shales in British Columbia and many U.S. states. Yet, curiously for what is clearly intended to be an anti-fracking film, Damon's character has little of substance to say about the alleged environmental risks.

Perhaps the film's researchers looked at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data showing that, far from being a scary new technology, hydraulic fracking has been used for some 60 years in 1.2 million wells without a single confirmed case of groundwater contamination.

Fracturing has also been used in Canada for a very long time. As a young engineer in 1975, I directed the fracking of the very first well the company drilled before eventually growing to become the Encana Corporation. Since then, Encana has safely fractured tens of thousands of wells on its way to becoming North America's largest natural gas producer.

Unable to find factual support for their anti-fracking mission, the screenwriters of Promised Land resorted to attacking Michael Moore's original villain, the corporation. The natural gas company employing Damon's character uses bribes, scheming and misrepresentation to obtain drilling leases from unsuspecting local ranchers.

Unfortunately, despite nothing but shallow innuendo, many moviegoers will still be convinced fracking is dangerous and damaging. Others will simply add natural gas companies to their long list of corporate villains. In the war between Hollywood and business, Hollywood wins this round either way.

Therein lies a perplexing challenge. How can business fight back against the misuse of star power to brainwash millions of eager moviegoers into believing corporations are predatory and uncaring? It's a monumental problem, but sitting in our boardrooms despairing over the latest anti-business film will only ensure Hollywood wins.

So I was heartened to hear of the Marcellus Shale Coalition's plans to run ads in Pennsylvania theatres encouraging moviegoers to get the facts by linking to a website. They are also using social media to get their message out. Already, Facebook and Twitter are alive with comments about the benefits of shale gas development, including royalty income for struggling farmers and jobs for unemployed youth. Canada's shale gas industry should be following the coalition's lead.

Here's another point to help in the fight against Promised Land. CBS News has reported Matt Damon's film was financed in part by Abu Dhabi, a Middle Eastern state whose oil exports are being displaced by North American gas production. If a corporation committed such an obvious conflict of interest, it would no doubt form the plot of yet another anti-business movie. The ethics of the denizens of the celluloid boulevard are highly vulnerable to attack with the facts. It's time for corporate leaders to take off the gloves and fight back.

Gwyn Morgan is a Canadian business leader and director of two global corporations.

-- Troy Media

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 j1

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