By Margaret Wooster

I saw “Promised Land” opening night, hoping Matt Damon and company would shed light on the impacts of high-volume hydrofracking on communities and ecosystems in these last critical days before New York State decides on permitting regulations. And some light was shed – on inflated promises of big money and jobs; on bribes to governments and farmers in need of cash; on loss of farmland, forest, water quality and quality of life in communities where this form of natural gas extraction has taken place.

But the film was disappointing. Its message was that the game is rigged and there’s not much we can do about it until governments and citizens actually value things like land and water and future generations more than the price point promised by gas company front men.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation summarizes its business at the game table in Section 8 of its lengthy Revised Regulatory Impact Statement: “Another alternative the Department has considered is the denial of permits for HVHF in New York State. This alternative would fully protect the environment from any environmental impacts associated with HVHF but it would also eliminate all of the economic benefits that could be generated by the activity.”

Just what are “the economic benefits that could be generated by this activity?” Oddly, the impact statement provides no data. The website offers non-gas industry data on the economic, health and environmental quality impacts based on expert projections and actual experience in other states. A Southern Tier Central Planning and Development Board report indicates that HVHF employment lasts only 10-15 years, and that most of even these jobs go to non-local workers. Some areas are already projecting net losses in revenue and employment due to declines in tourism and farming, reduced outdoor recreation business and reduced real estate sales.

We have been here before: promised booms that never materialize, followed by expensive, environmentally damaging and long-lasting busts. Remember the promised land of Model City that ended up as Love Canal?

The impact statement does say “significant adverse impacts on habitats, wildlife and biodiversity from site disturbance associated with HVHF … will be unavoidable.” However, without including the magnitude of disturbance, or any real economic analysis, or a proper human health study, the potential cumulative adverse impacts are seriously underestimated and the game, as “Promised Land” promises, is rigged.

Margaret Wooster is the author of “Somewhere to Go on Sunday” and “Living Waters: Reading the Rivers of the Lower Great Lakes.”