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Seeing Like an Oil Producer: Abundance, Pollution, and Graphic Display

Dr. David McDermott Hughes, Professor of Anthropology, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
Monday, May 9, 2016 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
CMU 202

Oil comes packaged in a powerful, increasingly deadly jargon – and nowhere more so than in the petro-state of Trinidad and Tobago. Petroleum professionals speak of “upstream” and “downstream” as segments of an uninterruptible commodity chain. Such crustal-fluvial ideas took hold long before the science of climate change – even before the combustion of petroleum for mechanical purposes. This presentation explores three moments of consensus on the inevitability of hydrocarbon flows. I examine this discourse during a crisis, beginning in 2009, when Trinidad considered the depletion of its oil and gas reserves. The fluvial model made a course of action clear: discover more hydrocarbons and allow geo-economics to lift them. Trinidad’s leading independent oil producer designed and tested a means of injecting carbon dioxide into underground reservoirs to as to produce oil. This enhanced form of oil recovery sequestered carbon underground – for the good of the atmosphere –but ultimately expelled more into the atmosphere. The process appeared inevitable, even good for the environment. As a discourse then, the oilstream represents fossil fuels as unstoppable and irreplaceable – damn the consequences!

Sponsored by:
University of Washington Department of Anthropology, Department of Geography, Comparative History of Ideas Program, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program

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