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Subterranean Estates: Life Worlds of Oil and Gas
 0801453445, 9780801453441

Table of contents :
Introduction. Oil Talk
Part I. Oil as a Way of Life
1. Oil for Life: The Bureau of Mines and the Biopolitics of the Petroleum Market
2. Velocity and Viscosity
3. Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals
4. Oil, Masculinity, and Violence: Egbesu Worship in the Niger Delta of Nigeria
Part II. The Oil Archive, Expertise, and Strategic Knowledges
5. The Oil Archives
6. Securing the Natural Gas Boom: Oil Field Service Companies and Hydraulic Fracturing’s Regulatory Exemptions
7. Crude Contamination: Law, Science, and Indeterminacy in Ecuador and Beyond
8. The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil
Photo Essay. Specters of Oil: An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi
Part III. Oil Markets: Turbulence, Risk, and Security
9. Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico
10. Securing Oil: Frontiers, Risk, and Spaces of Accumulated Insecurity
11. Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion: Price Fluctuations in Two West African Oil-Producing Economies
Part IV. Hard and Soft Infrastructures
12. Offshore Work: Infrastructure and Hydrocarbon Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea
13. Black Oil Business: Rogue Pipelines, Hydrocarbon Dealers,and the “Economics” of Oil Theft
14. The Political Economy of Oil Privatization in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan
Part V. Oil Futures and Oil Transitions
15. Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil
16. Events Collectives: The Social Life of a Promise-Disappointment Cycle
17. Reserves, Secrecy, and the Science of Oil Prognostication in Southern Arabia
18. Vicious Transparency: Contesting Canada’s Hydrocarbon Future

Citation preview


SUBTERRANEAN ESTATES Life Worlds of Oil and Gas


Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts

Cornell University Press Ithaca and London

Cover image: Ahmed Mater, Evolution of Man (2010), 80 x 60 cm. Courtesy of Athr Gallery and the artist. Cornell University Press gratefully acknowledges receipt of a subvention from the Class of 1963 endowment of the University of California, Berkeley, which aided in the publication of this book. Copyright © 2015 by Cornell University All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or parts thereof, must not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher. For information, address Cornell University Press, Sage House, 512 East State Street, Ithaca, New York 14850. First published 2015 by Cornell University Press First printing, Cornell Paperbacks, 2015 Printed in the United States of America Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Subterranean estates : life worlds of oil and gas / edited by Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts.   pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8014-5344-1 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN 978-0-8014-7986-1 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Petroleum industry and trade—Social aspects.  2. Petroleum industry and trade—Political aspects.  3. Gas industry—Social aspects.  4. Gas industry—Political aspects.  I. Appel, Hannah, 1978– editor.  II. Mason, Arthur, 1965–editor.  III. Watts, Michael, 1951–editor.  IV. Huber, Matthew T. Oil for life. Container of (work): HD9560.5.S798  2015  338.2'728—dc23   2014040860 Cornell University Press strives to use environmentally responsible suppliers and materials to the fullest extent possible in the publishing of its books. Such materials include vegetable-based, low-VOC inks and acid-free papers that are recycled, totally chlorine-free, or partly composed of nonwood fibers. For further information, visit our website at Cloth printing Paperback printing

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Acknowledgmentsxi Introduction: Oil Talk Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts


Part I. Oil as a Way of Life 1. Oil for Life: The Bureau of Mines and the Biopolitics of the Petroleum Market Matt Huber


2. Velocity and Viscosity Peter Hitchcock


3. Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals Douglas Rogers


4. Oil, Masculinity, and Violence: Egbesu Worship in the Niger Delta of Nigeria Rebecca Golden Timsar Part II. The Oil Archive, Expertise, and Strategic Knowledges 5. The Oil Archives Andrew Barry 6. Securing the Natural Gas Boom: Oil Field Service Companies and Hydraulic Fracturing’s Regulatory Exemptions Sara Wylie



91 95


viii  Contents 7. Crude Contamination: Law, Science, and Indeterminacy in Ecuador and Beyond Suzana Sawyer 8. The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil Mona Damluji Photo Essay Specters of Oil: An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi Michael J. Watts Part III. Oil Markets: Turbulence, Risk, and Security 9. Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico Leigh Johnson

126 147


189 193

10. Securing Oil: Frontiers, Risk, and Spaces of Accumulated Insecurity Michael J. Watts


11. Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion: Price Fluctuations in Two West African Oil-Producing Economies Jane I. Guyer


Part IV. Hard and Soft Infrastructures 12. Offshore Work: Infrastructure and Hydrocarbon Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea Hannah Appel

253 257

13. Black Oil Business: Rogue Pipelines, Hydrocarbon Dealers, and the “Economics” of Oil Theft Elizabeth Gelber


14. The Political Economy of Oil Privatization in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan Saulesh Yessenova


Part V. Oil Futures and Oil Transitions 15. Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil Hannah Knox

307 309

16. Events Collectives: The Social Life of a Promise-Disappointment Cycle325 Arthur Mason 17. Reserves, Secrecy, and the Science of Oil Prognostication in Southern Arabia Mandana E. Limbert


Contents  ix 18. Vicious Transparency: Contesting Canada’s Hydrocarbon Future354 Anna Zalik References371 Index409


Like much that passes as research in academia, this book was a collective and, most important, a cross-generational and multidisciplinary endeavor. It took shape on the Berkeley and Stanford campuses. One of us (Hannah) was completing a dissertation in anthropology on the modular nature of the oil business in Equatorial Guinea. Another (Arthur) was a postdoctoral fellow on the Berkeley campus extending earlier work on the cultural economy of natural gas in Alaska-western Canada into the Norwegian-Russian Arctic. And the third member of the posse (Michael) was in the fourth decade of teaching on campus and pursuing his research on political violence in the oil fields of the Niger Delta in Nigeria. What we shared was a profound sense that the academic boomlet in oil studies—in part a reflection of the global climate change debate, the effects of September 11th, and renewed concern with peak oil and the geopolitics of the “end of easy oil”—was frustratingly standard and normalized: the resource curse, the petro-state, post–Cold War geopolitics, oil wars, manufactured scarcity, transparency, restructuring, accountability in the industry, and so on. All of this bled directly into the policy world—one thinks of the influential work of Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, and Paul Collier, for example—producing standardized accounts of what needed to be done. What was striking were the silences (why was the agency of the oil and oil service companies so absent in analyses of oil violence?) and the extent to which oil (not gas) was invested with Olympian powers (causing corruption, promoting civil war, and so on). We started from another position, one articulated by Timothy Mitchell in Carbon Democracy—namely, that

xii  Acknowledgments forms of political, economic, and social relations are in fact engineered out of the flows of energy, that energy helps organize politics, and that the oil and gas world (to use the language of one of our contributors, Andrew Barry) manufactures a vast archive of knowledge produced and fought over by multiple and complex actors and agents. These concerns came together geographically and intellectually with the generosity of the Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellowship program that brought Arthur and Hannah to the Berkeley campus. But not before the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University—to which Hannah was attached—funded the Oil Talk Workshop in New York City in April 2013 that brought together most (but not all) of the contributors in this book. Robin Stephenson, Laura Morrison, and Sasha de Vogel were outstanding in helping to organize that event at Columbia. The discussions at the workshop were exhilarating in many ways and we hope that the chapters gathered here speak to both the intellectual energy and the complex intersections, complementarities, and tensions across a multiplicity of regions, disciplines, and aspects of what is arguably one of the most global—and one of the most technologically complex—of industries. The conceit of the workshop, maintained in the book, was to take the material and physical aspects of the industry very seriously (FPSOs [floating, production, storage, and offloading vessels], pipelines, public hearings, fracking) but also to shed light on them in a way that does justice to the contested nature of the operations—symbolic, political, cultural, scientific, public—of the oil and gas sector around the globe. The Institute of International Studies at Berkeley generously provided some support for the Oil Talk Project as did the Class of 63 Professorship at the university. We are collectively indebted to our sponsors. In the last phases of the project Katie Thomas-Canfield and Felicia Lui provided invaluable editorial assistance. Finally, Ed Kashi generously provided some of his extraordinary images of the petro-assemblage drawn from around the world. In the process of writing the book we received two generous extended commentaries by reviewers for which we are grateful even if we have not responded to all of their suggestions. In addition, we have benefitted hugely from the sage counsel of Roger Haydon at Cornell University Press. It is a better and more rigorous book as a result of our taking heed of his critical commentary. And not least we are especially grateful to Saudi Arabian artist Ahmed Mater for his image Evolution of Man, which graces the cover. Mr. Mater’s gallerist, Jumana Ghouth, kindly assisted. When we began this project we were three; at its conclusion Hannah had brought, with her partner, a new life into the world. We dedicate this volume to him, Thelonious Ruff AppelCrosby. May he grow up in a world where different relationships to hydrocarbons are possible.



Oil Talk Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts Yet, he said, it is often our mightiest projects that most obviously betray the degree of our insecurity. —W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz

According to Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of The Prize, the great Whig history of the oil industry, the shale gas revolution resembles the arrival of Walmart in town. “So far this century, this is the biggest innovation in energy, in terms of scale and impact,” Yergin says.1 It is also the most environmentally controversial. In Yergin’s bullish account, fracking has triggered a veritable convulsion of creative destruction capable of finally breaking America’s slavish dependence on the Middle East, jump-starting an economy laid low by the financial crisis of 2009, and offering a clean “bridging” fuel to a low-carbon economy (see Yergin 2012). Hydraulic fracking is, on the account of McKinsey & Company, likely to turn America into the world’s largest oil and gas producer (eclipsing Russia and Saudi Arabia), adding close to a trillion dollars to the economy by 2020 and creating 1.7 million jobs, a figure in excess of the automobile industry. A technology developed in the late 1940s known as well stimulation and subsequently patented by Halliburton in 1959, fracking was helped along by the Department of Energy in the 1970s. Since its formative days, fracking has been refined and repurposed largely under the dogged commercial drive of George Mitchell, one of the great Texas gas barons. In 1997, Mitchell Energy confirmed that mixtures of sand, water, 1. Daniel Yergin, interview by Walter Isaacson at the Aspen Institute, Washington, DC, November  8, 2011,

2   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts and chemicals (rather than foams and gels) inserted into one of its shale gas wells in the Barnett Shale formation could open up the subsurface shale frontier. Since then fracking has proved to be financially viable to release the light, sulfur-free “tight oil and gas” in the vast and complex shale formations like the Bakken in the U.S. West—a play that might hold over five hundred  billion barrels of oil equivalent. The first horizontal wells were spudded (initially drilled) in the Bakken in 1987 but it was not until 2000 that the first hydraulic fractures were initiated. These early efforts were dubbed “Hail Mary Fracks” because engineers would drill, pump, and pray. With greater precision now, and through enhanced matching of the hydraulic materials to the specifics of the formation, wells are fracked in stages; there are typically at least eighteen different cycles in each fracking operation that require changes in the composition of fluids and chemicals. As drilling companies fill out their leases, it will take two decades, according to industry estimates, to develop the forty thousand wells required to exploit the “thermally mature” part of the Bakken (an area about the size of West Virginia). The shale revolution, in short, is a boom story, and as such has a deep resonance across the history—barely a century old it needs to be said—of the modern oil and gas industry. The director of North Dakota Oil and Gas Research, Brent Brannan, saw no better metaphor for the boom than the landmen—whose job it is to dig through courthouse records to acquire the leases from the often tangled mineral title and surface rights—leaving their briefcases on the steps of the Stanley, North Dakota, courthouse at 6:00 a.m. in frigid conditions to claim their spot when the courthouse opened at 7:30 a.m. (Brown 2013). According to the Economist (2013), America’s current shale-energy boom has plenty in common with the California gold rush: “It has created a gusher of wealth in remote places . . . it has lured young men to wild frontier towns such as Williston, North Dakota.” North Dakota now accounts for 11% of U.S. oil production. But the Economist might as well have invoked Caspar, Wyoming, or Sidney, Montana. Bakken is a booming economy, a land rush, a frontier, and a capitalist spectacle all at once. Flared gas from the Williston Basin is the main reason that the United States has jumped from fifteenth to fifth (behind Russia, Nigeria, Iran, and Iraq) on the list of gas-flaring states. It’s Kuwait on the prairies. Unlike the gold rush, the shale boom and fracking demands capital— lots of it—and high-tech expertise: the likes of Statoil, Schlumberger, Talisman, and Encana are its avatars. Frack pads, mobile drilling rigs, seismic sensors, and horizontal drilling four miles below the surface are all put to the service of shooting thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals (most of which are not on the public record) into the shale formations to create hairline fractures in the oil and gas bearing rocks. An entire

Introduction  3 economy has sprung up around it—typically chaotic and unplanned—to support the landmen, the frackers, the drillers, road and school construction, temporary housing, hotels, and bars. Like all boom stories the real picture is complex and contradictory. Here is New York Times reporter Chip Brown describing the impact on the small communities of western North Dakota: It’s hard to think of what oil hasn’t done to life in [these] communities. . . . It has minted  millionaires, paid off mortgages, created businesses; it has raised rents, stressed roads, vexed planners and overwhelmed schools; it has polluted streams, spoiled fields and boosted crime. . . . Oil has financed multi-million dollar recreation centers and new hospital wings. . . . It has forced McDonalds to offer bonuses and brought job seekers from all over the country—truck drivers, frack hands, pipe fitters, teachers, manicurists, strippers. (Brown 2013)

Naturally, it has spawned a reality TV show, Boomtown Sisters. The boom is always pregnant with the threat of the bust, however. North Dakota’s last oil boom thirty years ago collapsed with the sharp downturn in prices; workers fled the oil towns so quickly they left coffee in their cups in their trailers. This time, local opinion has it, will be different: no Dutch disease or Gillette Syndrome, no resource curse or devil’s excrement.2 “This is our time,” says a local North Dakota professor. “It’s our gold rush, or Silicon Valley. It reverses decades of anxiety about out-migration and rural decline and death” (Brown 2013). It is instructive to think about the shale revolution in light of another turning point or defining moment in the recent history of North American oil and gas, also with a deep historical resonance. During the late evening of April 20, 2010, mud and water shot up and out of the derrick of BP’s drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, located in deepwater in the Gulf of Mexico, which was finalizing the completion of its Macondo well. Shortly afterward it was followed by a massive explosion, instantly converting the rig into a raging inferno. Located almost fifty miles off the coast of southern Louisiana in very deep water, Deepwater Horizon sank two days later onto the ocean floor, resting one mile below the sea’s surface. As the rig sank, it ruptured the risers (the marine drilling riser connects the floating

2. Dutch disease, the Gillette Syndrome, the resource curse, and “oil as the devil’s excrement” are all terms—some drawn from academic disciplines, others from popular writing—to describe differing aspects of oil’s intrinsic pathologies (economic collapse in non-oil sectors, the emergence of social pathologies, the corruption of politics, and cultures of avarice and greed) that are seen to accompany the discovery and development of oil and gas resources.

4   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts rig to the subsea wellhead) and a mixture of oil and gas, under extreme pressure, was released into the warm and rich waters of the Gulf. The blowout preventer had failed to function. The Macondo well—ironically named after Gabriel García Márquez’s famous fictional town in One Hundred Years of Solitude—was drilled from a semisubmersible mobile rig owned by Transocean, while BP as the field operator (as is often the case in the Gulf) shared the field with Anadarko Petroleum and Mitsui Oil Exploration. The well was successful in locating a major reservoir, and at the conclusion of the drilling operation the well casing was to be installed and the field sealed with a cement plug that would later be opened from a production platform. In all phases of the process the well proved to be difficult to manage and control, while considerable pressures were placed on the rig to finish up an expensive and frustrating project. All was not be. The sinking of the Deepwater Horizon produced a calamity comparable to the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill, which released almost eleven million gallons (roughly 275,000 barrels) of heavy crude oil and laid waste to thirteen hundred miles of Alaska coastline and covered eleven thousand square miles of ocean. By mid-May 2010, the Deepwater discharge was hemorrhaging at a rate of over two hundred thousand gallons per day; surface oil covered 3,850 square miles. When it was all over almost five million barrels had been released and 35% of the U.S. Gulf Coast was affected. It took eighty-seven days to bring the well under control. The disaster happened on the same day that BP executives visited the rig to congratulate management on a job well done. It was coincidentally the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day. There is much to be said about these two “revolutionary moments” on the prairies and in the Gulf of Mexico. Each is of course constituted and explained through a complex mix of metonyms, figures of speech standing in for the thing itself. Oil as wealth, gas as environmental catastrophe, the lexicon of boom and doom, descriptions of particular pathological or emancipatory conditions (the resource curse or windfall gains), oil exploration as technological hubris: each exposes certain aspects of the oil and gas complex that are relatively invisible to the armies of American consumers. The Bakken and Deepwater Horizon exposed the inner workings— the infrastructural guts—of an industry largely invisible to the American public (the refrain of the industry is properly that nobody understands what it takes to get oil to the gas station, a condition that insiders have themselves facilitated), and largely invisible to the naked eye for those who are curious about the energy of modernity (big pieces of machinery located on the seabed or fluids sloshing around four thousand feet under the earth’s surface). Each is a sort of spectacle—they draw us into the image world or, as Debord (1967) puts it, into a state in which being declines

Introduction  5 into having, and having into merely appearing. The oil spectacle in this sense is not just a collection of images but “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images” (1967, thesis 4). One thinks of the bombardment of images—from slicked pelicans to anxious chief executive officers to the endless replaying of oil disgorged from broken blowout preventers to televisual and documentary representations such as the Boomtown Girls reality TV show and Gasland. The image world is central to the very ways in which these two key moments in the global oil and gas value chain, to say nothing of oil as a very specific sort of mass commodity, are presented and represented within the capitalist order. Both the Bakken boom and the Deepwater disaster are, in quite different ways, moments of crisis, and like all crises they exposes the inner workings—the normalized and often invisible everyday functionings—of the systems of which they are an expression (on Deepwater and crisis management, see Bond 2013). In their extremity they are limit cases of the everyday; they also demand that a world that has been exposed or upended be put back together, that is to say, renormalized. Our task in Subterranean Estates is to dig deeper into the metonyms of oil and gas—into oil talk delivered in quite differing registers—and to open up the invisibilities and occlusions that crises or periods of upheaval like Deepwater and the shale boom reveal. Necessarily our brief will take us far from Williston and Louisiana to other parts of the globe—as befits a global industry—but it will not take us away from the infrastructure, the engineers, the landmen, the media circus, the cultures of expertise, the consultants and the regulators, the petro-politicians and the spin doctors that constitute the oil and gas talk in North Dakota or around the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Intellectual Vertigo By most estimations the global oil and gas industry is valued at several trillions of dollars. The market capitalization of the twenty largest oil and gas companies amounts to over $2 trillion, larger than the technology and consumer goods sectors, and comparable to financials (PWC 2013); it is at least five times larger than the global pharmaceutical market. These sorts of calculations immediately pose the rather tricky question of what sorts of activities should plausibly be subsumed within an entity called the global oil and gas industry. The scale and reach of the sector is in fact almost impossible to fully grasp in part because of the difficulty of deciding on its circumference and limits—should calculations include the petrochemical industry for the provision of fracking chemicals, for example?—but also because of the extreme volatility of oil and gas prices (and hence problems

6   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts of valuation), and the surprising degree to which the basic numbers on output and reserves don’t add up. However the lines around the sector are drawn, the incontestable fact is that the industry embraces a massive, sprawling, high-tech engineering and financial infrastructure, presided over by some of the largest corporate and state-owned enterprises in the world, standing at the heart of contemporary hydrocarbon capitalism. Rigs, semisubmersibles, risers, blowout preventers, condensates, shut-in wells, FPSOs, peak-shaving facilities, jack-up rigs, Brent marker prices, gas flares, the oil futures market, the New York Mercantile Exchange, the Keystone XL pipeline, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, the oil consultants and the industry’s “organic intellectuals” and celebrities, the armies of petroleum lawyers, the legacy cases and massive compensation suits, the oil lobby and its minions, and the prosaic world of gas stations: all of this and more constitutes the seemingly unfathomable universe of Big Oil. It is the world conjured up by Pablo Neruda—the subterranean estates, the engineers and title deeds, paraffin foliage and smiling assassins—in his Canto General poem, “Standard Oil Co” (Neruda 1991). To enter into this world as a scholar, or indeed as a layperson, is an unsettling and, in some respects, a deeply confusing experience. Immersion in the world of oil and gas tends to produce a profound sense of intellectual vertigo. It should be no surprise that in an industry typified by concentrated economic and political power—whether a privately owned international oil company like ExxonMobil or a state-owned behemoth like PetroChina—secrecy, security, guardedness, corporate ventriloquism, and defensiveness are the hallmarks of the industry’s operations. But the intellectual vertigo is not solely attributable to the culture of smoke and mirrors in a highly “securitized” industry. It is also shaped by the degree to which, in a world thick with technical expertise and scientific sophistication, there is a startling degree of inexactitude, fundamental empirical disagreement, and lack of confidence in basic data. Why, for example, are the mundane and foundational questions of quantity, output, and price seemingly so vague, opaque, and elastic? This epistemological murkiness is on display when one poses the most basic questions of how much oil there actually is, and how much enters the world market. The world of oil is saturated with declensionist language and dark futurity: Can we find enough? How long will it last? How quickly is it running out? What price can we afford at the pump? In the popular imagination, and in the way that the industry often presents itself to us, the Three Stooges’ line “oil’s well that ends well” (uttered by Joe sitting atop a gushing oil well after a bungled effort to find uranium) seems to possess little cachet. A  deepening anxiety over the imminent arrivals, passings, and forgettings of Hubbert’s Peak continually shifts the pendulum of

Introduction  7 concern over peak oil from the margins of the energy debate to its dead center. And yet, for every Malthusian credo of a King Hubbert there is a prominent doubter, whether MIT economist Morris Adelman or industry savant Daniel Yergin, for whom oil is inexhaustible.3 Disparity in the quantitative estimates of oil—primary and secondary proven reserves— and the unfathomable variance in official oil projections are striking. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, for instance, publishes twelve unique scenarios resulting in peak world crude oil production emerging between 2021 and 2112. The questionable practices of estimating proven reserves—so-called booked reserves—has been thrown into sharp relief on numerous occasions, most prominently in 2005 by Royal Dutch Shell’s admission that it cooked its numbers (in this case overestimating the reserves) in Nigeria and Australia as a way of capturing tax breaks (see Mitchell 2004).4 Turning to basic oil output data, the quotas of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are regularly exceeded by margins that are assumed to be large but difficult to estimate. OPEC members publish output data in delayed time frames, thereby maintaining confusion between actual output and quotas, while operators and consultants track tankers in a game of hide and seek. In theory all oil production is metered and registered; indeed, in principle, through chemical fingerprinting one can trace any barrel of oil to its wellhead. Yet vast quantities of unmetered oil enter the global market every year (there is talk in the business of an “international oil mafia” in a shipping industry that, it should be said, is distinguished by its extraordinary lack of accountability and transparency).

3.  Hubbert’s Peak refers to King Hubbert, a geophysicist who modeled the rate of petroleum production as a bell-shaped curve. It is one of the primary theories of peak oil. By contrast, Adelman represents what Timothy Mitchell in Carbon Democracy calls the “cornucopian view” (2011, 188). 4.  See–01–25/shell-the-case-of-the-missing-oil. For financial analysts, “proven” reserves are an indicator of future production potential and therefore of income. As Mitchell (2004, 2–4) points out, the success of a company’s exploration and development program, its ability to generate future production, is measured by the rate at which it adds to its estimates of “proven” reserves (which are estimates of future production based on current prices and technology). The ratio of undeveloped to developed reserves is an indicator of the company’s capacity to bring forward new development projects: the ratio of reserve additions to production from existing reserves (the “replacement ratio”) is treated as a “headline number,” though the spasmodic nature of the opening of new acreage for exploration, the discovery process, technical innovation, and changes in prices and costs mean that single-year results could be equally misleading. An oil company’s “10K filings” with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which are obligatory and public, are therefore hugely important for “the market” and shareholder value. The SEC requires companies to report an estimate of the present value of their “proven” oil reserves even though few analysts, given the volatility of oil prices, would conduct commercial analyses under the assumptions surrounding proven estimations and their valuation.

8   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts After fifty years of oil production in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil exporter, the head of the Central Bank recently asked the Nigerian Senate how they knew the exact quantity of oil produced when the metering system is nonexistent. Within the industry there is an assumption that perhaps 10% or more of U.S. imports might be “stolen”—obtained outside of legal proprietary rights. The oil industry’s shadow kingdom—mafias, militias, illicit traders and refiners, speculators and swap dealers—is a phenomenon in and of itself. In short, there is a sort of public secret in the industry that any exactitude about the basic sorts of numbers should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. And yet a language of decorum permeates official discourse: one consultant delicately referred to this epistemological murk as “a lack of transparent data” (Moors 2011, 43). What is true for quantity—that is to say, what exactly oil’s finite qualities actually refer to—is equally true for price and for the operations of the oil market. Indeed, the very idea of an oil market, global or otherwise, opens up a world of make-believe. A market that has been historically dominated by a transnational corporate oligopoly (the Seven Sisters), a Third World cartel (OPEC), a First World consumer lobby (the International Energy Agency), and long-term contracts is not so much an example of rational i­ rrationality—rational self-interest leading to socially irrational outcomes—as antimarket madness. The actual dynamics of price determination are utterly confusing, mind-boggling in their illogic and unpredictability, as Jane Guyer (this volume) shows. Industry consultants, tasked with rendering this illogic somehow transparent and actionable, acknowledge the vertigo; our collective experience in studying quite different aspects of the industry is that the company consigliere convert this illogic into risk and probability algorithms. Longtime consultant Kent Moors writes (2011, 43) that oil “does not respond as most other goods do to market factors. . . . To date there has yet to emerge a consistent theory . . . fully explaining how oil prices operate.” Arguably the oil market remains the most powerful exemplar of how relations between supply and demand cease to operate in any predictable fashion and are not related in any determinate way to price (Mitchell 2010). There is no discipline in the social sciences, says Oystein Noreng in his encomium to the industry, Crude Power, that “has been successful in analyzing the energy markets” (2006, 8). In the oil market, ignorance and confusion take on organizing potential. The lexicon of evolution, progress, or navigation does not hold; what we get instead is threshold, crisis, potential (P. Collier 2007). Geopolitical leaders and industry experts follow suit with exaggerated rhetoric connected to strange predictions that figure  strongly in price fluctuation. ­Volatility—in price, supply, and beyond—comes into its own in those places where the normal and calculated course of energy events is interrupted:

Introduction  9 what occurs instead is an opening for productive discursive play. Events are isolated, unique, and excluded from the real duration of market trends. Events become structured through chance and contingency, providing an opening for the intrusion of seemingly nonhuman forces—economic collapse, war, insurgency, weather, low storage, decline in production, error. In any neoclassical, let alone neoliberal, economic model, the greater the supply the lower the price, yet in the oil sector the very opposite seems to hold (and this is not fully attributable to inelastic demand). In 2004, for instance, the serial phenomenon of global supply exceeding demand recurred. The industry organ Oil Market Intelligence concluded that the traditional market signposts were of little use in explaining a “contradiction” that pointed to “the complexity and multi-faceted nature of the upward oil price ‘shock’ ” (2004, 16). Four years later, in the run up to $147 a barrel in 2008, Lehman Brothers—yes, Lehman Brothers!—concluded it was an asset bubble, an instance of “petromania” (O’Sullivan 2009), what they cleverly called “Oil dotcom.” Standing at the center of neoliberal capitalism, in other words, is a commodity and a market for which the terms market rationality or market fundamentals—let alone a neoliberal or free market—seem utterly irrelevant to the operations of what passes as the oil and gas global value chain. This radical incalculability and epistemic murk butt against the quotidian truth that, for the better part of a century, petroleum has been the energy source of industrial capitalism—the fuel of our high-energy economy and biopolitically constitutive of our carbon democracy. Equivalent power commanded by today’s affluent Euro-American household— without the convenience, versatility, flexibility, and reliability of delivered energy ­services—would have been available “only to a Roman latifundia owner of 6000 slaves, or to a nineteenth-century landlord employing 3000 workers and 400 big draft horses” (Smil 2001, 48). The juxtaposition of oil’s centrality in contemporary life with its resistance to calculability or any effective means of account or inventory, speaks powerfully to the conundrums and contradictions of one of the largest and most important industrial complexes on the face of the earth. Each of us—but we suspect many others too—sense this intellectual vertigo on entering into the world of Big (or small) Oil. We begin with this juxtaposition to introduce Subterranean Estates as a volume that explores the ground in between intellectual vertigo, on the one hand, and oil’s cynosural politics—its inescapable presence—on the other. By what histories, physics, and affective powers can oil be in some profound respects unintelligible and yet the explanation for everything? A universal, determinative set of causal powers while also a seemingly irrational, incalculable, and occluded set of practices?

10   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts Oil as Metonym We want to understand these contradictory qualities of oil and gas by starting with representational practices. That is to say, the conundrum of oil’s vertigo is in part an affective product of social science, journalism, policy, and corporate self-representation, which have worked to stabilize oil’s unruly referent, to collapse its densities and contradictions into mere metonym. It is perhaps a testament to oil’s demiurgic power that social science has almost always approached it as a metonym—oil as modernity, oil as money, oil as geopolitics, oil as violence, oil as ur-commodity, the mother of all commodities that enables all other commodities. In its metonymic register, social science conveys a great deal of certainty and causality—oil becomes a global commodity whose capabilities to determine social, economic, and political life often assume Olympian proportions. The social sciences—political science and economics in particular—and the popular press have long vested oil with enormous, often magical, powers: it is construed as a curse, the devil’s excrement, the source of the Dutch disease, the Grim Reaper wrecking havoc everywhere. As we write a story appeared in the New York Times taking the reader to the “modern-day Wild West” of Sidney, Montana, rich in oil, signing bonuses, and easy money yet awash in a proverbial tidal wave of criminality, assault, and theft (Healey 2013). Each of these tropes is nested in larger discursive fields, from the mainstream media to popular culture to policy. Here, we explore four of these approaches before outlining the ways we depart from them. The first locates developmental pathologies—authoritarianism, corruption, violence, misallocation of money—solely in oil-producing states. Michael Ross’s recent book, The Oil Curse (2012), for example, is an archetypical dystopian account in which, in his interpretation, the scale, source, instability, and secrecy of oil and the attendant rise of the so-called new seven sisters (the massive national oil companies of petro-states such as Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran) that explain the so-called paradox of plenty, generate massive state pathologies (corruption, no rule of law, the failure of public goods provision) and human developmental failures of oil-rich states. (On the so-called resource curse, see Humphreys, Sachs, and Stiglitz 2007.) In his influential book The Bottom Billion (2007), Oxford economist Paul Collier offers a version of this thesis in which revenues are looted by rebels for whom oil finances lead not to emancipatory politics (social justice, self-determination) but organized crime conducted as rebellion and war. In Collier’s account, greater oil dependency produces an increased likelihood of civil war and violence. In this body of work, as in those that follow, when scholars use the word “oil” what they are actually referencing is money. Oil politics here is narrowed to the capture of rents by state agencies and the political class. The agency of oil corporations, or

Introduction  11 the oil service industries or financial institutions, for example, is almost entirely absent. In these tellings, oil is capable of distorting the organic, natural course of development. Oil dependency hinders democracy (as if copper might promote constitutionalism); oil revenues permit low taxes and encourage patronage (thereby dampening pressures for democracy); oil endorses despotic rule through bloated militaries, and it creates a class of state dependents employed in modern industrial and service sectors who are less likely to push for democracy. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has even identified a First Law of Petro-politics: the higher the average global crude price of oil, the more free speech, free press, fair elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and independent political parties are eroded. Hugo Chavez and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were the law’s most devious exponents. President Putin assumes that mantle now. One of the great lacunae in this line of reasoning is the manner in which oil is presumed to condemn the state and politics without ever recognizing, for example, that the forms and practices of politics, to say nothing of the institutional capabilities of differing state agencies, vary hugely within and among oil-producing states.5 A second line of reasoning is almost entirely focused on corporate oil and global geopolitics. Michael Klare’s book The Race for What’s Left (2011b) is an exemplary case that follows what he has called the U.S. global oil acquisition strategy. Here the driving logic resembles another form of commodity determinism, namely industrial capitalism’s enormous appetite for oil and gas, now spurred on by extraordinary capitalist dynamism in South and East Asian economies. The byline is scarcity and rates of consumption: more than half of the oil consumed between 1860 and the present was accounted for in the three decades after 1980. Peak oil is now upon us, which necessarily amplifies the geopolitical pressures and struggles precipitated by tight oil markets, slower rates of discovery, and challenging operating environments (“the end of cheap and easy oil,” as the oil industry puts it). Precisely because of its strategic qualities, oil exploration and development has a praetorian cast, a frontier of violent accumulation working hand in hand with militarism and empire, which is leading inexorably to a tooth-and-claw struggle for both conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons (for example, the tar sands, shale gas, deepwater oil and gas). In this account we are about to enter a new thirty-years

5.  To his credit, Ross argues in his comparative analysis of oil states that the weak institutions argument does not hold up. He suggests that the politics of countercyclical fiscal policies are difficult, and while there may be plenty of evidence for “missed opportunities,” oil does not generally produce weak institutions (even if in general oil helps autocrats stay in power). Oil states, he says, “have relatively normal institutions” (2012, 221).

12   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts war (Klare 2011a) for resources characterized by market volatility, ruthless resource grabs, and a sort of military neoliberalism. Here it is not oil as money so much as oil as post–Cold War power politics, or oil as national security in the contemporary argot. What is on offer is a Big Oil– Big ­Military–Big Imperial State triumvirate. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is, in this account, a paradigmatic case;6 Thomas Malthus is inevitably its reference point. In short, here we are asked to focus on corporate oil and global geopolitics, typically given a robust Malthusian cast, and the violent struggle over strategic scarce resources. Haunted by the specter of depletion, states and corporations embark on a desperate and increasingly violent scramble for oil. Since 2001 in particular these forms of geopolitical violence have been associated with two powerful figures: the mercenary and the Muslim terrorist. An example of the former is the so-called Wonga coup led by Simon Mann (A. Roberts 2006). In 2004, a coup attempt was launched against the government of Equatorial Guinea in order to replace President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo with exiled opposition politician Severo Moto. British financiers and mercenaries—mostly South African war veterans of Mozambique’s Cold War proxy struggle now working as private ­contractors— joined forces in the attempted overthrow. Severo Moto was to be installed as the new president in return for preferential oil rights to corporations affiliated with those involved with the coup. As it transpired the attempted coup was a fiasco—Simon Mann in his memoir (2011) called it a “swashbuckling fuck up”—and he and other mercenaries were arrested en route in Harare and imprisoned in both Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea.7 The Wonga coup and its combination of tyranny, corruption, mercenary interests, and ghastly geopolitics is petro-violence in its purest melodramatic form—taken from a Frederick Forsyth novel, it is almost always already made for TV. In the recent past petro-violence has acquired another avatar: here it is the lethal mixture of oil, radical Islam, American empire, and the demographic youth bulge that is typically seen to be the combustible mix exemplified by Osama bin Laden (the son of an oil contractor, after all) and al Qaeda. As Timothy Mitchell (2011) shows, oil was never able to create a political order on its own for its own purposes. Rather, oil politics are refracted through local collective forms with their own purposes and 6.  See Yergin 1991; McKinsey 2011; Nitzan and Bichler 1990; Colgan 2013; Slater 2012. For an argument against the “blood for oil” thesis, see Retort 2005. 7.  In keeping with the fantastical and exotic quality of mercenary oil violence, Mann was terrified at the prospect of being extradited (which he was) from prison in Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea because he feared that President Obiang intended to eat his testicles (see Bernard Porter, “What Nanny Didn’t Tell Me,” London Review of Books, January 26, 2012, 19). Somewhat ironically, Mann went on to serve as Obiang’s highly paid consultant in the oil industry, testicles intact.

Introduction  13 dynamics. In the Middle East, this included organized Islam, which, in the context of oil profits, arms, and corrupt comprador classes, provided a nonsecular alternative—political Islamism—capable of undercutting the “political control of Arabia” that Big Oil (and imperial states) required. One expression was the rise of violent global Salafism. A third line of thought focuses less on the producers than the world of the consumer, and the sociological provisioning that oil and gas provide. Pointing to the relations between oil and ways of life, this representational trope focuses both on the post-1945 American consumer landscape (Huber 2013; Campbell 2005; Strauss, Rupp, and Loue 2013) and on the new cosmopolitan terrain in oil-producing petro-states like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Nigeria, and Ecuador, where oil wealth ushers in an economy of hyperconsumption and spectacular excess: bloated shopping malls in Dubai, glamorous Russian oligarchs (see Gessen 2011; Davis and Monk 2008). There is even a psychological appellation to describe the condition: the Gillette Syndrome. El Dean Kohrs (1974) studied the booming coal town of Gillette, Wyoming, in the 1970s, and witnessed how a commodity boom brought a corresponding wave of crime, drugs, violence, and inflation. It would afflict new gas fields of Wyoming, indigenous oil communities of Ecuador, and the rough and tumble Russian oilfields of Siberia. The theoretical and empirical narrative for contemporary Western consumers is of a rather different register. Oil is capacious, central to virtually every aspect of our lives; as the New York Times put it, oil “oozes through your life” (Urbina 2011a) showing up in everything from asphalt to flavoring to drugs to plastics to fertilizers. Oil is the lifeblood of just about everything including, it turns out, the sorts of civic freedoms and political liberties that most Americans have come to take for granted: unlimited personal mobility, cheap food, the prospect of property ownership in the suburbs (Huber 2013; see also Shever 2012 on Argentina). Oil underwrites modern life but the social cost is addiction (as the audience chanted as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani addressed the Republican National Convention in 2008: “Drill, baby, drill”), and its outcomes are supposedly clear, as if carbon emissions lead to global warming, with the causality of private ownership (of multiple-car families, of multiple-appliance families) removed. The debates over unconventional oil and the processes of its extraction—fracking and tar sands come to mind—rear their heads here as well, justified by the threat of continued political dependency in parts of the world that, as Dick Cheney famously noted, do not have U.S. interests at heart. In this rendering, oil can be construed as a form of biopower (Foucault 2003), a resource central to the life and management of populations and to the constitution of forms of security. Finally, oil figures into the social imaginary that oil’s ontological form of provisioning provides—that is to say the image world and the domain of

14   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts representations8 —in powerful if contradictory sorts of ways (Apter 1993). In the American oil imaginary, petroleum bubbles forth from a magical spigot, a vision arguably rendered less miraculous by the live video feed of the Deepwater Horizon’s subsea spigot. Most Americans outside of the Gulf states were surprised to learn, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, that oil and gas are pumped from thirty thousand feet below the surface of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Although nearly everyone has been exposed to the image of the gushing oil well—an image deployed with particular effect in the award-winning Hollywood film There Will Be Blood—it remains the case that picturing the oil and gas industry has a limited popular vocabulary: pipelines, gas flares, the oil derrick. Conversely, the worlds of the oil sheik, of the heroic wildcatter, of the blowout and oil spill, of shady deal making and corrupt petro-elites have proved to be a rich loam for the literary and fine art worlds, both expressing and constructing this larger imaginary and the spectacle of Big Oil. Amitav Ghosh has referred to “petro-fiction” (one thinks of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! [1927] and Abdelraman Munif’s Cities of Salt [1987] trilogy) in regard to literature, but documentary,9 photojournalism, and fine art photography too has a long tradition of addressing oil.10 Alfredo Jaar’s extraordinary oil installations point to a much larger petrolic semiosis deployed by artists of various stripes and by the curatorial community of the art museum world.11 How these images circulate and to what effect is a complex question, of course. Some, such as photographer Owen Logan, have explicitly addressed how visual culture—still images in particular—has pictured the oil curse. In his reading, this body of work hinges on the orchestration of pathos—the attempt to convince audiences to identify with a photographer’s viewpoint through his or her expression of pity. As it happens he is especially critical of the images of Ed Kashi (one of us produced a book on oil in Nigeria with Kashi) whose work appears in this book. He views it an example, as he sees it, of the National Geographic, undialectical depiction

  8.  See the special issues of Imaginations 3/2 (2012) entitled “Sighting Oil,” which addresses directly the question of petro-imagery ( 21/sighting-oil-special-issue/).   9.  Werner Herzog’s apocalyptic vision of the first Gulf War, Lessons of Darkness (1992), Sandy Cioffi’s Sweet Crude (2009), Josh Fox’s Gasland (2010), Joel Berlinger’s Crude (2009), and Hollywood productions such as Syriana and Promised Land all mine this rich vein. 10.  For new photography books, see Misrach and Orff 2012; Burtynsky 2011; Lutz 2010— all of which contribute to the vast mediatic archive of oil. In countries with a substantial local film industry, there is also a very large presence of oil in local TV soap operas, and, in the case of Nigeria, in the output of Nollywood (the indigenous film industry). See Watts, “Specters of Oil,” this volume. 11.  See, for example, the recent multimedia exhibitions at the Munich and Dortmund museums, and Mark Boulos’s installation All That Is Solid Melts into Air at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2011.

Introduction  15 of oil perpetrated by “cultural entrepreneurs” creating a “walled garden of bare life” (Logan 2012, 126).12 The oil image, in short, is part of an industry of iconic images of suffering and fortitude—an aestheticization resting on pathos. Connecting the rise of pathos with the rise of consumer sovereignty, Logan argues that consumerism thrives on synthetic forms of solidarity incapable of the lofty goals he sets himself of meaning, empowered social democracy, and the unsettling of imperialism. Whether Logan is right—readers can judge Kashi’s images for themselves—the cultural arts necessarily enter into what we call oil’s ontological form of provisioning (see Watts, “Specters of Oil,” this volume). It is inevitable that the power of oil as metonym is pervasive not simply in depicting and picturing oil but in popular beliefs and everyday ideologies, whatever their complex relation to the image. The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski (1982) called oil a “fairy tale and like every fairy tale, a bit of a lie.” He was of course writing from the vantage point of the shah’s Iran and the unlimited potential that it seemed to confer, at least in the shah’s imagination. (See also Coronil 1997 on Venezuela and Limbert 2010 on Oman.) In the popular imaginary of the United States, oil is something turned on and off, subject, alas, to the whim of Arab despots (notwithstanding the fact that most Americans would be largely ignorant of the map of American oil imports). There are tropes of heroism and entrepreneurship too: the figure of the oil entrepreneur or wildcatter—whether a Rockefeller or Texan wildcatter Rogers Lacey—is ubiquitous, but it coexists with a deep cultural suspicion of the corrupting power of oil wealth and now corporate influence. By the 1890s the main elements of a popular dissenting tradition—in this case, against Standard Oil—were already in place: the moral superiority of small business, the erosion of democracy and civic virtue by the concentration of wealth and power, and the corrupting influence of big business were its defining tropes (see Olien and Olien 1990). By the 1920s, in the wake of antitrust legislation, an emerging conservation movement (motivated by the Malthusian specter of the scarcity of domestically produced U.S. oil) was coextensive with a new powerful ideology of the automobile as the symbol of American prosperity (between 1921 and 1930 the number of vehicles increased from 10.5 million to 26.5 million). In short, popular suspicion lived comfortably with a series of expectations and normative claims about

12.  As it happens Logan, as a professional photographer, spent time in Nigeria in the 1990s and has produced a body of work from that visit, less on oil than on the how to depict Nigerian experiences (and overlapping identities) without presuming a “pure political vision or documentary ‘truthfulness’ ” (Cornwall-Jones 1999, 165). Some of these images, in our view, seem incapable of breaking with the tradition he critiques and with meeting his lofty ambitions. See Watts (photo essay, this volume) on the “petro-image world.”

16   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts housing, mobility, and food, all of which derived from the power of the oil majors, backed up by the military might of the state (nowhere better expressed than in Churchill’s claim in 1912 that “we must become the owners . . . at the source of at least a proportion of the oil we require”). One can well understand why Gavin Bridge and Phillippe Le Billon, in their book Oil (2013, 1) conclude that “creating wealth and power from oil is quite a trick.” In this volume we take these four approaches both as intellectual points of departure and as partially constitutive of oil’s discursive work in the world. The first approach, for instance, widely dubbed “the resource curse,” becomes the academic architecture on which much policy in the resource-exporting global South is built. In the small central African nation of Equatorial Guinea, for instance, the state’s formal development plans are informed entirely by resource curse literature that travels as economic theory and policy prescription from country to country, allowing official documents to completely overlook local histories of violence, dispossession, and repression. In terms of the second approach, oil as v­ iolence, it is incontestable that the world of oil and gas is—and has been historically— associated with conflict and with the violence of imperial geopolitics. Oil bears the hallmark of what Hannah Arendt (1957) once called “the original sin of primitive accumulation,” dripping with blood and dirt. The annals of oil, after all, are an uninterrupted chronicle of naked aggression and the violent law of the corporate frontier. This violence is palpable and existential. To enter the oilfields of Wyoming, Texas, Siberia, or the Niger Delta is to experience it directly; these spaces are always profoundly securitized (the military and forms of surveillance are omnipresent), threatening, rough and tumble, confrontational, and uncomfortable. They bear all the marks of violent enclaves everywhere. And yet it is one thing to take account of the association between oil and violence, but quite another to chart the complex traffic between the two. The challenge is to acknowledge the violence that has attended the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil industry and yet to not presume that v­ iolence inheres in the commodity (a sort of commodity determinism). The politics of oil cannot be reductively and deterministically abridged to the survival of the fattest, patrimonial politics, and oil wars. Rooting conflict and particular sorts of politics in a global commodity—even a resource as indispensable as oil—tells us little about the ways patrimonial regimes can deliver very different political and economic orders, how we think about the uneven institutional and governance capabilities across petro-states, and why violence occurs in different forms in different places, and in some parts of the world not at all. In other words, in their metonymic recitation, the four approaches we have outlined here indulge oil’s demiurgic power as a self-reproducing

Introduction  17 form. They offer ready-made and enduring discourses that constitute oil’s power politics as having no social reproductive ground. These approaches, we suggest, fundamentally shape the sense of discursive foreclosure that oil summons, even in quotidian conversation among friends—“oil is the answer to every question,” as one of our Norwegian industry informants quipped. In Subterranean Estates we take to task approaches that stabilize oil’s referent, that allow its demiurgic power to collapse multiplicity into metonym. As we see it, our task is not only to critique but also to think through and acknowledge the work these approaches do in the world. These approaches are not simply inadequate, they are also performative. What do these approaches do? How have they been shuttled through oil’s metonymic passage point, and come out the other side reifying its modernist effects?

Critical Topography We offer Subterranean Estates as a critical topography of the industry itself, understood not solely as an assemblage of corporate forms but also as expansive and porous networks of laborers and technologies, representation and expertise, and the ways of life oil and gas produce at points of extraction, production, marketing, consumption, and combustion. In this approach, states, companies, universities, insurgents, local geographies, representations, and the materiality of oil itself cannot be approached as discrete, but must be understood as co-constitutive. If metonymic social science has set these ontologies into equations—oil rents + developing country = corrupt state—this collection shows both the fluidity and the boundary-making practices between and among these forms. Accounting for oil as empirical and experiential multiplicity, as agencement, leads to a series of conceptual shifts—removing the commodity form from its pedestal and offering in its place a changing series of objectives: the option form, the contract form, or the infrastructural form. We move away from a preoccupation with the Seven Sisters and international oil companies toward national oil companies (NOCs), insurance companies, financial houses, consulting companies, community organizations, legal cases, oil service companies. We move away from the suffocatingly blunt totalities of money or politics and toward the forms of knowledge production and subjectivity that constitute those structures—science, engineering, markets, price, law, archive. Arguably, the most striking and profound silence in scholarly work on oil to date has been the absence of rigorous attention to either the industry itself or the materiality of the hydrocarbons around which it is built. In its metonymic register, oil is money or modernity or violence or social

18   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts imaginary, but rarely appears as itself, or in its conditions of technosocial possibility. Both the “guts” of the industry and the material resource have been black boxes, near-ghostly presences with predictable outcomes— profit, pollution, political corruption. In this insistence we share terrain with Timothy Mitchell’s Carbon Democracy (2011). Mitchell reflects on why it is that so many of those who write about oil pass over the guts of the industry itself. He notes that explanations of oil inadequately address the apparatuses by which oil is converted into forms of affluence and influence. Often, he says, oil is portrayed as an affliction of governments who deploy petrodollars, “not of the processes by which a wider world obtains the energy that drives its material and technical life” (2). Mitchell claims that the structure of the oil industry is ignored precisely because it presents itself as a standardized form—as an assemblage that can be copied from place to place in modular fashion (Appel 2012a; Appel, this volume)—as opposed to the notion that political, economic, and social relations are in fact “engineered out of the flows of energy” (Mitchell 2011, 5). In other words, this engineering is place and time specific because oil is always discovered in space-time (say, Spindletop, Texas, January  10, 1901), and subsequently built in localized political economies (say, coastal Louisiana), even if the properties of the wider oil assemblage are in some sense normalized (Barry 2006). Engineering in this capacious sense is never just a reflection of a political or economic order developed de novo by oil but the outcome of complex accommodations, compromises, complicities, oppositions, and violence. If we take these dynamics seriously, as Neruda’s great poem suggests, the trail of oil leads elsewhere: to the engineer, the title deed, the workers and the technologies of exploration, the construction companies and offshore accounts, the illegal refiner, the activist scientist, the Federal District Court, and the customs house. A necessary starting point is to see oil and gas as a global production network with particular properties, actors, governance structures, ecologies, institutions, and organizations, but also as a complex regime of accumulation, regulation, and auto-critique (see Noreng 2006; Boyer 2011; Bridge 2011; Le Billon and Bridge 2013; P. Roberts 2005). These networked processes emerge and take form in radically different ways across space—everywhere inflecting the ways that oil’s provisioning power, its “energopower,” contributes to a semiotics of the self for producers, consumers, and those merely proximate to either position (Boyer 2014). Matt Huber (this volume) thinks through oil as biopolitics—the regularization of the population relies on cheap commodities, he argues, which in turn rely on cheap oil, in effect a subsidy provisioned through the control of supply and demand—from the U.S. Bureau of Mines to OPEC. These forms of regulation can of course be disrupted, by oil’s price volatility (both Watts, chapter  10, and Guyer, this volume) among other factors,

Introduction  19 leading to moments of rupture in which the role of cheap oil in biopolitical life (facilitating wage sufficiency to pay for cheap commodities) can be questioned. The coevolution of oil and life and the semiotics of self take a very different form for male youth in the Niger Delta. Rebecca Golden Timsar (this volume) traces the making of culturally meaningful masculinity in an oil-production zone by attending to initiation practices that have become newly urgent as Delta youth navigate a violent, alienating, lived experience. When we take this global production network in its most expansive form, we see that the “subterranean estates” of the oil and gas industry are vast on all counts, entering into social, political, and institutional spaces (e.g., the derivatives market, the security industry, climate science, executive training seminars) typically seen as at arm’s length to the workings of the industry. Keeping intellectual vertigo in mind, let’s start with best guesses about the contours of the asset itself. The value of recoverable oil and gas is roughly $160 trillion (more than the value of all equity markets and equal to the total value of all tradable financial assets.) The fixed assets of the entire industry now total over $40 trillion. Close to 70% of all oil produced is traded (over fifty million barrels per day), accounting for the largest component in world trade. Not unusually, over one billion barrels of oil can be traded in a day on the New York Mercantile Exchange and the InterContinental Exchange. However—and here the physical moves into the virtual—a large volume of this trade is in paper oil (never delivered physically as oil), which is to say that oil forms an important part of the booming commodities futures market. If the futures market has long been a space for hedging risk for everyone from farmers to brokers, it is clear why the industry is increasingly invested in this space. As Leigh Johnson (this volume) argues, oil-induced climate change in the form of fierce hurricanes and other increasingly common extreme weather events has now substantially escalated production risks in the offshore industry. But instead of having to absorb these externalities as new threats to profit margins, environmental volatility and destruction open actuarial room for new forms of profit through the industry’s use of weather derivatives and other financial products. Michael Watts (chapter  10, this volume) makes a complementary actuarial argument about resilience and security, in which energy security is forged not through conservation or management, but through “shaping our exposure to, and creative exploitation of, contingent events and processes in ‘nature.’ ” The value to be had at various points in the oil market is produced in intimate relationship with state practices—tax incentives, regulatory guarantees, political jurisdictions, land claims, environmental review, courts, and so on. In these state practices we see a cluster of enduring forms: cartel or cartel-like structures of interest groups capable of making

20   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts claims across civil and governmental spheres; closed-circle partnerships that capture development, for example those of technocratic elites, subgovernments, and iron triangles (Mason 2013). These more or less visible, more or less bureaucratic, more or less illicit, more or less institutionalized networks are defining features of what is typically dubbed “Big Oil” or “Big Energy.” The cultural imaginaries of state practice are at work here as well, as companies and state actors work together to create narratives of national exceptionalism, progress, and patrimony around oil. Saulesh Yessenova (this volume) shows how the constitutional authority of the postsocialist Kazakh state arises in dialogue with a desire to contract oil development. In order to be legible to international capital and investment, and to assert post-Soviet sovereignty, the contract relationship becomes a necessary and productive fiction even at the risk of its neoliberal effects. For Douglas Rogers (this volume) the nation, perhaps more than the state, is at issue. In order to reassure Russian Ural communities that “their” oil and the wealth it produces will redound locally, Lukoil Perm “often likens the geological depth of oil deposits to the historical depth attributed to local culture.” Verticality and the longue durée of indigenous culture are woven together as forms of rule and “governance.” In other words, companies and states hail certain material qualities of oil, enrolling them in broader semiotic shifts intended to produce the affects of national patrimony and belonging. Of course in the oil and gas sector, perhaps more than elsewhere, corporate and state forms are intercalated. Nowhere is this more obvious than in national oil companies, attention to which reveals profound shifts in how we might understand the contemporary corporate form and its relationship to practices of governance. The vertically integrated private international oil companies—the seven supermajors (ExxonMobile, BP, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Total, ENI)—are of course among the largest and most profitable of transnational corporations, but their position in the global value chain is very different from the 1950s, when the Seven Sisters dominated the concessional economy (then accounting for 92% of all reserves, compared to 5% currently). Today, over half of the top fifty oil and gas companies by output are NOCs and they dominate reserve holdings (three-quarters of all oil reserves are held by the ten largest NOCs— ExxonMobile ranks fourteenth with 1% of the global total). The largest four NOCs’ market capitalization is almost three times that of the top four private oil companies (ExxonMobile, BP, Shell, Chevron); the top four NOCs by production and reserves exceed that of the top four supermajors by a factor of two and twenty, respectively. Saudi Aramco alone generates over 10% of all global oil revenues while the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is a fully globalized company, operating in twenty-five countries. These so-called new seven sisters—the NOCs and frequently

Introduction  21 their sovereign wealth funds—increasingly constitute the contemporary industry. (Note, in addition, that they are not coextensive with OPEC. The Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Caspian producers are conspicuously not OPEC members.) One of the implications of the growth of nationalist oil regimes and aggressive integrated nationalized companies is the variety of organizational and governance forms in which transnational oil majors are now involved.13 These NOCs, the emerging core of the global industry, remain underexplored. As a commentator once said of Venezuela’s stateowned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., describing its day-to-day operations—but it might equally well apply to the scholarly literature as “like a big party with the lights turned off” (cited in Watts 2005, 389). The global production network, its forms of accumulation, and its Westphalian actors are held together materially by a global oil infrastructure with its own particular geography and modes of labor. Only recently has this vast infrastructure—the quotidian world of pipeline cracks, hydraulic fracking, and deepwater rigs—become the object of analytical scrutiny (see Barry 2013; Appel 2012b. On infrastructure more broadly, see Larkin 2013; Anand 2011; Von Schnitzler 2013). Close to 5 million producing oil wells puncture the surface of the earth (77,000 were drilled last year, 4,000 offshore); 3,300 are subsea, puncturing the earth’s crust on the continental shelf in some cases thousands of meters below the sea’s surface. There are by some estimations over 40,000 oil fields in operation. More than 2 million kilometers of pipelines blanket the globe in a massive trunk-network (another 180,000 kilometers will be built at a capital cost of over $265 billion during the next four years); another 75,000 kilometers of lines transport oil and gas along the sea floor. There are 6,000 fixed platforms, and 635 offshore drillings rigs (the international rig total

13.  In one of the few serious analyses of the NOCs, Oil and Governance (Victor, Hults, and Thurber 2012) national companies are distinguished by their strategic choices mapped as operatorship, resources (new frontiers or easy oil), geography (a domestic versus a global strategy), and political (how and if the NOC creates “political assets” to operate and pursue its core mission). The editors’ model (21) sees strategic choices emerging from an array of governance configurations that currently dominate the oil and gas landscape, namely a variety of joint venture and production share arrangements that link governments, NOCs, and international oil and service companies in a wide array of norms and forms of organization. These configurations in turn are the products of “state goals,” “state institutions,” and the “nature of the resource” (geology). The latter, in their account, turns out to be of little significance—it is a “sorting mechanism” (905) but it does not account for why some NOCs invest in capabilities and strategic relations and others do not. It is, in short, a state-centric account in which governance and performance are positively related to “state unified control” over companies, heavy monitoring and oversight, and “law based mechanisms.” Performance and strategy turn on state-NOC relations, which points to two fundamental analytical frames as a way of classifying NOCs: the administration of rents (predictable or contestable) and state goals (public goods versus private goods).

22   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts for December 2013 was more than 1,335, according to Baker Hughes).14 Some 4,295 oil tankers move 2.42 billion tons of oil and oil products every year—one-third of global seaborne trade; over 80 massive floating, production, and storage vessels have been installed in the last five years. As Hannah Appel (this volume) argues, it is in part the mobility of this infrastructure and the workers who animate it that produce both spectacular accumulation and the disentanglement of industry from site-specific liabilities, from the exploitation of workers to the despoliation of the environment. This massive infrastructural footprint does not begin to account for the parallel forms of infrastructure set up for economies of oil bunkering (tapping into a pipeline to steal oil), smuggling, and theft that cross borders from Turkey to Iran to Iraq, or saturate the Niger Delta. In her attention to “black oil business” in Nigeria, Elizabeth Gelber (this volume) refuses the opposition of illicit and licit infrastructures and the rents derived therefrom. Rather, she points out that parallel infrastructure is in fact constitutive of the actual-existing industry. Provisioned not only by states, markets, and the infrastructure created between them, this global production network is also sustained by all manner of practices associated with reflexive knowledge production, proprietary expertise, and real-time communicative technologies. Spatial technologies and representations are foundational to the oil industry: seismic devices to map the contours of reservoirs, geographic information systems to monitor and meter the flows of products within pipelines, and of course the map to determine subterranean property rights (Almklov and Hepsø 2011). As Sara Wylie (this volume) points out, “except perhaps for the U.S. military or NASA, no industry is more invested in developing alternative means of sensing and mapping than the oil and gas industry.” Hard rock geology is a science of the vertical, but when harnessed to profitability it is the map that becomes the instrument of surveillance, control, and rule. The oil and gas industry is a cartographers’ dream: a landscape of lines, axes, hubs, spokes, nodes, points, blocks, and flows. Chemistry, too, becomes central, not only in extraction and production (is the crude sweet or sour? aromatic or . . . all chemical determinations?), but also in the industry’s effort to defend itself from its detractors. One of Suzanna Sawyer’s arguments (this volume), concerning legal battles in Ecuador over the meaning of toxicity and its translation into fact, reveals the spatial/temporal complexity of hydrocarbon

14.  More than 478 offshore platforms and 7,888 wells will require decommissioning in the period up to 2041, which will involve the removal of some four million tons of steel and other materials. The lowest cost estimate for this decommissioning, according to Douglas-Westwood Associates, is a staggering $65 billion. See ( press-center/press-releases/baker-hughes-announces-december-2013-rig-counts).

Introduction  23 compounds and the “multiple determinations of crude oil that index distinct toxic and nontoxic profiles” (see also Wylie, this volume). The expert communities enrolled by oil stretch far beyond cartographers, geologists, and chemists. To make legible meaning in the midst of intellectual vertigo, the industry is replete with consultants, forecasters, and analysts who act in ritual environments intended to produce alchemic interpretations and consensus around everything from investment opportunities to legislative fixes. Crafting promissory statements, demonstrating the proximity of remote supply areas, or projecting demand through rising trend lines are just a few of the forms that assimilate the temporalities of energy markets with the erratic and complicated development of supply areas. Arthur Mason (this volume) calls the multiple face-to-face meetings over which these processes take shape “events collectives”—the performances through which state representatives, industry insiders, and community leaders achieve energy policy objectives through embodied exchanges and social positioning. Events collectives are moments in which definitions and epistemologies are at stake, as well as opportunities for critique and its relabeling. Hannah Knox (this volume) shows that the redefinition of oil and other fossil fuels as quotients of “carbon” (a definition introduced in the wake of climate change mitigation through carbon emissions reduction) unsettles the relations that organize oil’s use and circulation. Narratives originally intended to dispossess oil of its postulate of progress—for example, transparency, unconventional oil—can be relabeled in events collectives. Second-order reflexivity or alternate ­materialities—for example, oil shales, oil sands, coal-based liquid supplies or CTL (coal-to-liquids), biomass-based liquid supplies—can all be relabeled as forms of oil. Similarly, transparency or ethical oil become positivist labels, which, according to Anna Zalik (this volume), effaces their critical potential and begins to justify the political economies of the rule of capture (under which the first person to “capture” a resource owns it). Energy futures and forecasting offer detailed expectations as strategic resources in the production of a narrative order that polices the emotions of a whole range of actors (Mason 2007). To date, the demiurge of oil has asserted its message through methods for fixing both space and time; temporal (future) and spatial (supply) indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out concrete whole. These indicators offer reflections, on the one hand, of how time thickens with the threat of economic risk associated with oil development, and, on the other hand, of how the hopes of creating economic value become charged and responsive to the dynamic geography of history. Mandana E. Limbert (this volume) explores Oman’s constantly deferred depletion calculations to examine how imaginings of oil, and by extension national futures, may be shaped. The prophesy dimension of these futures has given rise to anthropological concern about

24   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts how Omanis perceive resource management and the efficacy of these pronouncements at the everyday level. Peter Hitchcock (this volume) addresses temporality not through forecasting or prognostication but through oil’s relationship to both the speed of modernity and the nature of its inertia. How has oil enabled a specific modality of modern socialization to stick around? He writes, “While much cultural theory . . . has long-bathed in the logic of postmodernity, the philosophical and existential condition of modernity in which oil is precipitate has demonstrably increased its ability to saturate the socius.” Finally, there are also forms of expert production internal to the industry that claim to offer an external relationship of difference—a representation, an independent perspective. Andrew Barry (this volume) explores the progressive expansion of Internet-accessible industry archives, which create the appearance of greater transparency as a form of corporate social responsibility.15 Where the industry imagined that these proliferating archives would better manage the boundaries of contestation, they have in fact led to an increase in knowledge controversies by civil society groups, watchdog agencies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) devoted to monitoring corporate activity. Mona Damluji (this volume) examines the historical emergence of petrofilms, a corporate form of filmmaking intended to relate the story of oil development to that of modernization in oil-producing countries. Contrary to the purpose of promotional films, petrofilms constitute a unique prestige category of corporate media, intended to entertain company employees and general audiences while serving as public relations tools for shaping global imaginaries of oil. What is incontestable is that the variety of actors, agents, infrastructures, processes, and imaginaries—an oil assemblage—that gives shape to our contemporary iteration of hydrocarbon capitalism is mind boggling. Even narrowly construed, a critical topography of the industry must include supermajors, national oil companies, service companies, and a massive oil infrastructure; regulatory agencies and governance institutions including commodity exchanges and newly emerging global governance mechanisms such as the International Energy Forum; petro-states, massive engineering companies, and financial groups, shadow economies (theft, 15.  This archive now encompasses a vast visual archive (see Kashi and Watts, this volume) including fine art, documentary film and video, multimedia installations, still photography, photojournalism, Hollywood (and Nigeria’s own Nollywood) and indie films, sculpture, and the vast mediatic resources of the Web. The corporate oil archive seems to also expand in new ways. Chevron, for example, recently established its own online news service (the Richmond Standard) to provide community news to the city of Richmond in Northern California, where its controversial refinery is located (David Baker, “Chevron Website Refines the News,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 2014, C1).

Introduction  25 money laundering, drugs, organized crime), the rafts of NGOs (human rights organizations, monitoring agencies, corporate social responsibility groups, voluntary regulatory agencies), research institutes and lobbying groups; landscapes of oil consumption (from SUVs to pharmaceuticals to agriculture), oil communities from Houston to Baku to the Niger Delta, military and paramilitary groups, and the social movements that surround the operations of, and shape the functioning of, the industry. And this is only a start. For every barrel of oil produced, moved, refined, and consumed there are carbon emissions, and thereby carbon trading, carbon credits, offsets, and carbon markets, as well as the concomitant set of organizations, institutions of knowledge production, and experts in climate change, environmental effects, and potential alternatives. Naturally and inevitably this circles back to the firms themselves, who confront the petro-complex with all manner of reflexive representational practices. To see this oil and gas assemblage or complex in its fullness is to appreciate that it is not, indeed cannot be, a narrowly circumscribed field of study: we are properly mindful of Max Weber’s memorable remark that “I am not a donkey and I don’t have a field.” A full accounting of this universe will require a veritable menagerie of scholarly beasts. Gavin Bridge and Philippe Le Billon’s (2013, 1) invocation of oil wealth and trickery is an appropriate note on which to conclude. Indeed, trickery understood in its multiple valences—agnotology, duplicity, dubious confidentiality claims, smoke and mirrors deception, contrivances, ploys, and dodges—is one of the industry’s sustaining undercurrents. We find these vertiginous practices not only in the shadowy epistemic architecture of the industry—supply, demand, quantification, science—but also in the archives, films, infrastructures, and events collectives that buttress the industry’s quotidian functioning. It is in this murk that oil begins to take on its metonymic qualities—at once unintelligible and the explanation for everything. While attentive to the oil assemblage’s capacity for trickery, we are also mindful of the extent to which much oil scholarship has been seduced by oil’s metonymic qualities, its seeming ability to saturate the geopolitics and socialities by which it is surrounded—from war to masculinity, development outcomes to trial outcomes. Rather than dwell in fetish then, while an entire infrastructure is built, maintained, and defended around us, we have also sought to emphasize the performative aspects of the industry, not least by trying to assess the work various sorts of oil talk and practice do in the world. To undertake the analytic task that Thomas Pynchon outlines in Gravity’s Rainbow—to account at once for the natural, material, symbolic, political, and spectacular in the contemporary world of oil and gas—is tremendously demanding. But it is a task made easier in a collected volume where empirical work from Equatorial Guinea to Oman, from the labs of

26   Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts Halliburton to the courtrooms of Ecuador, can all offer situated contributions. Subterranean Estates contributes to our understanding of this multidimensional world—and the paranoia, hubris, and madness of it too—in a language and tenor quite different than that of Thomas Pynchon but with some justice to the material, symbolic, cultural, and social qualities and meanings of the resource.

Chapter 1

Oil for Life The Bureau of Mines and the Biopolitics of the Petroleum Market Matt Huber, Department of Geography, Syracuse University

We are often told that oil is essential to life. Of course, this notion does not refer to crude oil itself, which is only a progenitor of a multiplicity of petroleum products that emerge from the refining process. Of all these products, motor fuel stands out for its centrality to ideas of “the American way of life” and the specific geographies made possible through privatized automobility and low-density suburban residential settlement. But oil’s net over our lives is cast much wider than gasoline. In 2011, a New York Times article, “Oil Oozes through Your Life” (Clifford 2011), emphasized the saturation of petroleum products within everyday practice: “Chemical companies and refineries have found a startling range of uses for it, from asphalt to vanilla flavoring in ice cream to pills from the drugstore.” It is not simply the millions of products but also the geographies of commodity circulation and transport—“the American farm and grocery network rely on cheap fuel for low-cost shipping between the coasts.” Our dependence on oil is simultaneously material and discursive. Although it is certainly true that life in the industrialized world is materially dependent on a whole host of petroleum products, the matter of whether it must be so is an open question, one that must confront the useful biophysical properties of oil—its liquidity, chemical flexibility, and energy density. As other chapters in this volume make clear (see both Watts, photo essay, and Hitchcock), perhaps more important are the ways in which this dependence is discursively linked to powerful cultural narratives of “addiction.” More specifically, two debilitating narratives are essential to oil’s hegemony. First, addiction to oil’s multiplicity of products and uses means it

32  Matt Huber is nearly impossible to quit. A 2011 National Public Radio story, “Pumped Up—Are Americans Addicted to Oil?” (Weeks 2011), chronicled the stories of citizen-consumers attempting to “quit” oil only to find it is “no easy feat.” Affected by the horror of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, “Mary Richert decided that she wanted to live a life free of oil. . . . But everywhere Richert turned, she realized how much she relied on fossil fuels. Petroleum so permeates her life, she decided that she might as well face it: she is addicted to oil.” That is, the ubiquity of oil makes it impossible to extricate your life from its iron grip. Second, oil-dependency constantly undercuts the potential validity of oil-critique. For example, the efforts of activists who descended on Washington, DC, in the fall of 2011 to demand a stop to the Keystone pipeline were positioned as frauds simply because many of them drove to the protest. Stephen Colbert satirized this sentiment when he interrogated leading antipipeline activist Bill McKibben over his means of transport from Vermont to New York City: “Did you ride your bicycle down here? . . . How did you get down here? Or do you have a vehicle that runs on hypocrisy?” In a neoliberal era where politics is equated with what we do and consume it appears as if resistance is only possible through the impossible task of living an oil-free life. As Mitchell (2011) and Hitchcock (this volume) make clear, the ways in which oil has become central to our visions of life itself suggests deeper theoretical concerns over central questions of democracy and modernity. Emerging debates over Michel Foucault’s writings on biopolitics have elevated the concept of “life” as a central analytical and political concern of radical politics (see Esposito 2008; Fassin 2009; B. Anderson 2011). Although Foucault’s concept of governmentality has proven useful in the examination of the often violent and chaotic geographies of oil extraction (Watts, chapter 10, this volume), there is little work that examines how oil consumption is often framed in biopolitical terms as central to the “life of the population.” In this chapter, I examine the oil-life nexus as a means to suggest that Foucault’s writings on biopolitics have more in common than is often recognized with a Marxist political economic focus on the wage relation. Oil’s centrality to the social production of life depends on a remarkable complex—an oil assemblage—connecting the vast infrastructures of extraction, transport, and refining with forms of everyday consumption. As this section contends, we need to examine the material circuits of oil itself to gain valuable insight into the political, sociotechnical, and biophysical work necessary for reproduction of the oil complex. More precisely, I examine the institutional forms required in the construction of a seemingly stable oil market central to postwar American capitalism through a case study of the Bureau of Mines’ role in providing statistical forecasts of petroleum demand—forecasts that informed how much oil was produced. The production of knowledge about demand was critical to efforts

Oil for Life   33 to control problems of overproduction that often plague natural resource markets. The case of the Bureau of Mines reveals the contradictions of capitalist biopolitics: If life is dependent on a volatile and crisis-prone market (see both Johnson and Guyer, this volume), how can this market become regularized without violating the institutional prerequisites of capitalist commodity production—private property and competition?

Toward a Biopolitical Economy of Life It can be argued that the category of “life” is the central concern of biopolitical theory (Esposito 2008; Fassin 2009; Terranova 2009; Anderson 2011; Hannah 2011). Most obviously, many have examined the proliferation of new technologies meant to manage “life itself” (Rose 2006): for example, the emerging field of biomedicine (Rose 2006), the security discourse surrounding global viruses (Braun 2007), or the literal production of new forms of biological “life” through genetic engineering (Rajan 2006; Cooper 2008). Of course, life is by definition opposed to death, and others have focused on the multiple governmental technologies through which biopower can “make live and let die” (Foucault 2003, 241). As Fassin (2009, 48) points out, however, focus on biological life leads to an overall neglect of what he calls “life as such,” which must interrogate the more ordinary cultural politics of actual lived practice. In order to gain some clarity on the concept of life, it is worth revisiting how Foucault himself articulated the differential “domains” of biopolitics in his lectures in Society Must Be Defended (Foucault 2003, 239–63). First, the new forms of biopolitics concerned with tracking “the population” and the various forms of statistical monitoring and interventions into the domains of birth rates, morbidity, and hygiene (e.g., Curtis 2001)—a topic that has garnered the most academic attention. Second, the large-scale attempt to take into account the necessary and accidental forms through which particular portions of the population become incapacitated (e.g., old age, workplace accidents, sickness) (e.g., Lobo-Guerrero 2010). Third, an issue that has been largely neglected is the larger “milieu” in which populations live, which includes various physical environmental processes, as well as the larger built environment, or what Foucault calls “the urban problem” (2003, 245). Foucault does not use the term as such (which may be a problem of translation), but I would suggest what he means by this third domain is the geography of life—that is, the forms of settlement and mobility through which life is actually lived: the geographies of home, work, shopping, transportation, and the various natural environments surrounding them (the parallels here to Lefebvre [1978] are clear; see also Watts, chapter 10, this volume).

34  Matt Huber When we say that oil is essential to life, oil is sutured to this third domain of biopolitics—oil’s role in provisioning and powering the everyday geographies of life, especially in suburban auto-centric societies such as the United States (Seiler 2008; Dennis and Urry 2009). As Collier and Lakoff (2005, 22) put it, oil actively constitutes a particular “regime of living.” Regimes of living are not simply material, but are shot through with the kind of moral power that is often ascribed to ideas of “the good life.” Insofar as oil has become the “lifeblood” of these various geographies—without which life, commerce, and everything else might come to a halt—we can isolate the ways in which the provision of oil itself has become subject to biopolitical forms of intervention in the name of the “security” of the population (Campbell 2005). We are quite familiar with the equation of access to oil to a matter of “national security” (see Stokes and Raphael 2010; Watts, chapter 10, this volume), but the geopolitical discourses of oil and national security often assume that the provision of oil is simply a matter of winning the great game of international conflict over oil resources. Yet, the provision of oil is a much more complicated economic matter of provisioning oil as a commodity under the general constraints of generalized commodity production (M-C-M). The problem of oil as a commodity presents another challenge to biopolitical theory. The biopolitics of the capitalist economy is often explored in general “macroeconomic” terms via statistical and calculative measures of “the economy” (see Miller and Rose 1990). As Timothy Mitchell (2011, 136) suggests, for economic thinkers like John Maynard Keynes, a new object of political calculation emerged that was based on dematerialized flows of money. This leads to all kinds of economic analyses of interventions in what was thought of as “the national economy,” in terms of aggregate general indicators of Gross National Product and inflation. Most biopolitical analyses of economic “life” have focused precisely on these general and statistical forms of intervention into the monetary field (e.g., social welfare systems and national accounting) (Miller and Rose 1990; Rose 1996; Dean 1999, 16). Yet, these kinds of analyses end up missing exactly what macroeconomic thought misses—capitalism as a system structured by generalized commodity production for profit and the uneven distribution of wealth and power. It is striking to consider that for all the talk of “life” in biopolitical debates, very few bring up the fact that access to life under capitalism for most people is mediated by the wage relation (see Mann 2007). Workers only make a living insofar as they exchange their time and energy for wages that can be exchanged indirectly for the means of life itself. As long as workers rely on wages for life they are compelled to work in the service of valorization for capital (Marx [1867] 1976, 724). As Karl Marx shows, the establishment of wage labor is not automatic, but must continually be

Oil for Life   35 reproduced through various interventions that make “life” possible only though the wage. This is why Michel Aglietta (1979, 45), founder of the Regulation school of French Marxism, presented the wage relation as “the fundamental relation defining the capitalist mode of production.” His entire theory of twentieth-century accumulation in the United States hinged on the various social and political institutions that served to regularize the wage relation—most important, the emergence of a “new mode of life for the wage earning class” based on a “social consumption norm” (71).1 In fact, the Regulation school’s focus on the forms of regularization that lend the wage relation social coherence has family resemblances to Foucault’s theories of biopolitics. For example, Foucault (2003, 246–47) describes biopolitics as “a matter of taking control of life and biological processes of man-as-species and of ensuring that they are not disciplined, but regularized. . . . I would call [this] the power of regularization.” Interestingly Jessop and Sum (2005, 16) suggest that the French translation of “regulation” is better understood as the English word “regularization.” Again, this should not just mean the regularization of strictly “biological” phenomena, but bodily practices that constitute the geography of life sketched out above. One of the essential aspects of this process is ensuring the regularization of the market itself so that specific commodities central to the wage relation are abundant at (relatively) cheap and stable prices to “achieve overall states of equilibrium and regularity” (Foucault 2003, 246). As a commodity, oil is precisely one of the select mass commodities that must be understood as central to the Fordist wage relation. Aglietta (1979) acknowledges the importance of cheap energy (194), but, more important, isolates housing and automobiles as the central pillars of postwar Fordist mass consumption (159). Other regulationists have laid out the importance of institutional supports in the housing market as underlying the postwar suburbanization boom (Florida and Jonas 1991). I will similarly examine the institutional basis of the postwar oil market. Indeed, as the chaos of the oil market often demonstrates, the production and stable provision of oil is never automatic and must confront difficulties posed by liberal governance. The biopolitics of a “free market” has to constantly walk the tightrope that Foucault (2008a, 39) claims plagues all forms of liberalism focused on “the self-limitation of governmental reason.” Governance must distance itself from the quasi-natural market realm. For liberalism, “The problem becomes how to set juridical limits to the exercise of power by a public authority” (ibid.). Understood in biopolitical terms,

1.  Aglietta was less explicit regarding how this “new mode of life” was itself highly exclusionary on the basis of race, gender, and geography.

36  Matt Huber the oil market is continually struggling with precisely where those limits should exist. In order to fully grasp the problematic of the oil market itself, some background and context on the legal geography of oil in the United States is required.

Subterranean Resources and the Problem of Property Much of the “mythology” of oil emerges from the specific property relations that allow access to extraction (see both Yessenova and Appel, this volume). Where states “own” the subsurface, oil becomes a “magical” substance leading to dreams of development. Unlike most parts of the world where subsoil resources are the property of the state, in the United States subsurface mineral rights are the property of private landowners on nonpublic lands. In order for oil to be produced as a commodity, the first question is how to delimit property rights over a resource that is not only subterranean but also liquid and mobile. On the one hand, no oil producer or landowner could ever be sure how much oil existed underneath the surface of a particular property, and, on the other hand, that very oil had the unruly capacity to migrate across property lines. This conundrum was solved by a legal decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1889 named “the rule of capture” (Zimmerman 1957, 91–100). The court likened petroleum to a “fugitive” substance that, like “wild game,” moves below the surface of the earth, and declared that “if an adjoining, or even a distant, owner drills his own land, and taps your gas, so that it comes into his well and under his control, it is no longer yours, but his” (Thorton 1918, 43). The decision was handed down during the peak of a kind of “prospector capitalism” (cf. R. Walker 2001, 178–79) where legal systems were installed with the express purpose of incentivizing the discovery and production of resources. As a consequence, petro-mythologies quite different than in archetypical petro-states (Ross 2012) pathologized by the resource curse—competition, independence, and entrepreneurialism—are the traits that lead oil wildcatters to achieve oil wealth for themselves and the private landowners who lease the subsurface to them. The fundamental challenge of the U.S. legal infrastructure is that the geographies of private property and oil deposits never overlapped. Any particular deposit was overlaid with hundreds of landowners who believed oil wealth could be extracted from their property. But the fugitive nature of oil meant that any adjacent or distant property owner could legally drain oil from underneath their property. Quite predictably, the discovery of any oil deposit led to a wild race by all nearby property owners to beat their neighbors to the oil. This chaotic competition led to tremendous amounts of physical waste—haphazard production techniques;

Oil for Life   37 oil was stored in nearby pits; explosions and accidents were frequent (see Zimmerman 1957). The rule of capture also ensured that for much of its history the U.S. oil market was constantly threatened by overproduction because booms of production and investment were made without regard for the overall demand for petroleum. Threats of overproduction led to tremendous price volatility within the oil market for much of its history (Libecap 1989; Retort 2005, 59), a crisis that culminated in 1930 with the largest oil discovery in the lower forty-eight states taking place in east Texas. It could not have come at a worse time given the onset of the Great Depression and the general decrease in demand for petroleum products. The production from east Texas soared out of control as the many independent operators produced as much as possible, in total disregard of the state’s conservation laws (the province of the Texas Railroad Commission). In fact, in 1931, as oil prices plummeted to as low as 10 cents/ barrel—$1 was seen as the baseline for profitable production—the ineffectiveness of the Texas Railroad Commission led the states of Oklahoma and Texas to declare “martial law” and send in National Guard troops to shut down production at gunpoint (Huber 2011). It proved to be a stopgap measure; eventually, the use of “martial law” was deemed unconstitutional in 1932 (Mills 1960). Without the threat of state violence, the ineffectiveness of the Texas Railroad Commission persisted and shortly thereafter production from east Texas soared once again. By the time Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, the oil market was once again in disarray. FDR understood the biopolitical significance of oil to the “life of the population”: “The nation is dependent upon its petroleum resources, in peace and in war, in its comforts and in its necessities. The Nation must, therefore, always be concerned with the protection and utilization of these God-given sources of wealth and these necessary supplies of its industrial and domestic life” (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library 1934). Along with electricity, oil provided the energetic basis for a new vision of “the American way of life” in the 1930s based on state supports for widespread automobility and suburbanization (Seiler 2008; Urry and Kingsley 2009). FDR appointed his interior secretary, Harold Ickes, to bring the producing states, oil companies, and landowners together to forge a solution. Ickes also understood the biopolitical significance of oil to the New Deal project at large: “It is obvious that oil cannot continue to be sold at ten cents a barrel without grave results to the oil industry and to the general economic situation in the country” (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library 1933, emphasis added). The conundrum of a liberal biopolitics of the oil market was devising a system that in effect intervened in the oil market to align production with demand without violating the foundational tenets of liberal capitalism itself.

38  Matt Huber The Scalar Fix and the Bureau of Mines The 1930s are known not simply as a crisis of the oil market, but as a wider crisis of capitalism—the Great Depression. Certainly much of the “recovery” effort was focused on macroeconomic policy tools—currency stabilization and fiscal stimulus—but almost as important was the ideological rescue of the legitimacy of capitalism. Ideological recovery required mitigating the inherently destructive and crisis-prone nature of capital (e.g., ruinous competition) without violating the socioinstitutional bases of capitalism itself. Although simple state ownership and central planning could solve many problems with relative ease, that approach was rejected; the puzzle was to concoct a much more complex system of indirect mechanisms to bring market stability along with the appearance of private property and competition. In this respect, the oil market was no different from other sectors in collapse—housing, manufacturing, and the labor market. Through trial and error, and with varying degrees of success and failure, the New Deal was a project to use state power to rescue capitalism from itself. The goal was to construct the appearance of a stable oil market. The crisis of the oil market was structured by a set of conflicting scales—the scale of private property, the scale of the oil deposit, the scale of “state” sovereignty over resources, and the scale of an emerging national focus on economic health and renewal. Ickes made clear the national stakes of oil stabilization: “[We need] a unified and effective system of stabilizing production to keep it balanced with our national consumer demand” (New York Times 1934). Some in the “unitization” movement argued that conservation of the nation’s petroleum relied on elimination of the rule of capture and the rational management of petroleum deposits as single units or scales (see Yergin 1991, 220–23). Others believed the only solution was the nationalization of oil resources and the orderly management of supply and demand. Perfectly logical in the abstract, such solutions completely violated some of the most cherished ideals of the liberal capitalist order in the United States—private property and states’ rights. The idea of centralized, collective management of oil pools as a natural unit was, in Zimmerman’s words, a “drastic and large scale departure from the basic principles of maximum freedom for individuals” (Zimmerman 1957, 345). One editorial from Dallas went so far as to claim that “doubtless the states . . . have permitted oil to be wasted. But even the finest conservation plans are not worth the sacrifice of the rights of the states” (Dallas Morning News 1939).2 The solution could not be so simple as unitization or nationalization, but rather a more complicated “scalar fix” (N. Smith 1995). The bedrock

2. Editorial, Dallas Morning News, November 24, 1939.

Oil for Life   39 of this system was granting ultimate authority to the states themselves to curtail production—or prorationing—within their own territories. The Texas Railroad Commission and other “conservation” agencies in Oklahoma and Louisiana installed complex programs that set lease-by-lease allowables on a monthly basis. Yet states by themselves could not ensure the “equilibrium and regularity” of the national oil market as a whole. Broader scales of governance were required. First, in 1935, the Interstate Oil Compact Commission (IOCC) was formed among New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Illinois. Due in large part to Texas’s stout insistence on state sovereignty, this organization had no teeth, but rather served a more informal purpose as a “discussion club . . . [that] subtly influences, promotes harmony among heterogeneous elements, and creates a favorable environment for understanding and collaboration” (Zimmerman 1957, 209). Second, Texan senator Tom Connally wrote and organized support for the Connally Hot Oil Act in 1935, which institutionalized the Federal Tender Board that had sent agents to east Texas to monitor and control the flow of what was called “hot oil,” or oil produced in excess of the state conservation limits and moved illicitly through backdoor channels of commerce. Finally, an administrative arm of the Department of Interior, the federal Bureau of Mines (BOM), compiled monthly forecasts of petroleum demand as “a guide to assist in the proper balance between production and consumption in the interests of conservation” (National Resources Committee 1939, 401). Although the projections were carefully not represented as production recommendations, it was well known that they served as the basis of the allowables set by the state conservation agencies. For example, in congressional testimony Texas conservation authorities asserted that “Texas has always produced all of the oil that has been indicated as needed by the Bureau of Mines in its monthly certified estimates of crude needed for the current month, month by month” (United States Senate 1948, 3156). The manner in which the BOM arrived at these projections is a classical form of Foucault’s (1991b, 99) discussion of statistics in emerging forms of biopower: “[statistics] gradually reveals that population has its own regularities, its own rate of death and diseases, its cycles of scarcity, etc.” Described as a “purely factual service” that is “unbiased and scientific” (National Resources Committee 1939, 402), the regularities under examination were patterns of oil consumption in the emerging postwar capitalist order. They estimate the aggregate demand for motor fuel by “automobiles, stationary engines, motor boats, cleaning establishments, etc.” (403). Given that automotive consumption represented a large amount of this total, Chief Economist Alfred White claimed that demand “can be forecast with a comparatively high degree of accuracy. . . . The

40  Matt Huber number of motor vehicles in use is calculated monthly, and the figure is divided into the daily average motor fuel demand to obtain the daily average motor fuel demand per motor vehicle” (403). The BOM also needed to take into account the seasonal fluctuations in demand for heating oil during the winter months. A given barrel of crude oil can only yield so much middle-fraction heavy oil distillates and the refining process necessarily produced an excess supply of gasoline, which had to be stored until the higher demand in the summer months. Given that “forecasts must be based on normal weather conditions” (National Resources Committee 1939, 403), the practice of biopolitics was always subject to error and revision given the vagaries of weather. Finally, estimates for exports, fuel losses, and so on are compiled. Collectively, these methods provided “the final figure for the national market demand for domestic crude” (404). All such calculations are in essence based on a particular vision of the life of the population: specifically, a geography of life itself that was subject to accurate prediction through statistics on the number of registered automobiles and oil-burning furnaces in operation. The efforts of the BOM along with the state prorationing agencies combined, in effect, to stabilize prices and oil markets throughout most of the postwar era (Libecap 1989). In fact, their effectiveness was an inspiration for the formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting States (OPEC) in 1960 by countries that wished to achieve similar control over the global oil market (Yergin 1991, 259). The concern was a proper balance between high enough prices to keep much of the high-cost independent producers profitable (and thus provisioning commodities through the logic of M-C-M'), but low enough prices to allow for the postwar boom in demand spurred by mass suburbanization. The result was not cheap oil but cheap enough oil. In short, demand itself became the edifice on which “conservation” policy was set. State conservation agencies always claimed to prevent—in the words of the Texas conservation statute—“the production of crude petroleum oil in excess of . . . reasonable market demand” (quoted in Lovejoy and Homan 1967, 130, emphasis added). Demand’s very reasonability was, of course, internally related to the emerging postwar oil consumption order. The construction of the Fordist wage relation was tied to “regimes of living” through which single-family homes, automobiles, and innumerable petroleum products were increasingly equated with “life” itself. Demand was naturalized, and “conservation” focused only on wasteful production methods.

“That Is All This Is; An Information Service” Following World War II, there were shortages of multiple petroleum products. As is typically the case in twentieth-century oil politics, a shortage of

Oil for Life   41 oil produces a flurry of debate and struggle over the status of the oil market. Although Mitchell (2011) has recently linked oil with mainstream visions of the market—from Keynesian views of “the economy” to the 1970s oil crisis as a textbook case of “supply and demand”—the wider and more popular view of the oil market is how it constantly violates the norms of the market. From Ida Tarbell’s (1904) exposé of Standard Oil to Anthony Sampson’s (1975) sinister portrayal of the supermajors in The Seven Sisters, oil has always been subject to a particular populist critique of oil monopolies and other anticompetitive forces that obtain undue control over the oil market, manipulating prices for their own excessive profits against the interest of consumers and the small oil producer (see Olien and Olien 2000). Therefore, rather than providing a basis for the hegemony of the market, oil more often provides a field of contestation over the appearance of antimarket forces. The work of oil biopolitics hinges on the ability of a variety of sociopolitical forces to defend against these accusations and reconstruct a vision of the oil market—so central to life—as free, fair, and competitive. At issue was the competitive nature of the oil market itself. In the context of the fuel shortages of the immediate postwar era, several hearings were held by a special committee “to study the problems of American small business” (United States Senate 1948). The committee voiced serious concerns over the nature of oil market control enacted by institutions described above. The committee’s special counsel, Paul Hadlick, filed a research report on the system of “oil control” with dramatic conclusions: “The platform thus built to control the production of crude oil was a sturdy one. It is practically airtight, bolstered by many State laws, two Federal statutes, and generous appropriations for the Interior Department to give aid. Such activity, were it done by private industry alone, would be the most gigantic conspiracy of modern history” (United States Senate 1948, 3110). With this background, the committee took quite a hostile approach in the hearings toward the entire proration system. The interrogation of the chief economist of the Bureau of Mines, Alfred White—the man who had overseen the petroleum demand forecasts since their inception in 1935—fundamentally called into question the proper role of government in the realm of the market. The struggle between White and his interrogators was fundamentally about the nature of oil as a central commodity for the life of the population. The executive director of the committee referred to the demand projections as “the amount that would be required to sustain our economy and keep our people comfortable” (United States Senate 1948, 3146). The committee charged that White had kept demand projections low so as to induce shortages and ultimately raise prices. The chairman of the committee further suggested that if the Bureau simply raised their demand projections, more oil would be available to “furnish it to the domestic

42  Matt Huber people that have been complaining to us of freezing this winter, and to farmers who want tractor oil for tractors, and to the people, who want gasoline” (3155). White attempted to justify the demand projections as providing stability for consumers: “Over a long period of time a fair price to the consumer undoubtedly is a major objective. Whether an industry that overproduces and its prices drop down for a few months and come back again higher than ever, whether that is an advantage to the consumer is a question that I think ought to be answered by you” (3147). In other words, the various forms of oil control served to stabilize the prices of a key commodity; such stability was part and parcel of the larger process of regularizing life for the consumer. Clearly the crux of the matter was whether or not oil was seen as a commodity whose price was determined through the market processes of supply and demand—rather than through bureaucratic manipulation. Hadlick charged that oil prices were an outcome of state intervention in the market: “Had we had competition instead of a pattern of planned economy here, maybe we would have had the oil and maybe we would still have had a fair price” (United States Senate 1948, 3148). Oil conservation policy was forged as an indirect mechanism to stabilize prices, but this of course violated the entire logic of the free market system. As Lovejoy and Homan (1967, 282) put it, “The whole system of conservation regulation is designed to prevent market competition.” This being said, the state officials at multiple scales all attempted to distance themselves from any interest in or impact on prices. Texas Railroad Commissioner Ernest Thompson once quipped in testimony, “We have nothing to do with price. . . . I know nothing about price” (quoted in Lovejoy and Homan 1967, 240). In the same hearings in which White testified, Earl Foster of the IOCC oddly began his testimony by proclaiming that the IOCC “has no power. . . . It attempts in no way to tell any individual or any State what they can do or what they cannot do. It is based, in my opinion upon the theory of American democracy that the least government is the best government.” As Rose (1996, 39) suggests, liberal governmental reason is about carving out “the necessary limits of political authority” and the clear limit of these agencies is the direct control of prices. For Alfred White, his long interrogation represented an often breathless attempt to position the role of the BOM as simply a provider of information furnished by objective forms of scientific expertise: “I think it is rather untenable to assume that forecasts that are primarily furnishing the best information possible are slavishly followed by anybody. They take it as information. . . . That is all this is; an information service” (United States Senate 1948, 3148, emphasis added). White was constantly forced to make the point that this information did not represent a mandatory control of production: “our estimates are not necessarily about control

Oil for Life   43 of production” (3161). Interestingly, White was at pains to point out cases where the states did not follow the demand estimates—thereby proving that such choices are subject to market competition and not bureaucratic directives. White provided a table (see table 1.1) illustrating the variation between demand projections and actual demand to illustrate a larger point that the projections do not necessarily equal real demand and thus cannot be seen as the bedrock of production control. Again, the regularization of the life of the population through the wage relation requires maintaining one of the basic prerequisites of capitalist social relations—access to life itself must be mediated by the commodity form. At stake in the controversy over the Bureau of Mines was whether or not these various biopolitical forms of state intervention annulled oil’s status as a commodity. Of course, maintaining oil’s status as a commodity is not only important for consumers; it is even more vital to those oil producers who wish to control the wealth and profit from its production. The oil market really has never been “free” in any sense (see both Watts, chapter 10, and Johnson, this volume). From Standard Oil to the Bureau of Mines, from OPEC to current financial speculations in oil futures, control over oil and the distribution of wealth therein has always been marked by struggles between a variety of political and economic forces. For one, the material dependence on petroleum products is marked by a vast and complex sociotechnical infrastructure connecting upstream to downstream. Yet, perhaps more difficult than the mere logistical challenges of getting oil from the wellhead to the consumer is the construction of the

Table 1.1. Demand for crude petroleum: Actual and projected by the Bureau of Mines (thousands of barrels per day)


Bureau of Mines forecast

Actual demand

1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947

2,869 3,346 3,382 3,464 3,583 3,850 3,846 4,088 4,589 4,736 4,650 4,986

3,072 3,458 3,406 3,556 3,635 3,892 3,825 4,112 4,649 4,706 4,735 5,084

Source: United States Senate 1948, 3149–50.

44  Matt Huber appearance of an oil market that conforms to capitalist norms of fair competition, private property, and free markets. After all, society’s material dependence on oil has been problematized only quite recently. From the very beginning the central conundrum with oil was always the uncompetitive forms through which it is provisioned. The construction of oil as necessary for the life of the population ensures that specific biopolitical forms of governance will actively produce the conditions through which the availability of oil as a commodity is normalized. Despite charges of its role in a “planned economy,” the Bureau of Mines in the postwar American petroleum economy represented a major aspect of the biopolitics of capitalist life mediated by the wage relation. Out of the wreckage of market failure during the Depression, oil was made available at cheap (enough) and stable prices. This stability helped lock in the geography of postwar oil-fired capitalism as a natural byproduct of freedom and the American dream. It helped construct a generalized vision of life subsumed within the language of capital—the commodities, debt (and mortgages), and wages that make it all possible. We are still living with the legacy of the postwar entrenchment of oil, and it is oil’s historical embeddedness that makes it so difficult to “quit” for even its most vocal critics, such as Mary Richert and Bill McKibben. But we are also now living through a period where the oil market cannot be constructed as anything “stable.” The dependence of life on oil is seen today as precarious not only because of ecological crisis (the reason Mary Richert and Bill McKibben protest), but also because of another central dynamic in the oil assemblage, namely the chaotic volatility of the oil market (see both Watts, chapter 10, and Guyer, this volume). Volatility reveals the instability of social reproduction based on a capitalist oil market. In an era of eroding economic security, rising energy costs alongside record corporate profits have animated most popular contestation of the oil market. Whereas market stability solidified oil hegemony, this contemporary instability should be seen as a political opportunity to destabilize the narratives of inescapable addiction. It not only makes it seem necessary for us to shake our oil addiction in purely material or technical terms, it should also allow us to question the basic capitalist assumption that life is only realizable through the commodity form.

Chapter 2

Velocity and Viscosity Peter Hitchcock, City University of New York

There have been many attempts to come to grips with modernity’s most recognizable and axiomatic economic feature: a rapid intensification of productive capacity honed not just to raise living standards but to divide those standards on the basis of ownership or not of the means of production. Of course, there are numerous ways to measure modernity’s presence. One approach that interests me, and is indeed at the heart of this collection, is the oil standard or oil standards: the degree to which forms of power, and one fossil fuel in particular, generate socialization as such. This is a rich tradition that includes Coronil’s The Magical State (1997), Watts and Kashi’s Curse of the Black Gold (2010), and Apter’s The Pan-African Nation (2005). In this volume, Matt Huber’s discussion in particular is clearly of this ilk, although, as Rebecca Golden Timsar shows in her contribution, regional variations can be decisive and instructive in their own right. With oil standards come a whole host of complex logics of economic and political imbrications that both confirm the speed of modernity yet also ask questions of the nature of its inertia—the way a specific modality of socialization sticks around. Oil standards also remind us of one of the first and biggest oil conglomerates, Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller’s creation, whose name meant to convey a long-standing trust and dependability in the product but, true to the antinomies of oil and modernity in the discourse and division of ownership, was actually set up as an exclusionary, monopolistic trust (the Standard Oil Trust) that simply made Rockefeller’s consumers dependent on him. Here we are less interested in the individual biographies of the industry than in this fateful conjunction of oil and modernity itself, the

46  Peter Hitchcock standards of oil rather than a standard reading of oil, within a rubric that I  will explore, both at the aesthetic and material level, of viscosity and velocity. What is it about oil (here crude oil or petroleum) that makes it appear synonymous with modernity and, concomitantly, what elements of modernity find in oil their most trusted and dependent catalyst of modernization? Although there are easy answers based on what we expect from modernity and what oil provides as a commodity in the modern era, the synergies generally run much deeper and the predicament in their array offers no simple solution. Indeed, while much cultural theory, for instance, has long bathed in the logic of postmodernity, the philosophical and existential condition of modernity in which oil is precipitate has demonstrably increased its ability to saturate the socius (it appears part of “deep culture,” as Doug Rogers puts it in this volume). Obviously, it could be that oil is now simply postmodern or that the postmodern still exists within a singular modernity, as Jameson (2002) terms it, but we know the consequences of its predominance, even in the long tail that follows the “peak” of oil’s supply, which signals a crisis both in the meaning of modernity and in the nature of modernity’s abolition (which, in dialectical fashion, includes modernity’s abolition of nature). One of the ways in which oil’s master narrative of modernity can be deconstructed is to address the logic of its appeal, which is sedimented in its history, in its sociocultural effects, in its economic foundations, and even in its chemical and physical properties. Truth is certainly in trouble from a postmodern perspective and this may trouble the truth of oil. Nevertheless, from an economic and philosophical approach, oil secretes a paradoxical inertia that defies, to a great degree, enthusiastic attempts to overcome its hold on everyday life. The real of oil as subreption is the substance of the following analysis, which is less about its truth and more about the logic of attraction and addiction. Crude oil has intensified modernization like no other raw commodity; it has sped up its operative matrix in industrialization, urbanization, and circulation according to what we may discuss as relative velocity. But oil also embodies, both literarily and philosophically, a relative viscosity that can stick to an object or make it move, or both, a generic quality of both forward-looking rationalism and of a kind of recalcitrant traditionalism highly invested in the status quo (accepting these elements may be tantamount to the same thing). In fact, as we shall see, viscosity is not easily divided between stasis and change, and the conundrum of oil’s chemistry has thus several significant lessons for social and cultural critique struggling to exorcize the binaries of yesteryear. Pundits believe that oil is speeding us to the end of human species being. A study of oil’s viscosity and velocity does not necessarily contradict that view but aims, nevertheless, to provide a countercritique of its otherwise dialectical impossibilities in order to change the substance of commodity analysis and

Velocity and Viscosity   47 detranscendentalize its aesthetics. But what does it mean to highlight the inertia of oil? This function of oil’s standards can initially be accentuated by the pitch drop experiment.

The Oil Stick In 1927 a professor of physics at the University of Queensland, Thomas Parnell, set up an experiment to measure the viscosity of pitch or oil tar. The pitch was warmed and poured into a funnel, then allowed to settle for three years, at which point the sealed stem was severed and a record was a kept of when drops of pitch fell from the funnel’s base into a beaker below. The pitch drop experiment, as it is called, has proved fascinating to physicists interested in measuring variable viscosity and associated calculations. Pitch, it turns out, is extremely viscous at relatively stable, cool temperatures: since 1930 only eight drops of pitch have formed and fallen into the beaker; the last one took twelve years. Similar experiments have been conducted elsewhere but none over this length of time. We know that oil sticks around but this example offers a paradox of modernity in a fairly precise form. At projected levels of oil consumption Parnell’s pitch will still be dripping when most other sources of known oil reserves will have run dry. What scientists have learned of oil’s composition has both facilitated velocity on a world scale as a socioeconomic and political integer of power in various forms, but the practical applications and implications of its relationship to viscosity have been reduced to corresponding levels of efficiency rather than a sign of material limits and limitations more broadly construed. The pitch drop experiment brings into focus the impossible tension in modernity’s philosophy of extraction and exhaustion, between the durée of formation and the form of disappearance. Despite its charming provocation, however, the pitch drop experiment embodies a perverse teleology: its given viscosity ensures the pitch will drop eventually whereas, whatever the physical properties of oil, we cannot believe our narratives of modernity are driven by the same relation of force to inertia. And yet . . .

Absolute Oil The first antinomy of oil is its telescopic history, from the millions of years necessary to make a fossil fuel to the virtual nanosecond of its ignition in contemporary use. Even here, oil’s origination is disputed by creationists who are at pains to show that synthetic oil can be made in minutes, so why not oil beneath the ground? (On this point they answer both oil’s first

48  Peter Hitchcock antinomy and Immanuel Kant’s in the Critique of Pure Reason and yet also, in a sense, confirm his skepticism.) The difference between the genesis and the catagenesis of fossil fuels is enormous, but oil nevertheless retains the “theological niceties” of the commodity as Marx described them and indeed might be said to proffer their apotheosis. Oil requires a specific logic of temporality in its understanding, and it is worth considering its operative time as another vital measure of its complex inertia. Telescopic history, as an antinomy, compels an otherwise abstruse appreciation of durée, for which we will use the term “absolute.” This concept cuts across the infinite, not just as a measure of tension between theological and Enlightenment reason but as a symptom of time’s abstraction for a material that preexists the human by many millennia. Oil, of course, is empirically verifiable but the moment of its formation, its catagenesis, is pure estimation. One would have to know the thing in itself to apprehend its appearance, an appearance that is not itself the substance of the idea, but its idea as a substance. The time of oil must be coordinated with its absolute which, because of its theological and material propinquity, might better be called ab-solution, the cancellation of a temporal punishment, as if the thing in itself knows the harm that it can cause. I am tarrying with the negative of oil as absolute not simply to mix its materiality with the philosophical idea of its materiality but to draw attention to the temporal fix of oil as substance in its substantiality: the sharp difference between duration in formation and the instance of its use. Even if in 150 years we have not used up more than half of the oil that has lain beneath the ground or oceans for fifty million years, the temporal disjunction is stark and irrefutable. Yet this real of oil sticks with us, it is ineluctable and compulsive, and our solution is absolution, absolving ourselves for something that sustains yet abstains us (but perhaps remains a stain in both modalities). One problem of oil is that it is much easier to think its instant than its abstraction, which would otherwise reveal its temporal limit for human history. Yes, we know it is not for all time but we must not know it in order to secure its extraction for the present. In a foreboding sense, modernity means that oil must be used up: oil must be reduced to nothing in its transformation into power and commodities. Modernity does not produce something from nothing; rather, in its abstruse relation to nature and species being, it must exploit resources to the point of their absence, to a determinate position of nothingness, and what remains of this transformation is a measure of violent reduction, or distillation, even as it might perform a material expansion or widening of productive capacity. What may start out as fanciful is deeply implicated in the philosophical foundations of modernity. This does not mean a solution to absolution is necessarily a return to Kant and Hegel (or indeed to any faith that is not bound to a notion of absolution in the conventional sense), but that in the

Velocity and Viscosity   49 case of oil we face a specific impasse in commodity logic that is less about alternatives to modernity than about the conditions of modernity’s sublation itself. On this level, there may be oil futures but there is no oil future (see Watts, chapter 10, and Johnson, this volume).

Extension Modernity mixes revolution and revulsion; or, as Jürgen Habermas once put it: “Modernity revolts against the normalizing functions of tradition; modernity lives on the experience of rebelling against all that is normative. This revolt is one way to neutralize the standards of both, morality and utility. This aesthetic consciousness continuously stages a dialectical play between secrecy and public scandal; it is addicted to the fascination of that horror which accompanies the act of profaning, and is yet always in flight from the trivial results of profanation” (1981, 4). Habermas famously claimed modernity as an incomplete project, but its incompleteness can also be read as the new normative, as a kind of haunting of the present otherwise preoccupied with its expulsion (a revulsion with the modern that is an ideologeme within postmodernism). One insight into its extension is clearly through the economic conditions that have been its lifeblood. True, one can claim that as a revolutionary economic relation, capital can out-revolutionize the conditions of its emergence, and there are lots of ways in which capital appears to have achieved just this escape velocity (e.g., the virtualization of finance, the ethereality of postindustrialism, the miniaturization of production, the synthesizing of new substances). Yet if extension is to some extent displacement, that is, if the temporal logic has a spatial coordinate, we might look for the completion of modernity’s project elsewhere than in the more obvious signs of a sudden and at once paradoxical sclerotic normativity. Conversely, if modernity has been deemed to be overreached, this might be a function of its pervasiveness, a saturation to the point that it cannot be recognized: the ubiquity of the economic relation no longer permits perspective on it and the fullness of modernity rests in its transparency. Here the revelations of a commodity do not simply confirm the predations of that which is otherwise deemed absent, but provide insight into the structural logic that affords the spectral embrace of modernity’s absent/presence. That is to say, oil is a substance of modernity’s narrative mode; its tale is specific but ineluctably enmeshed. It is both the materialization of a semiotic chora at the heart of modernity and something of its tragic warning. Much to the chagrin of those for whom modernization is a spatial release from the strictures of time, the story of oil, as an unrenewable fossil fuel, has a beginning, middle, and end. Its absolute seems bound to some rather

50  Peter Hitchcock everyday elements of human existence, like death. If modernity is velocity there is something viscous inhibiting and contradicting the revolutions its speed inspires. And an appropriate name for this dialectic is oil.

A Slick History Another name, of course, is “slick,” which, as an adjective, could refer here to the apparent ease of oil’s omnipresence, its almost unspoken and cunning embrace of and in the everyday (down to the very keys I now press), and, as a noun, to the realm of oil’s unspeakable, the millions of gallons of crude oil that “leak” every year through accidents, technological failure, or sheer neglect. The slickness of oil is the promise of efficiency and efficacy and its most stubborn, visible sign of pollution, a pall of tar that sticks to all it finds. To the extent that together these senses of slick constitute an illegitimate totality the substance of oil might be said to evince Russell’s Paradox, but even if this were itself illegitimate we can at least hold to slick’s contronymical certainty, which demonstrates oil’s capacity to edify and arrest our worldly being. As a heuristic device, the contradictory meanings of slick provide a useful link between the speed and stasis of oil’s logic. Although identifying oil’s role in modernity in this way may also be deemed “slick” in another pejorative sense, I prefer to think of it as “resourceful” and as a counterlogic to the astute calculations of today’s oil industry. In general, the dialectics of viscosity and velocity determine slickness and slicks, however much the technological advances of the oil industry attempt to limit the most obvious material manifestation of the latter and obfuscate their indulgence in the former.

Oil’s Short History? Oil enters the narrative of capitalist modernity relatively late. The Industrial Revolution, driven by steam and coal, had achieved remarkable rates of productive capacity through rationalized divisions of labor, urbanization, and the factory system. Key technological advances such as the power loom had, by the middle of the nineteenth century, made Britain an economic behemoth and one on which Marx based his celebrated critique of political economy. In North America much of this dynamism had been duplicated and extended on the basis of plentiful raw materials. Oil, of course, was already utilized, but this was specifically whale oil, part of America’s first economy. An increasing problem became that the whale industry quickly overexploited its local productive capacity and, in competition with whaling industries across the globe, the price of whale oil, used

Velocity and Viscosity   51 principally for lighting, was pushed beyond the means of all but the richest Americans. Clearly, capital sought to overcome the limits structured by the logic of accumulation it fostered through land grabs, colonization, and imperialism, classic coordinates of increases in productive capacity. Such accumulation strategies were obvious in American expansion, but the advent of crude oil, part serendipity, part entrepreneurial zeal, dramatically changed the accumulative powers of industrialization. Early experiments to distill kerosene for lighting from pitch were successful but could not initially remedy the problems of the oil market. Yet salt well workers had for some time been drawing oil and gas as by-products as they sought to extract brine for evaporation into salt, and natural gas itself had already provided a lighting solution. Salt workers in Pennsylvania often complained that oil in the ground was spoiling their product as they tried to extract it, and Edwin Drake and George Bissell (whose Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company was already meeting demand for oil as medicine) wondered whether such oil could be sufficiently and efficiently drilled to capture the kerosene market. The Drake Well of 1859 was not the first to extract oil but the first to see oil drilling as a significant commodity concern in its own right. Eight years after Herman Melville published Moby Dick, the future of the whaling industry was more obstinately in doubt. Up to that point “rock oil” had been marketed very much like “snake oil” as a dubious panacea for all kinds of ailments. Kier’s Genuine Petroleum, for instance, was claimed to cure illnesses of the chest, windpipe, and lungs, and was used as a remedy for diarrhea, cholera, tuberculosis, and piles (hemorrhoids). The use of oil as or in medicine has a history as long as pitch (today, for example, an oil derivative, acetylsalicylic acid, is the active ingredient in many over-the-counter pain relievers), but it remains something of modernity’s Pharmakon, the troubling supplement that cures and kills. The mania begun by the Drake Well and Oil Creek turned quickly into a frenetic scramble for oil and fortunes were won and lost across the Appalachian Basin. The titles of oil songs of the 1860s underline the frenzy of competition: “Oil on the Brain,” “Oil Fever Gallop,” and “Crazy on Oil.” The madness, the rush, is typical and in general accentuates the symptomatic elements of economic passion in modernity. Yet the desire to exploit oil for illumination (Standard Oil originally made its millions from the lighting industry) would not in itself have powered American commerce so demonstrably were it not for the structural relations between the techné and the arché of capital as an economic logic. Indeed, it is precisely in the tension of the technological with productive forces that oil’s meaning for velocity and viscosity demonstrably emerges. While Appalachia was becoming the focus of oil’s agon, Marx was mapping out his project of political economy in the Grundrisse and certain sections are remarkably

52  Peter Hitchcock prescient given the limits to productive forces that oil would present and then attempt to overcome.

Petroleum Mobile The importance of viscosity and velocity in oil comes to rest in large part on its roles not just as commodity but as a lesson for the limits of circulation. Capital must move, literally and metaphorically, for expansion and accumulation to proceed. As Marx puts it in Notebook V of the Grundrisse, “The circulation of capital constantly lights itself anew, divides into its different moments, and is a perpetuum mobile” (Marx 1993, 516—Marx does not intend this, but simply as a mnemonic device, this reflects both on oil’s history of illumination and on the principles of fractional distillation in which crude oil is used up, its petroleum mobile). Furthermore, “In its circulation, capital expands itself and its path, and the speed or slowness of its circulation itself forms one of its intrinsic moments” (ibid.). Marx is concerned with the differences in what he calls the “space of time” between production and circulation, which is also a way to understand how money becomes capital becomes money (M-C-M', the general formula of capital). Extending this critique to “the velocity of turnover,” Marx sees speed in the business cycle as substituting for the volume of capital itself. But more than this, he begins to theorize the relationship of various forms of capital tied by the velocity of the circulation process in one with the duration of the production process in another. Typically, Marx draws from the spinning industry and he argues that hand spinning could no longer supply the requisite productive velocity to meet the demands of weaving machines: thus the latter determine precisely the advent of the spinning machine as a necessary adjunct. In itself this is not revelatory, but then Marx reads this back into the problem of circulation where velocity not only decides the relative differences of elements in the productive process but articulates how these constituents are separated in space (for this will naturally affect the duration of turnover). He comments, “Whether I  extract metals from mines [or oil from drilling] or take commodities to the site of their consumption, both movements are equally spatial. The improvement of the means of transport and communication likewise falls into the category of the development of the productive forces generally” (523). But improvement must also be calculated as a cost of circulation, a “qualitative process of value” (524). For Marx, in examining the myriad yet specific roles of capital as a relation in modernity, the question of circulation velocity to the very health of the productive capacities of the system of its relations becomes pivotal and leads to a classic statement on its logic: “The more production comes to rest on exchange

Velocity and Viscosity   53 value, hence on exchange, the more important do the physical conditions of exchange—the means of communication and transport—become for the costs of circulation. Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange—of the means of communication and transport—the annihilation of space by time—becomes an extraordinary necessity for it” (524). In order to understand the massive importance of oil to capital’s drive beyond every spatial barrier one has to track its points of contact with the operative logic of capital as relation, operations that depend precisely on the annihilation of space by time. Now obviously Marx is not writing about oil and these lines appear oblivious to the simultaneous crisis of illumination “lighting itself anew” on the other side of the Atlantic. On the one hand, one has to appreciate that Marx is honing a dialectical paradigm fluid enough to maintain its critical power toward the dynamism of capital that is its object (in other words, it requires relative velocity); on the other hand, no commodity could stand in for the complexity of that process so we should not be surprised that in Capital (particularly in volumes 1 and 2) these principles of production and circulation are not sketched in terms of the fate of oil or any single commodity in addressing spatial barriers, or to limits in the formation and circulation of capital that it represents. The point is to underline how the theoretical difficulty Marx was attempting to work out was being experienced in a specific space of capital accumulation. But the emergence of the oil industry does not confirm Marx’s elaboration so much as interrogate the spatial coordinates of his suppositions, because while every commodity is subject to the laws of relative velocity few commodities have in themselves been the basis for this velocity (see Watts, chapter 10, this volume). Could it be that the problem of oil is that it is not only insinuated in the map of capital circulation but is simultaneously the substance that draws it? This must also be an axis in our thoughts on futurity when oil can no longer describe it.

Rockefeller Moves Oil Initially, the technological impact of oil concerned how best to store it and transport it to its primary markets. Although barrels of any size proved useful (particularly those deployed in the whiskey industry), eventually it was decided to standardize to ensure delivery of correct amounts (in the United States this led to the forty-two gallon barrel). But given what we have just noted about circulation and transportation costs, the next technological and commercial element concerns how to move the barrels. Here the railroad industry provided cheaper transportation but also carved out competition in the refining industry, initially between

54  Peter Hitchcock Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The latter was where John D. Rockefeller was based and, seeing the margins in the oil business, he quickly went into partnership and bought an oil refinery. His first competitive advantage came through the economies of scale his large refinery afforded, shaving the production cost for kerosene from six cents to three cents, a price point that quickly froze out many other refiners. Shrewdly, Rockefeller used this advantage in ­volume/price to get special deals from the railroads even though legally their shipping cost was fixed (at one point Rockefeller’s “rebate” was 35% off the advertised cost). But getting rid of other refiners would be key, since then Rockefeller could address the main problem with America’s oil fever at that time, overproduction. This story is well known but clearly if Rockefeller could tamp down the volatility in oil prices by controlling kerosene at the point of production he would in effect suspend the impact of velocity in oil’s early business cycles. Interestingly, Rockefeller business practices initiated the first “oil war,” as his deliciously named South Improvement Company (the forerunner of Standard) was attacked as a symbol of monopoly capitalist excess (protesters renamed it “the great anaconda” for its tenacity in slow asphyxiation, another quality of the viscous slick). Gradually, however, he bought out or otherwise broke all of his proximate competitors so that by the end of the 1870s Rockefeller’s companies controlled 90% of U.S. refining capacity and had a workforce twice the size of the U.S. Army. Oil was shipped in Rockefeller railway tankers. Oil was refined in Rockefeller refineries. And oil was exported in Rockefeller’s own fleet of ships. Like Andrew Carnegie in steel, Rockefeller was reaping the profits of vertical integration. The Standard Oil Trust would eventually be broken by Teddy Roosevelt’s populism, but the virtues of vertical integration would not be lost on the oil industry, which has consistently tried to reproduce its efficiencies ever since (although through oligopoly or cartels rather than through Rockefeller’s more obviously distasteful winner-take-all approach). What Rockefeller’s practices permitted was a closer control over the rates of production, refining, and distribution. By adjusting the velocity of the process, in extraction and circulation, Standard Oil was able to manipulate pricing or at least to remove much of its guesswork from cycle to cycle. Indeed, one lesson from this is that rapidity needs a brake, or that by making the process more viscous, Rockefeller accentuated that intense speeds of exploitation were not always necessary. Such viscosity is often held to be the biggest argument against monopoly, but the history of industrialization shows time and again that companies need not actually enjoy monopolistic control to maximize profits from pricing. When David Harvey addresses the spatial fix in capitalist social relations it serves as an explanation for capitalist expansion across the globe: new space “fixes” the inefficiencies of old ones. But he also keeps another sense of “fix” in

Velocity and Viscosity   55 play, which is that capital is bound by certain spatial limits in its practices and cannot simply find space as it wants (there is also, of course, the drug correlative). Here again, discourses of velocity, in part derived from Marx, suggest that spatial barriers to accumulation can be deferred by increasing the rate of circulation, of capital, goods, and people, which is to a great extent the “fix” we live in now. The next limit to capital that Rockefeller faced was not the brake on his practices that came from the state (he actually made more money after the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust than before), but the discovery of oil in the South, particularly Texas, and in the West. Knowing of Rockefeller’s ability to choke competition, the new oil barons stirred up local resentment against Standard Oil’s predations, which soon affected the supplies of oil available for trade. Since the global demand for illumination was increasing these finds did not rapidly deflate the price per barrel. Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb, however, must have recalled what happened to whale oil when petroleum was discovered. Would sudden oil surpluses collapse the profitability of the industry?

Oil Moves Everything The shorthand answer to this question would be Henry Ford. Just at the moment when electric illumination could have idled oil wells across America, developments in the internal combustion engine and its deployment in a vehicle (the Germans led the way here, but the technology was quickly duplicated) provided a new source of demand. Again, it was not that research and development of mechanized vehicles had not occurred but the barrier to accumulation provided by electricity’s role in lighting pushed the oil industry to use a different fraction of its distillate, gasoline rather than kerosene. The difference in the velocity and form of modernity this move would provide cannot be overestimated. From the moment that oil was pressed into the role of the power behind velocity the laws of circulation begin to mutate and intensify, as if the leviathan that Marx described in terms of the factory had now grown carbon limbs and had spread exponentially across the globe. One can elaborate the speed of modernity through any number of processes of commodification and individual commodities, but no commodity has accelerated and defined the characteristic features of capitalism’s relations to modernity as has oil. Once oil was refined into practical petrol or gasoline, which would require cracking procedures to obtain sufficient octane (diesel, of course, is a related and important part of this genealogy, especially in the conversion of ships from steam power), it became both the object and the medium for intense circulation on an unprecedented scale. It would permit the movement of

56  Peter Hitchcock goods, services, and people within a fully globalized system and determine to a significant degree the relations among them. Spatial connections would be transformed by higher velocities, whether we consider this in terms of urban structure or in the grammar of imperial and colonial commandement. Time would annihilate space by contract and contraction. Oil would rapidly become the world’s preeminent traded commodity while informing the logic of trade itself. The age of oil does not begin with the first well, but with its direct and utter transformation of the meaning of velocity in the modern era. In some respects this might seem to confirm the inertia of Newtonian physics as an objective correlative of capital accumulation. If, according to Newton’s Second Law, we think of oil as a force and capital as the mass it moves, then the capacity of one will determine the velocity of the other according to its mass. Yet, according to such an analogy, one would also have to figure oil’s role as mass in such motion, its scalar quantity, which would mean that its function in speed would require differentiation between its potential force and its mass for capital. Obviously, these are imaginative criteria, not a practical approach to political economy (although clearly, one could begin by, say, considering the relationship between the oil used to power an oil tanker at sea and the oil it contains). Marx, in his mathematical calculations, never figured commodities in this way, but his interest in the symbolic in differential calculus, especially in relation to derivative functions, displays some of his acumen in connecting his thoughts on the logic of circulation in capital to scientific laws. The question of variables, the difference between a function of and a function in a quantity, can be traced across Marx’s manuscripts (and not just in his voluminous notes on mathematics), but is not generally used to connect narratives of capital with the capacity for movement that is at their base. Indeed, the role of relative velocity per se in the space–time configurations of capital has until recently been largely undertheorized in accounts of modernity, which is where the viscosity of thought meets its object.

Faster Coincidentally or not, in the wake of an accumulation crisis in the 1970s (one that pivots on oil and the fate of petrodollars) cultural theorists of modernity and postmodernity began to take the philosophical imprimatur of speed much more seriously, although this was almost always cast against an elaboration of spatial logic. The nexus between space and velocity here is relatively clear: analyses of space allowed one to fathom not just modernity’s globalization but also its segmentation and fragmentation. Close critique of spatial differentiation underlined the importance

Velocity and Viscosity   57 of rates of circulation in its production. Even relatively fixed assets in capitalist culture were subject to mobility: deindustrialization often left husks of factories, but with the advent of containerization it increasingly proved profitable to take them apart and reconstruct them elsewhere; thus, not only did the circulation of commodities speed up in late capitalism but also, in essence, their productive foundation. Notable studies of speed include those of Stephen Kern (2003), Cecelia Tichi (1996), Paul Virilio (1986), and Enda Duffy (2009) (the latter’s work articulates the differences in the other three and provides a vibrant critique of car culture and what he calls the adrenaline aesthetic—here, obviously, I  am interested in its material base). In general, the cultural and theoretical critiques of speed are about the deleterious effects of speeding up, of accelerating, especially when it comes to normative narratives of economic growth and expansion. Stephen Kern’s book, The Culture of Time and Space (2003), is probably the most provocative, since he looks at the ways in which various technological advances (the telephone, the automobile, the cinema) and “independent cultural developments” (the stream-of-consciousness novel, Cubism, psychoanalysis) redefined people’s sense of time and space from 1880 to 1918—in other words, in the period immediately following the discovery and mass production of oil. Kern’s thesis is that because time and space are categories of experience that are universally shared we can use their experience to differentiate ages and their cultures. This approach works remarkably well for a sense of Geist, or general cultural coordinates, at any one moment. Indeed, if we think of modernism as sets of interrogative explorations based on common cultural perceptions, one can constellate its various cultural producers across any number of artistic forms and media. Yet the abstract connections to be made in modernism form only one arc in the discourses of modernity in which they are enmeshed. Thus, Kern accepts it on faith that new modes of transportation facilitated urbanization and suburbanization at increased rates, but he makes no attempt to read this in terms of the regimes of work these formations ground. And when he suggests that political movements, like artistic ones, question all forms of outdated hierarchization we would also have to know more about the seeds of their concretization than the fact that they might read technological change politically (see V. I. Lenin on electricity, for instance). Similarly, when advancing the appreciable assumption that differences in space perception led European nations to the First World War, one might have at least considered what they viewed as constitutive of state stability at that time. Asserting that the “sheer rush of events” (260) facilitated by forms of electronic communication pushed the factions to war is overly brusque regarding geopolitical strategy; if the question is about speed, then trench warfare seemed to slow it considerably. I am not saying that one merely substitutes a commodity for the technological changes

58  Peter Hitchcock it grounds and then the abstractions of space, time, and speed become clear, but commodity critique does help, nevertheless, to fathom how rates of circulation might inflect the basic constituents of social and historical understanding. Speed is certainly dangerous in this regard, and oil both lubricates and inhibits the relative rates it proffers (both in its physical properties and in its meanings as a traded commodity). Virilio, perhaps more than any other critic, reads velocity in terms of circulation in modernity although, because this is Virilio, the conclusions he draws are as fast as the concept that is their possibility. In Speed and Politics (1986), Virilio calls his approach “dromology” (from the Greek for racecourse), and while much of what I am doing here is exploring homology in dromology with oil as its cognate, it is important to stress the philosophical power that Virilio affords speed. Modernity is nothing if not on the move, and in Virilio’s work this has been expressed as “habitable circulation” in which living space is drawn between cities, the countryside, and their transportational links. Given oil’s presence in transportation, roads, and all the plastics, paints, and manufactured fibers of everyday life, I read it as both constitutive in a hegemonic way of “habitable circulation” and as a founding substance of its relative velocity. For his part, Virilio is particularly attentive to velocity’s role in the workings of war machines (see Pure War [1988]) and the specificities of its techné, which obviously extends into technologies of the virtual, the instantaneous, and the part played by computation in the distribution of commodities and peoples, in bar codes, in passports, and so forth). But just as Kern eschews political economy for its cultural articulations so Virilio seems to place the cart before the horse when speed subjects the factory to the “dictatorship of movement” (101). The form of the factory privileges speed, as Marx reminds us, to maximize value extraction: speed is its necessity not the other way around. Similarly, when Virilio asks, “Can asphalt be a political territory?” (30), he might have thought, in addition to the street, about the commodity economy that makes it, its rather literal Grund. Speed is not just the acceleration of urban space but a political economy of velocity afforded by the exploitation of oil. True, it is never oil alone, but the point would be to understand speed’s varying rates across the conditions of its possibility, because this is also, to a great degree, why it is so hard to decrease speed as an axiom of contemporary circulation. Subtract the material base of speed and its aesthetics and abstraction are subject not only to passionate hyperbole but to the elision of its constitutive limits, the spaces in which its force breaks down or otherwise subverts its intended efficiencies. To base one’s critique of speed on the logic of its regulation is salutary, and Virilio is able to elaborate all kinds of provocative implications to our understanding of the urban and the forms of the political that it may serve. When Thomas Friedman (2005) sketches

Velocity and Viscosity   59 the parameters of a “flat world” for neoliberal, capitalist globalization he takes the speed of modernity as basically frictionless, a space in which circulation is well oiled and slippery. Virilio doubts triumphalism of this kind in the extreme, but he also advances a view of the state bound less by structural logic and more by scales of speed, or “logistics.” Friction here, or viscosity, depends less on the contradictions of state formation, the difference between its representation and representationality, than it does on the velocity of its operational ability, its efficiency as a war machine, for instance. True to his consumption aesthetics, oil would I suppose calibrate efficiency for Virilio, although obviously this does not mean he endorses the wars it fuels. What changes velocity in his conception pivots more on accidents or catastrophic consequences rather than on some form of organized opposition or resistance. We can certainly locate accidents and catastrophes in oil’s story (Watts, this volume); indeed, they are immanent to its meaning for modernity and normative narratives of “progress.” The problem is, however, that by leaving out any sense of production and its attendant labor, social alternatives to oil’s flow are smothered by spectacular effects, which is not that inconsistent with the ideological thrust of the oil industry itself (for whom such “exceptions” are the cost of maximizing value abstraction).

Vaults of Value Viscosity at this level both acknowledges the necessity to think the speed of modernity’s delirium while reflecting on its antinomies, the material substantiation of its inertia (reflection, like Walter Benjamin’s passionate flanerie before the arcades in its own moment). If capitalism is hamstrung by the quality and timing of spatial fixes the viscosity of oil reminds us that chronotopes of the commodity are structural symptoms of its limits. There are many ways to explicate the pertinence of inertial logic in this regard, but here I will close with another brief example that complements the pitch drop experiment I invoked earlier. Oil tankers that dwarf those of Rockefeller’s fleet are constantly crossing the globe. Some are designed to fit strategic canals but many are giants of the oceans, moving vaults of value. Because of their mass, laden oil tankers are hard to start and stop (indeed, once at speed, a tanker may require dozens of nautical miles to stop). While these behemoths track the resource hegemonies of the contemporary world system, however, another relative velocity is at work. The contracts for the oil on board can be exchanged, repackaged, and resold several hundred times while the commodity is at sea (see Johnson, this volume). Because of contract volatility and, it has to be said, both crude and sophisticated manipulations of the price of oil, the contracts derived

60  Peter Hitchcock from the cargo far exceed in value what is realized in the commodity itself (for Marx this would be the differential immateriality in materiality). The notion of speed we can derive from oil’s physical qualities, the derivatives from oil, stand in sharp contrast to the ab-solution of financialization, the transaction of oil derivatives. In fact, however, these velocities stick to one another, whatever the degree of relative autonomy, and we need to think them together to undo the inevitabilities of their logic, which itself is determinate in the pressing forms of the political and economic that is their solution. Only 150 years ago Rockefeller’s “trust” was in monopolizing refining capacity because of a capitalist fear of the price effects of overabundant supply. That this oil standard has not left the major oil companies is easy to gainsay despite the fact that the specter of diminishing reserves before increased demand is a formula for abundant profit. Rather than simply recount these facts, the remarks offered here seek to elaborate the relationship of oil to modernity by reading its properties as themselves symptoms of the antinomy modernity represents. But is this not in itself an example of subreption whereby what is constitutive of oil is confused with modernity’s calibration of things in themselves? Oil’s role in viscosity and velocity does not yield philosophical principles as such but the abstraction of both does throw light on the socioeconomic inertia that is oil’s own categorical imperative in the modern era. The philosophical discourses of speed, of which Virilio’s work is a prescient example, are vital in understanding manifestations of acceleration for the social. Yet viscosity is also crucial in this regard, not because of its function as a mere variable of speed’s efficiency but because it exists as a conceptual clue to the challenges facing attempts to think differently in the face of modernity’s compulsions. At this level, such an approach is a necessary subreption when considering the metaphysical and theological niceties of oil as the dominant commodity of our time. For such reflections to be more than that would require not just an elaboration of the philosophical foundations of viscosity beyond its illusion for modernity but a recognition of its material base for the sublation of modernity in general. It is at that point that any standard oil narrative is transformed.

Chapter 3

Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals Douglas Rogers, Yale University

Oil as a material substance has a great many qualities. It is flammable. It can be “light” or “heavy” depending on viscosity and “sweet” or “sour” depending on sulfur content. It is liquid and mobile—“fluid and fugitive,” as this volume’s editors put it. Which of oil’s many “bundled” (Keane 2003) material qualities takes on broader social and cultural significance varies tremendously with time and place and with scale of analysis.1 It is a quite different thing, that is, to encounter the materiality of oil in the bright gas flares of the Niger Delta than at the corner gas station; oil is one thing in the stickiness of hot asphalt and quite another in the sterile spaces of a corporate laboratory. To attend closely to the social and cultural lives of these many qualities of oil is to grasp some of the fine grains of how oil can

Portions of this chapter are reproduced by permission of the American Anthropological Association from American Ethnologist 39(2): 284–96, May 2012. Not for sale or further reproduction. The National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Program (BCS-0924178) and the National Council on East European and Eurasian Research provided funding for fieldwork in Russia. The writing was supported, in part, by a Director’s Award from the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. None of these organizations bears responsibility for the views expressed. 1. By materiality, I  mean the sensuous and phenomenal qualities of things and their implication in human social and cultural life, broadly understood, and my approach to this topic derives from anthropologists’ use of Peircian semiotics. See Keane 2003 and 2007 for especially instructive expositions that have influenced my approach and Munn 1986 and Meneley 2008 for analyses of the general sort that I pursue here. Rogers 2012 extends this argument to the gas industry and gas pipeline infrastructures in the Perm Region.

62  Douglas Rogers come to anchor and transform multiple, overlapping ways of life (see both Huber and Hitchcock, this volume). A few examples illustrate the range of possibilities. In late 1970s Nigeria, for instance, the blackness of oil (“black gold”) became part of the same “matrix of value transformations” (Apter 2005, 83) as another sense of blackness: pan-African and diasporic black culture promoted through the state sponsorship of spectacular festivals. For Peter Hitchcock, it is not oil’s blackness but its viscosity that is most notable, providing a route into theorizing oil as one of the modern world’s most confounding yet instructive substances: “If modernity is velocity there is something viscous inhibiting and contradicting the revolutions its speed inspires. And an appropriate name for this dialectic is oil” (this volume). In a quite different vein, Timothy Mitchell argues that the “fluid and transportable properties” (2011, 44) of oil as compared with those of coal played a crucial role in the making of twentieth-century democratic politics and, indeed, in the construction of the networks and kinds of knowledge that continue to organize the global political economy. The relevant materialities extend to the oil industry’s infrastructure as well: Andrew Barry shows how the material failures of the coating on a stretch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline became “signs of the state of relations between government and the oil business” (2010, 105, and this volume) in the European Union. In this chapter, I trace the way in which still another quality of oil—its subsoil depth—rose to social, political, and cultural prominence in the Russian Perm Region in the early 2000s. The Perm Region had been a major oil-producing region of the Soviet Union, especially between the 1950s and the 1970s, but its oil output was in precipitous decline by the end of the Soviet period in 1991. Rising global oil prices and the increasing centrality of natural resources to the Russian economy brought Perm’s regional oil industry back to prominence in the late 1990s and 2000s, reincarnated as a subsidiary of Russia’s largest private oil company, Lukoil. A resurgence of the oil economy also brought more and greater inequality to the Perm Region as a whole, and it did so precisely as Russians of all social stations were seeking new moorings in the tumultuous “transition” from socialism. It was in this context that talk about the depth of regional oil deposits began to proliferate, and to rub up against talk about depth of another sort: the historical depth attributed to regional cultures.

Oil and Culture: The Depths of Postsocialism In 2009, the small city of Lys'va, southeast of Perm, staged a yearlong celebration of local history and culture under the slogan “Lys'va—A Deposit of Culture.” Mestorozhdenie (deposit, literally birthplace) is a term used for underground oil and gas reservoirs; it sounds odd, yet certainly

Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals   63 intelligible, when applied to culture. Significantly, the festival received some of its funding from Lukoil-Perm, which had for several years been on a concerted campaign—in the media, in its grants for social and cultural programs, and in much of its promotional material—to associate itself with traditional cultural ways of life of the Perm Region’s oil-producing districts. The association of oil deposits and local culture through the shared quality of depth, I will suggest, can be traced fairly precisely to a broad range of corporate initiatives that worked to deflect critiques of the company by linking oil deposits pumped by Lukoil-Perm—a corporation registered in 1996—to all of the historical depth and authenticity that “culture” in the context of a folklore-heavy festival can impart. Although the companionability of oil and culture as things sharing the quality of depth was perhaps most succinctly on display in Lys'va’s awkward celebratory slogan in 2009, it was hardly unfamiliar to residents of the Perm Region. Beginning in 2002, for instance, Lukoil-Perm sponsored a major festival called “Historical Cities of the Kama River Region.” The festival moved among oil-producing districts of the Perm Region each year, fostering local cultural awareness and gathering specialists in the interest of reviving local handicraft production and sale. Exhibits about local oil production—always emphasizing geological depth and the infrastructural technologies used to access it—began to crop up in regional history museums. Even historical exhibits not related to oil often bore Lukoil-Perm’s name, logo, and generous sponsorship, including a massive one in the Il'inskii district dedicated to the Stroganov landholding family, masters of the Permian lands in the imperial period. Indeed, the Stroganov era was recent by comparison to some of the historical depths with which Lukoil-Perm associated itself. In 2009, the company issued an official corporate history entitled Permskii period: Vagit Alekperov i ego komanda (The Permian period: Vagit Alekperov and his team; see also Neroslov 2009). The title plays on the Permian geological period (the last period of the Paleozoic era) that, as every local schoolchild knows, shares its name with the Perm Region. By linking the Paleozoic to the postsocialist era, the book’s title nicely encapsulates its overall goal: inserting Lukoil-Perm as inextricably as possible into the historical, economic, political, and cultural fabric of the Perm Region. Indeed, it projected the company’s Permian qualities back to a geological time when the earth’s oil deposits were still forming: deep oil and deep culture. Things from the depths—and the quality of depth more generally— were, to be sure, central to aspects of the Russian postsocialist experience before Lukoil-Perm arrived on the scene, in troubled transitional times when yearlong celebrations of culture were far from most people’s minds. Former collective-farm workers I knew often joked about digging up and putting to use the items their great-grandparents had buried rather than allowing them to be collectivized in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Not

64  Douglas Rogers long after the end of socialist regimes, phalanxes of dead bodies literally and figuratively emerged from the ground to play a role in struggles over history, land, and political power at all levels (Verdery 1999). As they confronted new uses for money and new kinds of commodities, many Russians agonized over the surfaces and deeper essences of things, finding in this distinction a rich language with which to apprehend and navigate a variety of social and cultural transformations (Lemon 1998). Depth also featured prominently in the proliferating talk about the Russian soul so evocatively traced by Dale Pesmen (2000). In such talk, invocations of soul’s depth were closely linked to widely circulating stereotypes of Russian national character and distinctiveness: the deeper the soul, the more authentic, the more authoritative, the more Russian. That “culture” can be treated as an object with qualities such as depth is a common enough phenomenon in conditions of modernity (e.g., Handler 1988), and this process assumed a particular shape in the socialist project and its aftermath. As Bruce Grant put it in his study of the Nivkhi of Sakhalin Island, culture in the Soviet Union was “something to be produced, invented, constructed, and reconstructed” (1995, 11). After a century of such projects that whipsawed between framing Nivkhi culture as socialism’s Other and as socialism’s exemplar, between painting “their” culture as deep past and bright future, the Nivkhi whom Grant knew saw themselves as living among ruins—crumbled, discredited, meaningless bits of objectified and discarded culture. Much the same could be said of the 1990s state of cultural construction in the Perm Region. The association of deep oil and deep culture in the Perm Region was made in the 2000s out of building blocks—or ruins—present in the first postsocialist decade. But, as I shall show, it took a capitalist corporation to create the conditions under which an acquaintance of mine could respond to my news that I had just come from a folk-handicrafts exhibition sponsored by Lukoil-Perm with the comment, “Of course—where there are folk handicrafts, there is Lukoil.” Her smile, like the minor awkwardness of the slogan “Lys'va—A Deposit of Culture,” points to the recently cobbled-together nature of this relationship.2

Corporate Critique In drawing attention to oil’s depth, Lukoil-Perm sought to deemphasize some other qualities of oil that were, in the early 2000s, far more present 2.  Such links between geological formations and imaginations of community have long been noted in the literature on mining (e.g., Ferry 2005), in which they often serve as ways to counter or divert corporate strategies. In the cases I explore, corporations themselves are forging these links at substantial remove from local experience at the point of extraction and then placing them at the center of CST programs.

Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals   65 in the imaginations of residents of the region—and far more troublesome to the corporation. The first of these predates Lukoil’s arrival in the Perm Region but occupies an enormous place in the regional imagination. In 1987, in the early days of glasnost, a remarkable article appeared in Evening Perm, one of several Communist Party newspapers. Called “Clouds Overhead,” the article was a public indictment—the first of its kind—of Perm’s oil refinery, Permneftorgsintez, for systematically failing to prevent oil spills and harmful emissions that posed a major health risk to a significant part of the city. This was not news to residents—whose eyes had long been watering—but the public airing of the matter in a long series of replies and correspondence published by Evening Perm was a signal event that placed the potentially harmful qualities of oil at the very center of regional imaginations. Over two decades later, long after Lukoil acquired the refinery in the early 1990s, “Clouds Overhead,” with its emphasis on the toxic qualities of oil, was still recalled as the opening wedge of the end of socialism in the Perm Region. A second widely discussed quality of oil when Lukoil began operations in the Perm Region was its convertibility into money. That oil as substance is transformable not only into other substances at refineries but also into massive wealth is a widely shared popular view (see Golden Timsar, Guyer, and Gelber chapters, this volume), but it was not so during the Soviet period. Despite the overall heavy reliance of the Soviet economy on oil exports, the workings of the socialist mode of production and central planning meant that oil towns and districts in the Perm Region never saw capitalist oil booms or their associated inequalities. In the post-Soviet period, both oil as substance and its associated infrastructure were old and familiar, but oil’s convertibility into massive wealth was new. It was linked to still another important aspect of oil: its ownership. At the national level, Lukoil’s main corporate structures and early leadership emerged from the Soviet Ministry of Oil and Gas and the insiders’ networks commanded by Vagit Alekperov, former deputy minister of oil and gas and president of Lukoil since 1991. The Perm Region, with its old Soviet oil fields and a major refinery, was not originally part of Lukoil’s holdings. Alekperov and his team in Moscow began to take an interest in Perm’s oil only in the mid-1990s, as part of a concerted effort to build a vertically integrated oil company. Lukoil’s efforts to gain control of the Perm Region’s oil industry, however, quickly became tied up with notions of regional belonging and identity. In the concluding section of a long article summing up the competition among Moscow- and Perm-based oligarchs for control over Permneft, the central Perm newspaper Capital Weekly lamented, “and now who will determine where Permian oil will flow?” (1995, 2). It is worth pausing over “Permian oil,” a phrase that still resonated when I mentioned it to friends over a decade later. The invocation of, and

66  Douglas Rogers worry over, oil’s Permian characteristics in the context of an impending corporate takeover by a Moscow-based company indicates some of the ways in which oil began to be associated with regional identity in the Perm Region after socialism. At this point, oil’s Permian qualities—its link to something distinctive about regional ways of life—constituted an element of a simmering critique of a corporation, a version of the widespread and highly visible critiques of oligarchs, “new Russians,” and social stratification in general as threats to existing communities of various shapes and sizes (see, e.g., Humphrey 2002). In her analysis of the Egbesu warriors of Niger Delta, Golden Timsar (this volume) attends carefully to the material and symbolic terrains on which youths’ armed resistance against the oil industry and its supporters in the Nigerian state apparatus play out. To be sure, the clouds, fabrics, rivers, and other materials and transformations—both visible and invisible—that Golden Timsar describes have very different local cultural histories than those in Russia, and they have been far more often linked to brute physical violence than their analogues in the Perm Region. Yet, read together, these accounts of the Niger Delta and the Russian Urals point to some common ways in which oil manifests itself materially in the making and contestation of ways of life—in clouds, rain, soil, skin, and bodies as much as in gas tanks or bank accounts. In the Perm Region as in the Niger Delta, these configurations of “petrolic semiosis” (Appel, Mason, and Watts, introduction to this volume) challenge corporate projects. In turn, they demand corporate responses. Indeed, the ecological problems associated with Perm’s refinery in the perestroika period, coupled with the articulation of the Permian qualities of oil in the 1990s and early 2000s, became impossible for those making deals at the commanding heights of the Russian economy to ignore. When Moscow-based Lukoil acquired Permneft in 1996, it was eminently clear that one of Lukoil-Perm’s early challenges would be countering the widespread impression that both Permian resources and aspects of regional particularity had just been expropriated to Moscow. Although not by prearranged plan, depth featured centrally in the company’s emergent efforts.

Fixing Signs: Corporate Response as New Material Politics One of Lukoil-Perm’s responses to the critiques circulating in the Perm Region—an aspect of what Benson and Kirsch (2010) classify as the “engagement” stage of corporate response to critique—was to create a Connections with Society Division tasked with public relations, government relations, and the development of what, with one eye on Western oil companies, it would soon begin calling “corporate social responsibility”

Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals   67 (CSR).3 To run the Connections with Society Division, Lukoil-Perm executives hired well-connected players from the region’s Soviet-era networks, including former high-level party members from the region’s respected arms factories. The skilled networkers of the region’s old factory elite were, that is, morphing into the skilled networkers of the region’s new oil elite. They, in turn, looked to experts in cultural construction. I first met Oleg Leonidovich Kut'ev when he worked as a specialist in the Perm Region’s Department of Culture in the early 2000s. I  quickly learned that, in addition to being an accomplished ethnographer, local historian, and museum specialist, he was a quintessential networker and fixer, and his jovial stories of how impossible Soviet and post-Soviet shortages could be transformed into bounty—cultural and otherwise—served as important background for an article I wrote on the topic (Rogers 2006). In 2003, Oleg Leonidovich left the Department of Culture to take up a new position in the Connections with Society Division at Lukoil-Perm, where he helped to oversee the corporation’s rapidly expanding grant competitions for social and cultural projects.4 Scholars of socialist and postsocialist societies in transition have paid ample attention to fixers and operators like Oleg Leonidovich and his superiors in Lukoil-Perm’s Connections with Society Division (e.g., Ledeneva 2006). Transplanted into the world of corporate capitalism, I suggest, these figures have often devoted their skills to resignifying the meanings of material objects as much as to facilitating business deals. For this is what Oleg Leonidovich did, now in oil-boom conditions of almost unimaginable plenty rather than the socialist and postsocialist shortage to which he was accustomed. In the four years he worked at Lukoil-Perm, the new association between the depth of oil and the depth of culture was, in significant part, forged by Oleg Leonidovich and the networks he facilitated: in the grants for local culture he helped write and award, in the museums he helped build, in the festivals he helped organize, and in the ways all of this reshaped the politics of the Perm Region’s oil-producing districts. The move was, in fact, a double one: emphasizing the geological depth of oil beneath the region as against toxicity and convertibility into wealth and, through omnipresent sponsorship, seeking to borrow the authority

3.  On the recent anthropology of corporations and corporate social technologies, see, e.g. Welker 2009; Welker, Partridge, and Hardin 2011; Rajak 2011; and Bensen and Kirsch 2010; in the oil industry more specifically, see Shever 2008, 2010. 4.  The excerpted portions of my conversations with O. L. Kut’ev were conducted “on the record,” and he was fully aware that I expected to quote them in a study of corporate involvement in social and cultural projects. Lukoil-Perm also made significant contributions to other sorts of projects, including the construction o†f schools and hospitals, but the Connections with Society Division was most often concerned with promoting and projecting the company’s cultural work.

68  Douglas Rogers and legitimacy that might be associated with the depth of another object: culture. Culture, that is, also had to be revived from its post-Soviet ruins and repurposed in a new position of authority; in the Perm Region in the early 2000s, Lukoil-Perm’s CSR projects were the primary vehicles for this revival, at that point far outstripping the efforts of the regional state apparatus. Indeed, the opportunity to revive culture—rather than any corporate strategy or endorsement of Russia’s nouveaux riches—drew Oleg Leonidovich to his new job. As we walked through his hometown of Il'inskii with a mutual friend in 2008, Oleg Leonidovich was greeted solicitously at nearly every turn. He answered questions about when the library’s most recent batch of construction materials would be appearing and inquired how sales were going at the folk arts and crafts center (founded with support from Lukoil-Perm). The town priest eagerly showed us the most recent renovations to his church, also supported in part by a grant from Lukoil-Perm. Our tour of the new regional-studies museum—the place of Oleg Leonidovich’s first job as a young man—revealed expensive glass cases, spotlights, and video screens that, I was told by our tour guide, had begun to win federal awards. Indeed, perhaps the most significant grant-funded addition to Il'inskii has been this newly renovated and expanded sixteen-hundred-square-meter regional studies museum dedicated to the famous Stroganovs, whose large family estates in tsarist-era Perm Province were administered from offices in Il'inskii. As a complement to the new regional studies museum, Oleg Leonidovich published a book to commemorate the town’s 425th anniversary in 2004. Il'inskii: Stranitsy istorii (Il'inskii: Pages of history; see also Kut'ev 2004) charts the town’s beginning in the prerevolutionary period and concludes with a chapter on “Il'inskii’s Big Oil,” an extensive account of the geology and labor history of oil production in the Il'inskii district. This book sought to accomplish much the same work as the official Lukoil-Perm history Permskii period, mentioned above, but at a district rather than regional level. The “Permian” qualities of oil that were featured in the critique of Lukoil-Perm as a corporation in the 1990s were, a decade later, redeployed in a much different way through CSR: Permian oil and Il'inskii’s oil became chapters in the recounting of the best and deepest of regional and local cultural traditions. Il'inskii was perhaps especially fortunate under the patronage of Oleg Leonidovich, a native son, but it was not atypical of the districts of the Perm Region where Lukoil-Perm operated production and refining facilities. At a 2005 ceremony awarding grants, the director of Lukoil-Perm lauded a “virtual museum” about the Stroganovs for presenting the “deep traditions and unique culture of the Perm Region.” The citation for a project collecting wedding folklore in the Cherdyn district noted expert

Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals   69 opinion that the district’s wedding songs pointed to “deep national Russian” traditions. In these and dozens of other instances, Oleg Leonidovich and his colleagues used CSR projects to shift the visible and relevant qualities associated with oil as substance in the region. They built the rhetoric of corporate involvement in communities on these shifts. As one of Oleg Leonidovich’s former coworkers put it to me, things like cultural festivals and folk handicrafts “became the mechanisms by which we brought people to a place at which they weren’t offended that oil workers were living so well.” My research has not turned up a conscious semiotic branding strategy at the heart of the Connections with Society Division’s efforts, at least in the early days that I focus on here. Indeed, the story, as recounted to me by many of its key players, was one of improvisation, of experienced Soviet-era networkers seizing opportunities in a new corporate context, with massive funds and a mandate to remake the corporation’s relationships with the region. Although a language of corporate social responsibility imported from Western corporations played a role (see Sawyer, this volume), as did the technology of grant competitions (borrowed from Western foundations active across Russia in the mid-1990s), the central focus on shifting the relevant qualities of oil that I  have described here emerged largely from an improvised repurposing of what was at hand: the ruins of Soviet cultural construction and a pervasive concern with the surfaces and deeper essences of things—from souls to dollar bills—in the 1990s. These new associations had powerful and large-scale political effects. Lukoil-Perm’s use of CSR, with its distinctive emphasis on building authentic culture, increased in scope and scale from 2000 to 2010 and gradually came to occupy the very center of the company’s relationships with oil-producing districts of the Perm Region. In good part because oil companies’ taxes did not accrue directly to oil-producing districts (filling federal and regional coffers, instead), district-level politicians came to see answers to many of their problems precisely in Lukoil’s CSR efforts. Complaints about joblessness were answered—however ineffectively—with Lukoil-Perm’s attempts to create and then make profitable a tourist industry through museums and folk-craft centers. Complaints that the Soviet period had left culture in ruins were answered with corporation-funded festivals, celebrations of local culture, and the reconstruction of churches and mosques. District head after district head relied on Lukoil-Perm’s social and cultural programs to blunt critiques of their own past work, speaking ever more clearly in the language of cultural depth and distinctiveness supported by the oil pumped from deep under their districts. By the late 2000s, the words of the head of the Orda district had become standard fare: “We are delighted that the oil industry organized [a festival celebrating 75 years of Permian oil] on our territory. It’s not a coincidence

70  Douglas Rogers that the festival was held in our district. More than four hundred thousand tons of oil are pumped from our territory every year, and our traditional folk crafts are recognized not only in Russia, but in many foreign countries as well” (Star 2004).5 The side-by-side invocation of the depths of oil and the depths of culture in the context of Lukoil-Perm CSR projects had become central to the rhetoric of regional politics, at least in the approximately half of the region’s districts that produced oil. In a particularly postsocialist twist on the oft-noted enclave nature of oil (see, e.g., Ferguson 2005), the conditions of political, social, and cultural life in the Perm Region were influenced by the material qualities of oil as they appeared in the oil-producing districts where Lukoil-Perm’s CSR projects predominated and, correspondingly, they could not easily appear in other districts. Speaking with the elected head of one of the Perm Region’s non-oil-­producing districts one day, for instance, I asked why his district did not follow others in declaring itself a “Cultural Capital of the Kama River Basin” to bring in tourist money. “We can’t be a cultural capital,” he replied. “We don’t have any oil!” This arrangement is quite different from both the Soviet period, when unified party-state organs sought to apply a somewhat more evenly distributed set of social and cultural technologies to the population, and the early post-Soviet period, when neither major corporations nor state agencies were in much of a position to embark on such explicit projects. These two earlier periods, however, provided the crucial ingredients—from objectified senses of culture to political networks to circulating talk about depth—out of which experienced operators like Oleg Leonidovich could, in new corporate contexts, help usher in a new age of social and cultural projects. I have shown how one material quality of oil—its subterranean depth— came to provide crucial semiotic anchors for the pervasive talk about oil in the post-Soviet Perm Region. Indeed, through its central role in Lukoil-Perm’s CSR projects, oil’s depth played a key role in shaping political, social, and cultural possibilities in the Perm Region’s second post-Soviet decade. This configuration of oil and culture is, to be sure, highly contingent, the outcome of an intersection of factors specific to the Perm Region in the 2000s. Although I believe it provides a useful starting point for an examination of the broader Russian case, it would not obtain in precisely this way even at a smaller scale of analysis, such as a single town or village in the Perm Region, let  alone in, say, a gas producing region 5.  See Comaroff and Comaroff 2009 for an argument that situates the kinds of juxtaposition discussed here at the intersections of the anthropology of the corporation and globalscale shifts in the making of ethnicities.

Deep Oil and Deep Culture in the Russian Urals   71 of Russia or other segments of what Michael Watts terms the global “oil complex” (2005). Nevertheless, despite all of this contingency and local specificity, this account can still illuminate larger trends and transformations. It is useful, for instance, to situate the struggles and projects I have traced in the Perm Region in longer historical and comparative perspective. Matthew Huber (this volume) shows how the activities of a variety of corporate, state, and hybrid institutions—especially the U.S. Bureau of Mines—made oil central to ways of life in the United States after World War II. Cultural institutions of various sorts have their place in this story, too. Until relatively recently, the cultural production associated with the oil industry most often took place through independent philanthropic foundations (such as the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States) or through state-led projects that relied on oil revenues to sponsor cultural spectacles (such as Nigeria’s pan-African festivals in the 1970s [Apter 2005]; see also Damluji, this volume). Since the 1990s and the global spread of CSR, however, natural resource companies themselves have done an increasing amount of “culture work,” in Lukoil-Perm’s Connections with Society Division and in its analogs around the world.6 This shift has drawn cultural politics ever closer to the core extracting and refining activities of oil companies. It has set the stage for a new configuration of long-running material and semiotic struggles, a configuration in which one division of a corporation emphasizes certain qualities of oil—qualities, like oil’s depth, that are not necessarily directly related to use value—in ways that deflect attention from the more harmful or controversial material qualities of oil associated with the very same corporation’s extraction and production divisions. It is, in other words, in the increasingly common contexts in which a single corporation is both producing oil and producing culture that we are most likely to find social and political dynamics of the general type exemplified by the Perm Region’s pervasive semiotics of depth. Exploring the material and cultural semiotics of corporate social responsibility, therefore, illuminates some new twists in an old story of how oil’s many qualities have become central to struggles over human ways of life.

6.  States are by no means absent from these projects; on the role of state agencies in the Perm Region, see Rogers 2014. On neoliberal state retreat and reformulation in an oil-­ producing state, see also Sawyer 2004.

Chapter 4

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence Egbesu Worship in the Niger Delta of Nigeria Rebecca Golden Timsar, Women’s Institute of Houston There is no other thing that will give them the courage [except] for you to go and disarm the military man. It is the belief, the mind, what we believe is Egbesu. We believe that Egbesu will give us the courage to do that, so we don’t believe any other courage or gods will help us take up that kind of operation. —Supreme Egbesu Assembly member, Port Harcourt, November 2005

The production of manly power through the Ijaw1 national war god, Egbesu, both promulgated and restricted the escalation of armed resistance (1997–2009) in the conflict-torn oil fields of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. A  powerful sense of masculinity confers a deep feeling of belonging to the secret, supernatural world of the male Ijaw warriors, as it has done for centuries (Alagoa 2004, 1964; M. Anderson 2002; Talbot 1932).2 New and more urgent modes of bodily transformations have materialized through modern Egbesu worship and rituals such as tying color-coded cloth onto bodies, scarring skin, “knocking” (spirit possession), and “ jamming” (fighting) in order to “take power,” to bullet proof, and to navigate a violent, alienating, lived experience. This navigation explodes in the oily waters of the Niger Delta. Far from the numbing totalities of Nigerian money and politics, Egbesu 1.  Ijaw are also known as Ijo or Izon. They are the largest ethnic minority in Nigeria and represent the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta with an estimated fifteen million people ( 2.  The centrality of violence in relation to exploitation in the Delta today must be viewed in terms of the historical extraction of blood which lasted for more than 350 years beginning with the first Portuguese slave traders in the fifteenth century and continued through the exploitation of oil palm into the twentieth century (Jones 1963, 15).

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   73 worship is knowledge production for Ijaw warriors speaking to Ijaw martial laws and strategies, but perhaps more important, it produces Ijaw power and identity—ontological infrastructures for war and m ­ asculinity—superseding oil’s materiality. In this chapter, I offer an ethnography of oil’s entanglements and oil as a way of life, by focusing on the production of knowledge for Egbesu warriors concerning creating, taking, and channeling power. Through a thick description of the water/warrior ethos and warriors’ power-taking performances by tying torn cloth, I aim to show that there is an unseen additive in the automobile tanks of Nigeria’s oil trading partners such as the United States—namely, young Ijaw men’s lives. In a globally connected world, there is a price to pay for insatiable desires for consumption, locally, nationally, and internationally. A dear price is paid, which includes the loss of life, the destruction of property and infrastructure from the military attacks and youths’ counterattacks, environmental devastation, the continuation of client-state relationships, underdevelopment, and the demise of future possibilities. This is true for the Ijaw people, Nigeria’s well-heeled politicians, and for her oil-industrialized trading partners. The endless search for oil outstrips compassion in a kind of every man for himself scramble as a gluttonous and deadly routine materializes. Oil extraction routines mean that there are few opportunities for education and employment locally, despite the oil riches of the region.3 In the midst of this historically volatile, disconnected oil-producing “techno-logical zone”—a zone that “intensifies agency . . . with unpredictable and dynamic effects” (Barry 2006, 239–41)—I also illuminate how, through the processes of taking power with torn cloth, young Ijaw men locate connection. This “zone” in the Niger Delta includes oil company installations, pipelines, workboats and houseboats, oil workers, soldiers, gunboats, military bases, speedboats, barges, and 24/7 gas flares. The petrol complex motors through the sludge, ferrying non-Ijaw personnel, weapons, computers, and provisions while villagers, in search  of food, look on from dugout canoes, trying not to capsize in their wake. Schools, bridges, roads, hospitals, clean water, and electricity are all practically nonexistent. This (dis)connection is underscored by young Ijaw men’s distress while circulating around the production and sustenance of cosmological powers and longing for a sense of inclusion—an inclusion blocked by the region’s volatility. Young men’s production of power articulates with existing superstructural state power, with more localized powers of the body, sexuality, 3.  As oil is ubiquitous in daily local life and because of oil’s global prominence, I hope that my work serves as a voice for the young men who fought in the creeks of the Niger Delta and that it reaches an audience beyond academia.

74   Rebecca Golden Timsar consumption, and stimulation, and with metaphysical powers of Ijaw cosmology (cf. Foucault 2000, 123). These metaphysical powers of the body include physical transformation into animals or leaves, possession by the war god, and scarification in order to “drink” in protection. Fighters believe that the war god possesses their bodies, waging and winning battles on their behalf. Egbesu’s gospel is performed at various shrines in the creeks and waterways of the Delta to preempt loss of force through overexertion, oil pollution, seduction (both sexual and financial through temptations to join armed criminal groups in search of cash), poisoning, and death. These preemptions involve restrictions on devotees and are primarily hinged to abstention from specific carnal, dietary, and moral acts, which are directly implicated in achieving and maintaining Egbesu’s metaphysical prowess. Violations render warriors impotent in battle and condemn them to unclean social and spiritual lives, or even death. Contrarily, there are important precepts prescribed by the war spirits, which have to be observed to appropriate power. This appropriation, as seen with the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army guerrillas and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia fighters, underscores the importance of certain cosmological elements in insurgencies and the hidden forces of both the spirit world and the invisibility of reality (Lan 1985; Ellis 1999). Similarly, restless Ijaw youth become Egbesu adepts to take and tie power and to interpret and contest their turbulent, betrayal-filled s­ urroundings—their material and spiritual realities. Egbesu worship, I argue, creates a moral economy in a sullied, dystopic world and enables the marginalized to fight the mighty consortium of the federal government, the federal armed forces, multinational oil companies, security apparatuses, and the elder Ijaw establishment—in other words, the petroleum assemblage (see Watts, chapter 10, this volume). Devotion to Egbesu war gods propels young Ijaw men into battle, a cultural practice that, according to the Ijaw, is the defining event in assuming the quintessential form of male adulthood. The embodiment of power-taking provides courage, protection, the cohesion of a “struggle” class, and meaning for young men living on the margins. Many would, as I heard on numerous occasions, “rather die a noble death fighting than die sitting down [doing nothing]” (personal communications, 2004–9). Such sentiments expressed by junior men (in Nigeria, those between the ages of eighteen and forty are defined as youth in the constitution) were repeated to me regularly in remote militant camps and Egbesu shrines flung across the Niger Delta during my doctoral research (2004–10). Considered volatile and fearless by outsiders such as nonbelieving Ijaw, other ethnicities, the armed forces, and international oil and security operatives, Egbesu adherents quickly developed a mystique in the early days of the armed struggle in the period after the return to civilian rule

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   75 in 1999. Even for the Ijaw who were not directly involved in the struggle, Egbesu warriors evoked a sense of pride that would often be whispered under their breath. Upon sight of a believer’s bodily ties, admirers would murmur, “those are our boys [young men]” or “they are the only ones fighting for our rights, the politicians are too busy stealing money.”4 Yet, despite the utopian ideal of the Egbesu fighter, everyday concepts of manhood are jaded by the sticky mishmash of oil pollution, truncated opportunities and aspirations, structural unemployment, and community conflicts of various stripes. Young men’s futures are sold forward by Ijaw leaders and elders in exchange for fast money now now (Pidgin for immediately). A viscous concoction of forces—the precipitates of the oil economy—presents an enormous set of challenges for the young war god believers. Oil has a certain velocity and viscosity (see Hitchcock, this volume) that is as much social and economic as it is physical. Egbesu warriors challenged an intimidating assemblage, one that is well protected, militarized, and with its own power-geometry. They fought with lightning speed, attacking pipelines, sabotaging oil installations, and shape-shifting into invisible war spirits. Ijaw warriors permeated socially—and politically— ordered boundaries using cosmological knowledge and power, creating consequential oil identities. Egbesu devotees are, by definition of their beliefs, warriors. They are rumored to swim underwater for hours, eat raw plantains, abstain from sex, and walk through flying bullets unscathed. Egbesu fighters are reclusive, spending days, weeks, or even months along the creeks or in the forests. However, unlike the past, where Egbesu warriors were the central figures in Ijaw society, adherents today are separated from the larger socioreligious fabric of the Niger Delta, a fabric increasingly dominated by the evangelical churches on the one side and the networks of corruption (“carry-go”) and political hierarchy on the other. Though admired, young men participating and believing in Egbesu are marked by their respective communities as evil, crazed, and dangerous “ juju men.” Initially, most adepts had no military training from elders or age mates and no weapons— nothing but Egbesu. Egbesu bulletproofs the youth through the taking and tying of power, giving them courage to stand against their enemies while uniting young men from all parts of Ijawland. The modern struggle for self-determination and a fair share of oil profits differs from past battles with eighteenth- or nineteenth-century European traders and colonial masters. The Ijaw have not only lost the rights to their lands but those lands are defiled by oil spills and gas flares, making aquaculture and agriculture nearly impossible, or what David 4.  These were words I heard spoken by public bus passengers on the Niger Delta Development Commission busline in 2006.

76   Rebecca Golden Timsar Hughes calls “a dystopic epochal shift”5 of environmental destruction. As oil wealth from the Delta seeps back into the hands of local elders (causing the youth to feel that the elders have abandoned them for private agreements with the petroleum industry instead of advancing development and a collective cause), state governments, and the greedy hands of politicians, young men feel left behind in their abandoned creeks and waterside slums. Thus, they were fighting on several fronts—against the oil complex, the Ijaw gerontocracy, and often against one another as they battled for territory and position. This admixture further inculcates a sense of exclusion and desperation felt by many young men. Unless young men hired themselves out for bunkering (theft of oil by tapping into oil pipelines), assassinations, or election thuggery, there were few options except boredom or fighting. They are “torn together” by misery, revolt, and vengeance but, as Girard (1972, 15) notes, vengeance is an “interminable, infinitely repetitive process [that] threatens to involve the whole social body.” In unending constructs, young Ijaw men have become fatalists in the hunt for place, acceptance, and allegiance as the whole yet fragmented social body of Ijawland was heaved into chaos by the oil wars. In this violent context, Ijaw masculine identities are in flux. The Egbesu war gods piloted the brutal riverine spaces and gave young men agency, yet Ijaw resistance fighters were stuck in a kind of perpetual warriorhood. Junior men were unable to advance to senior manhood because they could not return home as victorious heroes, an honored rite of passage in Ijawland. This rite of passage translates into full manhood—a prosperous productive and reproductive life. However, these passages were blocked— there was no productive life in the village to return to. For these young Ijaw, Egbesu promised a masculine refuge, direction, and purpose.

Situating the Researcher The Niger Delta represents a culmination of my own lived experiences growing up in Texas, working for the oil industry, serving on the staff of an international humanitarian organization, and training as an academic.6 I first set foot in Nigeria in 1992 while working for Schlumberger, an oil-services company. This was when my relationship with oil and

5.  This is taken from a paper delivered to the Oil Talk Conference held at Columbia University in April 2010 by David Hughes, “Carbon Capitalism: Climate Change and Hydrocarbons in Trinidad and Tobago.” 6. Refer to my doctoral dissertation for additional information, “Armed Resistance: Masculinities, Egbesu Spirits, and Violence in the Niger Delta of Nigeria,” Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, 2012.

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   77 violence began. Sequestered in an expatriate camp in Port Harcourt for a month, I became aware of the exigencies and auto-created security risks and associated individual fears allied to transnational, extraction economics. In 1995, I  joined the international humanitarian organization, Médecins sans Frontières/MSF (Doctors without Borders), to transform this awareness into action. I was assigned to Angola (1995–96), the Democratic Republic of Congo (1997–98, 2003), Nigeria (1999–2000, 2004), Sierra Leone (2001–02), and India (2008). While working in Nigeria as head of mission for MSF, my assignment included the opening of an emergency health program for malaria and violence in the oil-producing state of Bayelsa. In order to establish this program, I spent months meeting with local authorities, political and environmental activists, and youth groups gunning for retribution. In November  1999, under the new Nigerian democratic government, Odi town in Bayelsa state was razed by thousands of federal troops in their quest to hunt down some “bad Ijaw boys.” I worked with our teams to treat over five hundred victims of government violence and thousands of displaced people. Living with and pursuing an ethnography that included militants, a prominent Egbesu priest, environmentalists, and oil activists was expedited because of my prior work in Bayelsa and the trust I  had gained. Hanging around waterfronts and jetties, frequenting dark bars like the Swizzle Stick, clinging to hurtling speedboats, dashing to hideouts, creeping into battle zones, eating power at Egbesu shrines, and gisting (chatting, gossiping, talking in Pidgin English) with fighters, leaders, activists, and bunkerers were my daily routine for the years I  spent in the Niger Delta.7 Regarding my own security, my status as an outsider woman inspired efforts to protect me from the harsh realities of the Delta, thus affecting my rapport with informants in positive fashions. Because Ijaw men are expected to provide economically for women, I was often seen as a ­dependant—or at least economically disadvantaged—both as a woman and as a student. On countless occasions, I was offered meals, cell phone recharge cards, and transport (bus and boat) tickets. These gestures went beyond ordinary rules of Ijaw hospitality, which dictate that foreigners and guests are generously provided for. They were gender-based obligations and part of the performance of masculinity through which men assert their social identities as providers and protectors. Protective actions came from activists, Egbesu priests, and fighters in the form of escorts, chaperones, curfews, and powerful talismans. Indeed, 7.  I employed traditional anthropological data gathering methods in a nontraditional setting (conflict zone) with some nontraditional participants (armed men). I relied on my MSF experience for a number of security issues, including how to ensure the safety of participants, who took considerably more risks than I did to be a part of this research.

78   Rebecca Golden Timsar in some cases, it was remarkably easy—through no doing of my own—to gain access to youthful men waging battles against their government, their neighbors, and each other. Junior men spoke frankly about fighting, sex, possession, and family to a single woman who was outside of Ijaw social production and the fray of the struggle. I found that, for the most part, my presence was disarming for participants.

The Niger Delta’s Conflicted History The Niger Delta is made up, by some estimates, of over sixty ethno-linguistic groups with the Ijaw representing the largest ethnic group. Africa’s most extensive wetlands8 are located in the Niger Delta, the center of Nigeria’s oil production with approximately 2.5 million barrels of oil produced every day. The federal government maintains tight control over the oil monies and their distribution, and disagreements are wrangled out in Abuja, the capital. Although revenue allocation to the region has increased since 1999—and the major oil-producing states such as Bayelsa are awash in oil revenues—the vast majority of Ijaw (and other so-called oil minorities) see little benefit from the petro-wealth.9 Further, after more than fifty years of oil production in the Delta, the resulting land, air, and water pollution (gas flaring, spills, leaks from old infrastructure) is choking the Delta’s vast ecosystem. The health costs, loss of livelihood, and stagnated employment are devastating for the youth. Organized armed resistance was mounted by Ijaw youth in the late 1990s after the realization that the more peaceful means employed by the Ogoni environmental and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa had resulted in his 1995 execution along with eight colleagues by the Sani Abacha regime. Saro-Wiwa’s much-publicized death (as much as his work) precipitated the birth of “a thousand Ken Saro-Wiwas” across the Niger Delta (Egbesu priest King Blue, personal communication, March 2006). The region’s conflict was fought on several levels, including a pan-Delta insurgency against the petrol complex, intercommunal rivalries, gang and criminal violence, and rebellion against the gerontocracy (Obi 2011; Watts 2011, 2008). By 1997, the Ijaw began to flex their muscles, claiming rights to oil, lands, waterways, and political autonomy in response to their marginalization. In light of the federal government’s disdain for Saro-Wiwa’s

8.  The Niger Delta in Nigeria is one of the world’s largest wetland areas, estimated at seventy-five thousand square kilometers (Derefaka and Anozie 2002, 78). The region comprises nine Nigerian states situated mainly along the southern coast. 9.  Less than 1% of the oil revenues were remitted to Ijaw communities by 1985 and only 13% by 2012.

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   79 more peaceful approach, some Ijaw believed that violence was “the only language the Nigerian government understands.” Thus, they opted for more violent solutions, following in the footsteps of Isaac Boro, the first Ijaw to mount an armed resistance against the petrol complex for Ijaw autonomy in the mid-1960s (Boro 1982). Boro led a few hundred young men armed with Egbesu powers in the 1966 Twelve-Day Revolution, which began in the small Delta town of Kaiama. The rebellion was quickly quelled by the Nigerian armed forces. Also in 1997, a dispute in the western regions of the Delta (Warri, Delta state) over the location and political control of the local government area (equivalent of a county seat) erupted into armed conflict with their neighbors, the Itsekiri, and the federal government. The Ijaw Youth Council was founded in 1998, an important counterweight to the long-established and more conservative organization of elders, the Ijaw National Council. From that point on Ijaw youth from all walks of life, in their twenties, thirties, and forties, called on their ancient cosmology and marine prowess (sea warfare, diving and swimming, nautical navigation, boat building, engine repair and maintenance, maritime tackle production, fishing) to launch both peaceful and violent responses to their predicament through a declaration of Ijaw solidarity, the Kaiama Declaration, on December 11, 1998.10 Following this declaration, Ijaw youth organized into political and militant groups, attacked offshore oil installations; agitated for human, mineral, and environmental rights; took hostages at sea; and orchestrated vast marine-based oil-lifting operations known as bunkering. Bunkering is comprised of a complex network of engineers, welders, intelligence and armed security operatives, boat and ship captains, pumpers, handlers, and traders. One bunkerer describes the process as “pipeline vandalization to steal refined or crude oil products and transportation of these products in various vessels such as barges and tankers to sell locally and internationally” (Dele Leader, Warri, September 2006; see Gelber, this volume). Bunkering significantly contributed to the scope and sophistication of a growing rebellion. Propelled by Egbesu, inspired by Ken Saro-Wiwa and Isaac Boro, and inflamed by ambiguous governance processes, unfair resource sharing, and perceived ethnic favoritism, Ijaw warriors burst onto the political

10.  On December 28, 1998, the Ijaw Youth Council announced the launch of Operation Climate Change, to run from January  1 to 10, 1999, involving “activities aimed at extinguishing gas flares.” On December 30, 1998, youths supporting the Kaiama Declaration held largely peaceful demonstrations in a number of communities across Ijawland but in Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa state, a heavy-handed security force response led to confrontations over the next few days between youths and soldiers that resulted in the deaths of dozens of youths and two or three soldiers.

80   Rebecca Golden Timsar scene in the Niger Delta. Not all young Ijaw men ascribed to the Ijaw traditional god, but for those who did Egbesu’s powers provided the corpus of these young men’s arsenal against the petrol complex. The violence escalated as the petrol complex retaliated with disproportionate force. Thousands of lives were lost, communities were razed, and untold numbers of people were raped and wounded by government forces (Human Rights Watch 2007) defending the petroleum industry during the protracted conflict. Violence exploded in 2003–2004 and more especially in the western Delta after the appearance in late 2005 of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an organized insurgent group centered on Gbaramatu in the Warri creeks. After more than twelve years of fighting, and as a consequence to strikes against oil and military installations, increased kidnapping, and rampant bunkering (oil theft) activities, the federal government commenced a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for the Niger Delta’s militants in 2009 (Gelber, this volume; Nwajiaku-Dahou 2011). Despite, or perhaps because of, the government amnesty deal, where over twenty-six thousand fighters surrendered, the fixation on power remains of primary importance for young Ijaw.

Water and Warrior Ethos As soon as you get the Egbesu, they bath [sic] you with special water at the shrine. We pray that we need this thing to protect us. He gives us the power we need so long as we don’t steal and we don’t go against the laws which are: don’t kill, don’t eat certain things, and don’t meet with women while putting on power. . . . The power is in anything they give you, ties, singlets [undershirts]. I use white singlets because white stands for truth and truth is all about pureness. Ijaw warrior, Bayelsa state, March 2006

For the Ijaw, the combined water and warrior ethos is deeply rooted in their social, spiritual, cultural, economic, and political histories and institutions. The aquasphere is central to these productions, providing wealth, beneficent spiritual direction, and purification. Water is omnipresent in the Niger Delta; it is one of the wettest regions in Africa.11 Warriors are

11.  “The climate of the Niger Delta is characterized by a long rainy season from MarchApril through October. Precipitation increased from the north of the delta (with an average of 2,500 millimeters) to the coastal area where mean annual rainfall averages around 4,000 millimeters (mm) [157 inches  per annum], making it one of the wettest areas in Africa” (

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   81 tested militarily at sea—both on the Atlantic and in the vast waterways that comprise the Delta, in modern war canoes or in speedboats. These are the hegemonic Ijaw men. Male notions of belonging, masculinity, and membership are embedded in the social and political institutions associated with war and water. Like their ancestors, warriors follow the quotidian prescriptions of the Ijaw war gods. Both the Ijaw men of the past and the present attach significant meaning to the fluid spaces of rivers, estuaries, creeks, and coasts as masculine, liminal sites of transition and spiritual process, as proving grounds. Economic, martial, and social potentialities obtained through rites of transition serve to promote junior men to senior manhood and eventually to the gerontocracy, which rules social, political, and economic life in Ijawland. One more river to cross Niger Delta freedom fighters One more river to cross Only one more river War chant recorded at Egbesu shrine, April 3, 2006

As the war chant implies, the river is both literal, in terms of crossings made in order to fight, and figurative, in terms of the unending perpetual battles the Ijaw have fought. They continued their persistent struggle against the petrol complex, crossing one river at a time. The connections of water and power for Ijaw youth are inextricably linked to a warrior ethos. Water is power, whether in the form of ceremonial cleansing baths, sacred water used for power preparation, restorative rivers drawing oracles and possessed devotees into their depths, or storms urging Egbesu adepts to fight under the cover of the rain. The ubiquitous liquid procures a pervasive signification to Egbesu followers; local geographies—what is in effect a frontier space (see Watts, chapter 10, this volume)—provide the medium and the ground on which resistance to the petroleum assemblage is waged. The imagery is compelling: water combats weapons. Water is not a benign necessity for the Ijaw. Instead it is integral to survival, defense, and healing. Concepts of water-soaked, unarmed, charging bodies, scarred, tied with power, and propelled by war spirits are iconic. The quintessence of Ijaw masculinities is epitomized by such images of strength and fury. Throughout the Niger Delta, Egbesu adherents ascribe to the mighty powers of their war god as manifest in rain, thunder, and lightning. Priests and their boys go to war unarmed, cause havoc, and change the weather from sunshine to thunder and lightning. It is the lightning that allows them to perform in battle. Once the heavens open, Egbesu spirits begin to “fall” (possess) onto the young men’s bodies in the form of rain (in keeping with

82   Rebecca Golden Timsar the water ethos) and the clash of thunder, immersing them with battle power. Accounts of dark clouds gathering and ensuing storms mark the time for fighting. The harder a storm blows, the stronger the readiness, courage, and spiritual high of the fighters. Lightning and thunder strikes present a collective “knocking,” “coming,” and “entering” (expressions of spirit possession) for Egbesu warriors. The unpredictable flashes of lightning and the torrential rains guide young fighters, drenching them with power, when others seek cover. Unlike the Zarma spirits of bori adepts in Niger who control “lightning and rain,” the Egbesu adherents do not fear lightning from their war god (Masquelier 2002, 271). Instead, Egbesu followers revel in the mighty violence of the skies; it fortifies them on the battlefield, pushing them to supernatural heights. The ogele (processional war dance) drumming is intended to mirror the powerful cacophony of crackling storm electricity and rolling rhythms of thunder. The body, showered and submerged in water, is the locus of more visible forms of Egbesu power-taking. Tying strips of cloth and wearing water-­ fortified charms publicly denotes devotion and battle-readiness. Observable signs of power are torn, inscribed, swallowed, or tied during group rites in secret sacred spaces. Taking power using material objects such as cloth, leather, herbs, and needles gives Egbesu warriors strength and protection. The bullet-proofing promises of the war spirits are manifest with these objects. At the same time, processes of bodily alteration provide purity through ritual, pain, and the suppression of fear. Disciples require mental integrity to withstand physical suffering and spiritual trials. Ijaw warriorhood is about sharing pain silently and is a sign of devotion and belonging to the war gods (cf. Scarry 1985, 4–5). In contrast to male livelihoods in the preoil period, Egbesu adepts suffer from social exclusion expressly because of their worship. Despite admiration and support from everyday Ijaw, warriors are outside of mainstream Ijaw society. For Egbesu loyalists, the mainstream is embroiled in a mad dash to sycophantism and patronage. In a world spinning out of control, efforts to redefine a moral economy, belonging, and identity are hinged on the construction of “emergent masculinities” (dynamics of male bodily, social, and life sequences) using Egbesu doctrines (Inhorn and Wentzell 2011, 801–3). Through Egbesu, youth are liberated from the limitations of their “zone” by invoking Egbesu not only for protection at war but also for reconstructing dynamic notions of belonging and new masculinities. Egbesu takes fighters on their sorties, orchestrates the participants, weather, and tactics, and brings them safely home before “disengaging” (ending the possession). Despite the spirit’s extensive power-taking preparations, “coming” on male bodies and mastering battleground activities, war gods dismount abruptly, leaving adepts to wrestle with “ugly brains.” Painful memories of fallen friends, the haze of battle, and near-death experiences haunt young men’s daily thoughts well after missions are completed.

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   83 Coping with ugly brains and continued everyday hardships such as unemployment, infighting, and lack of education gnawed away at heroic images of the iconic Ijaw man. They are treacherously swindled and they are stuck. Concepts of inclusion, independence, courage, physical acumen, work, and play form the basis for social production and reproduction. Male endeavors such as wrestling, water sports, fishing, participation in local festivals and rituals, and membership in war houses and canoes provided rites of passage to adulthood. Young Ijaw men continue to wrestle in village competitions as part of funeral celebrations and annual festivals but they are now solely sporting competitions, unhitched from passages to manhood or warrior status. The new fighting groups were often secluded in outpost camps and no longer functioned in the everyday rhythms of family, town, or village life, as elders were either no longer able or interested in social reproduction. Modern militias are detached from any kind of historically rooted war canoe system. This social separation from community life was not a feature of the preoil era, when wrestlers became the warriors, and eventually the village leaders. Vulnerable and fearful for their lives, Ijaw combatants now remain in hiding, warring for years in some cases. Disconnection fostered contradictory attitudes among the Ijaw general population toward the new fighters; they were feared yet admired, revered yet disdained. They were in some sense liminal, living on the margins—dangerous by-products of a new modernity. Warriors are caught up in unending battles, and rites of passage lead nowhere. Once the obobo (oracle) is inserted safely into its shrine and the jamming has ceased, adherents flow quietly back into their watery landscape. In their empty, listless, occluded everyday lives, with leaking roofs, empty pockets, and bankrupt dreams, young men pray, drink, and imagine lives filled with possibilities. Egbesu seems powerless to reconstitute conditions for advancement, to propel young men from his hold and into nonfighting social and economic reproduction. The incongruent and ambiguous power and powerlessness of Egbesu war gods is experienced as proof that Egbesu cannot win the oil wars because the “spirit world is also at war” (personal communications, field notes, 2005–7). Junior men and Ijaw scholars alike believe that because their cosmological world is at war, there is no hope for the terrestrial watery world. The ongoing battles wear down Egbesu power and young men’s potentialities.

The Force of Fabric: Power and Second Skin You must go to a certain river, see a white cloth inside, jump in, and get it. When you come they shoot you and you won’t die. Samuel, warrior aspirant, Rivers state, February 2006

84   Rebecca Golden Timsar Cloth and water represent the collective skin or communal body of warriors. Water and cloth reinforce power, creating an impenetrable second dermis—only accessible to the war spirits. The acts of tying and wearing sacred cloth are visible, public, and sustainable signs of power taking. There are no fixed or limited amounts of spiritual powers taken from Egbesu, thus the expression “taking” for young Ijaw men means assuming, filling, imparting, and fortifying. Ritual cloth has the power to protect a man from bullet wounds. Body ties, made from strips of treated cloth—when worn publicly—declare immediate allegiances and battle-readiness. Wearing the cloth on a visible part of your body inside the shrine is permitted, but devotees are often told to remove, hide, or swallow the cloth when returning to everyday life because it is threatening. For the non-Ijaw, body ties would summon a sense of disdain, “those bad boys are restive youths causing problems.” More often, fear was voiced: “those Ijaw boys are too tough, they are dangerous with that Egbesu” (personal communications, 2006). The military, the principal target of the Egbesu men, was fully aware of these ties and Egbesu powers. One youth told me that soldiers were so afraid of Egbesu that they would either hand over their weapons to unarmed adepts or shoot to kill on sight (interview with Brisbee, March 2006). At Egbesu shrines, ties are torn from one large piece of cloth, in a sense rooting warriors in the original oneness of the whole fabric. This cloth is treated with kaikai (Izon for distilled palm wine), sacred waters, and often herbs or other delights of the war spirits such as palm wine, chalk, pepper, and snuff. Drumming and chanting intensify as the cloth nears its final preparations. An Egbesu priest named King Blue often throws cloth in the “Bermuda Triangle” pond at the rear of his shrine as a final layer of power is imbibed. Once the cloth is primed, it is blessed and ripped into long narrow strips, about an inch wide. The black strips of kaikai-soaked cloth are distributed to each adept with a morsel of ripe coconut. The coconut symbolizes an enemy head. It gives the men “head power.” It is to be eaten first, infusing courage to kill, sever the enemies’ heads, and lug them back to the shrine. The potent tie has to be fixed onto the heads of the young men, yoking them to battle. King Blue chants “Kill your enemy, Kill your enemy” while warning of an impending action against the federal government called Operation No Mercy (interview with King Blue, April 2006). This call to Operation No Mercy was a clear call to fight, and it was also a play on the Nigerian Mobile Police’s Operation Restore Hope,12 whose presence and provocations further fueled the militarization of the region. 12.  Operation Restore Hope was a special military and police task force created especially for controlling the restive youths and unrest in the Niger Delta that was notorious for ruthless violence, harassment, and extortion. This operation occasionally called for logistical support from the oil companies.

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   85 Cloth ties are fixed on any part of the body. The head is one of the most visible and affronting positions, meant for war. Ties are also fixed onto arms, wrists, and around the torso. When these textiled spiritual energies are not wrapped on the body, they are wadded into a pocket. Keeping this power next to but not on the body generates similar forces. Ties become part of the skin, shielding the interior from exposure and destruction. A  warrior connection to a common cloth, similar to certain aspects of Mawri darme (tying) in Niger, provides a “concrete framework for . . . social pressures” centered on the body “whose conflicted state symptomatizes loss of control” over outside, often dangerous forces (Masquelier 1999, 112). In this sense, tying power for Egbesu adepts symbolizes containing the spiritual forces and flows inside male bodies within an outer world filled with blockages, bereft of possibilities.

Colored Meanings I first heard of Egbesu during the crisis, he cleanses you with water and plantain leaves. . . . I tied the white tie, asein [Ijaw for war medicine, war power13], on my arm. I tied the red one, from Egbema Kingdom, on my head, leg, and arm. I swallowed the asein to hide my power but to keep it. . . . The Agadagba (big man, literally “large fish” in Izon) of Egbema was there and selected me for battle. I was in the first seven boats sent to Big Warri, an Itsekiri area. Kingsley, Warri, August 2006

Many ties were black but other colors of cloth were used for tying power. Some represent particular Egbesu priests and their war gods. Red, for example, stands for the Agadagba of Egbema, white is for King Pere Ekere of Ekeremor, while blue or black are King Blue’s colors. This triad of ritual colors symbolizes both basic physical human and mystical cosmological experiences, according to Turner (1967, 89). For example, among Congo’s Ndembu, white was a metaphor for life bonds between men, women, and children (semen, milk) and peace; red was the color of blood, masculine generational lines and corporate groups, war, and social discontinuities; and black embodied death, excreta, bodily and group dissolution, transition, sleep, darkness, and storms (Turner 1967, 87–90). With the Ijaw, however, distinct color divisions are more ambiguous. Young men seek the powers of many Egbesu priests, and tie various colors at once. These 13.  Ijaw—also known by the terms Ijo or Izon—are a collection of peoples indigenous mostly to the forest and lowland regions of Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers states within the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Some are resident in Akwa-Ibom, Edo, and Ondo states, also in Nigeria.

86   Rebecca Golden Timsar priests accept alternating roles and each see the other as possessing special and separate powers (interview with Agadagba of Egbema, August 2006; interview with King Blue, June 2006; interview with HRM King Pere Ekere Augustine, May 2006). Color-coded sashes are not exclusively associated with priests or shrines: colors held their own significance. A devotee can tie white or red and it does not necessarily signal a connection to a priest. Color for Egbesu adepts exudes specific meaning and understandings. White, red, and blue, in particular, are symbolic in Egbesu cosmology and Ijaw culture. These colors are sought after in foods, drinks, and stimulants to harness the power of the war spirits. White represents both peace and the end of peace. It is the color of sacred animals such as the white egret or eagle, spiritual foods such as rice, coconuts, and plantains, and spiritual drinks such as kaikai, palm wine, and Sprite. White is the color of native chalk and the smoke of St. Moritz cigarettes (occasionally smoked by devotees). White is also the color adopted by HRM King Pere Ekere Augustine, the first “strong” Egbesu priest to emerge in the post–Ken Saro-Wiwa struggles of the 1990s. During the period of the 1998 Kaiama Declaration, thousands of Ijaw youth united to demand development, the immediate exit of foreign oil companies, and resource control, among other rightsbased ultimatums, seeking King Pere Ekere’s powers and tying his white bullet-proofing amulets. By 2006, he was in hiding after the Nigerian military destroyed his shrine. Red is the ritualistic color of cock blood, Bacchus hot drinks, action and war, red peppers, canned corned beef, a box of Cabin biscuits, a tin of Queen of the Coast sardines, and the aguwa (Izon for taboo regarding exterior corporeal sensations such as touching or washing) menstrual blood. Red and white are the colors of the powerful Agadagba of Egbema, the Egbesu war deity and Egbema king who was a principal spiritual force in the Warri Crisis and the 1999 Ajegunle battles fought in Lagos.14 He continued to be a force in the modern struggle. By 2006, he was fighting a legal battle for the right to his throne against an imposter priest king backed by the oil companies. As evidenced with HRM Pere Ekere and the Agadagba of Egbema, the Nigerian government did not only rely on Operation Restore Hope, but mounted a protracted war against Egbesu priests, sacred spaces, and faithful devotees to put down the forces of the rebellion. In the wake of the incapacitation of the old-guard priests, new priests and shrines mushroomed to fill the cosmological gaps, heaving the war forward and reformulating masculine enactments and geographies. 14. Battles fought in a densely populated slum of Lagos against the Yoruba militant youth wing, the Odudua Peoples’ Congress of the pan-Yoruba movement called Afenifere, resulting from a contested history over land and oil rights.

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   87 Blue is the color that has inspired a priest by the same name and it is the color of peace. The water is blue and King Blue’s most powerful Egbesu spirits came from the water. The small pond in his shrine was named for the true residence of his Egbesu, the Bermuda Triangle. The Ijaw or Izon flag has, for example, three vertical stripes of green (for unity), red (for action and war), and blue (for peace). Ties for unity were never seen either at the shrines or wrapped around bodies. Green’s absence is a statement on the lack of unity both within various youth groups vying for name and position in the struggle and within the larger Ijaw society. Black ties are common. Black is the color of crude oil, black prophylactic powders, snuff, alligator pepper, fighting and killing, and the sky when it is storming. Storms are the preferred attack weather of Egbesu warriors, who say the spirits are the “highest” when thunder and torrential rains fall from the heavens. Black, white, and blue streamers surrounded King Blue’s throne and provided cover for the war gods residing therein.

Collective Cloth Like the ever-present water, other everyday artifacts are used to take and hold power in addition to the treated, licensed sashes. Certain clothing worn next to the skin, such as underwear and undershirts, is sometimes sanctioned with the same protective and fearless powers as ties. Young men treat underclothes at various shrines, dipping them into sacred waters or asking a priest to prepare them, much like the shreds of material: This itself is [pointing to white undershirt at nape of his shirt] is an Egbesu. . . . It’s like more or less a bullet-proof that covers your whole body, not just the area that is covered. . . . When [our colleague] was held hostage . . . some fourteen boys went to the government house [Bayelsa state] in the mist[y fog] of shooting, went in, allowed them [government soldiers] to empty their bullets, and took their empty guns. I  think they seized thirteen guns from them and rescued our leader. . . . So, if it does not embolden us, how do you expect somebody to use ordinary hands to now go in the mist of where somebody is shooting? Yes, it is amazing powers. So it actually gives us strength and till tomorrow [forever], that is the strength of our struggle. (Interview with Ebi in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state, 2006)

Anxieties about bullet proofing run high in the Niger Delta. Young men went to great lengths to armor their bodies against the might of the Nigerian armed forces. During the resistance, Ijaw fighters increasingly purchased weapons and ammunition through the sale of bunkered oil,

88   Rebecca Golden Timsar from disarmed militaries and police, and from local politicians jockeying for office, all too ready to buy loyalties with weapons. However, Egbesu men were still disadvantaged with their somewhat limited weaponry when compared to the war arsenals of the federal government. This is why they continued to approach armed soldiers unarmed and it was why they were preoccupied with bullet proofing. Egbesu, with cloth and water, extends a promise of extraordinary protection in the face of overwhelming odds, where warriors ran into “the mist of shooting.” Stories from the battlefronts of raining or misting bullets were commonplace. Young fighters watched bullets that they called “groundnuts” bounce off their bodies. This bounce was made possible by the collective cloth, which is treated in ceremonial fashion with intentional positioning. The group is this cloth, a second skin, as combatants would have it, “amazing” protection. The cloth is Egbesu’s bullet protection; power is pooled collectively. Taking power, protecting oneself against evildoers and “mists” of bullets requires stoic strength and unrelenting conviction. Egbesu’s powers hold material and visceral promise where so many promises are broken. Youth tie collectively from the same cloth. These holy ­power-taking acts clutch the communal body of young men in a tight embrace. Shredding the cloth and fixing it to the body marks each adept as a part of a new community of male belonging. Each man is challenged to uphold the various restrictions and tenets of true Egbesu devotees or risk dangerous outcomes. Each has the power of being torn together with potent cloth in the everyday violence of the Niger Delta, at once a part of its shredded tatters and its whole. Egbesu worship, although firmly rooted in Ijaw historical cosmology, is experiencing a simultaneous resurgence and abandonment in the Delta’s oil wars. Some young men shun the spirit world in search of oil’s fast money. Others locate refuge in the arms of the war spirits, the ontological infrastructure for Ijaw masculinity. For the Egbesu men, the protection and power conferred by the war gods come at great personal sacrifice. Young men are bullet proofed not only from bullets but also from social advancement because of oil’s entanglements—its stranglehold. Critical life-anddeath Egbesu precepts create a potent recipe for battle masculinities, drawing Ijaw youth into the Egbesu fold; they often sense no other philosophical, political, or economic option than to fight against petroleum’s destruction of morality and meaning. Indeed, Egbesu worship provides a moral compass, an identity, grounding Ijaw men in social reproduction amid a contaminated world of oil’s destructive forces on the environment and on Ijaw economic and sociopolitical life. Routine performances of rites at shrines and experiences in battle create secret knowledge, power, and identity in contrast to oil’s world. Black, blue, white, and red power-laden cloths signal social discontinuities—war,

Oil, Masculinity, and Violence   89 peace, life, death, truth, falsehood, belonging, and separation. They are tied to male bodies in efforts to contain ephemeral spiritual forces and anchor warriors’ community in a moral economy at once outside of oil and its luring money and inside the fray of oil’s dystopia. Fervent calls and chants to battle, war dances, the sharing of sacrificial blood, drinking alcohol, receiving and taking power, and adhering to oracles’ orders fuse young bodies and souls together, preparing men for petrol confrontations. With negotiated prescriptions on aguwa and toun-eye (Izon for taboos against interior corporeal actions such as ingesting or licking) adhered to and with scarification and tied wrapping completed, new or transformed masculine identities emerge. Devotion to Egbesu represents a constant process of change—a dialog—for constructing manhood, fastening young men to one another and the war gods while mitigating the temptations of the outer world. Belief in magical protections against bullets compels young males to ascribe to the supernatural powers of Egbesu to arm themselves against the military powers of the Nigerian government, even though victory is elusive. It is this very intangibility and mystery of victory that blocks pathways to social advancement, and to the fulfillment of culturally sanctioned expectations of adulthood and maturity. The twin objectives of protection and courage for Egbesu devotees, wrought with rigid prescriptions for eating, drinking, numbing, tying, and bodily scarification exert social pressures and extort social prices of alienation. With their powerful cloth tied, fighters are readied for spirit possession or “knocking.” War spirits bestow power through possession yet can just as abruptly withdraw from their hosts’ bodies, leaving young believers exposed and defenseless. The dangerous and delicate balance of spiritual adherence complicates men’s sense of association and alienation. This balance is reflected in perilous, terrestrial challenges contextualized in the broader fabric of Ijaw society, where warriors hold an iconic position. The pitfalls of falling from grace or reverence are fraught with physical, moral, and spiritual calamities. Following Egbesu is at once inclusive and exclusive. Followers are incorporated into social and religious (re)productions of emotional belonging, fictive kinship, corporal connectedness, resistance philosophies, and Ijaw historicities. The new Ijaw warrior emerges as a sort of defining moment of frontier life on the Niger Delta oil fields; he is both a product of and a contribution to oil’s legacy of poverty, violence, and lawlessness. These warriors are teeming with anxieties about remaining bulletproofed on the battlefield and avoiding “ugly brains” on their return as larger anxieties over empty futures loom on the watery horizon. The risks of losing E ­ gbesu’s favor provide little deterrent for the “unadulterated” or true Egbesu devotees, whose productive agency provides a sense of community—torn together— in a flimsy world.

Chapter 5

The Oil Archives Andrew Barry, University College London

The historical archive of the BP oil company is housed in a low-rise building on the secluded modern campus of the University of Warwick in the English Midlands, two hours drive from London. This is an archive of a traditional kind. It contains documents relating to the long history of BP, dating from its origins as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, to its later incarnation as the state-owned British Petroleum, and to its more recent transformation into one of the world’s largest multinational corporations. Interested researchers are advised that they can gain access to the Warwick archive and its catalog by contacting its archivists directly. The archive forms the basis for three weighty volumes of official history published by Cambridge University Press (Ferrier 1982; Bamberg 2009 and 2010). But along with this historical archive, located on the campus of a British university, BP also maintains what one might call an open archive, which is continuously updated and made publicly available on the Internet. This latter archive contains an expanding range of documents, which include company annual reports, magazines and glossy publicity material, as might be expected, but also a vast range of more technical and legal documents, which address subjects ranging from environmental performance, social responsibility, and renewable energy to accidents and oil spills. Similar archives can be accessed through the websites of other major oil corporations, including ExxonMobile and Royal Dutch Shell. It is these active and open archives that, in this chapter, I  term the oil archives. Although the oil archives are growing and substantial, my aim is not to provide a survey of the range of material now made available, nor

96  Andrew Barry do I document the variability of corporate practice in the production of such archives. Rather, I  address a series of more general questions concerning how one might understand the politics of the oil archives, their emergence, purposes, and constitution. My contention is that any analysis of archival politics must attend not just to their contents but also to their shifting and contested limits. In the introduction to her book Archive Stories, the historian Antoinette Burton observes that colonial “archives are not sources or repositories as such, but constitute full-fledged historical actors as well.” Colonial archives, she contends, “served as technologies of imperial power, conquest, and hegemony” (Burton 2005, 7). Burton’s point is a reminder that the analysis of an archive needs to address the question of what an archive does, and the forms of power with which it is associated, rather than take the archive merely as a source of documentary evidence or fact. Moreover, the generation and organization of archives demands interrogation. “Our insistence,” she goes on to argue, “on the necessity of talking about the backstage of archives—how they are constructed, policed, experienced, and manipulated—stems equally from our sense that even the most sophisticated work on archives has not gone far enough in addressing head-on the lingering presumptions about, and attachments to, the claims to objectivity with which archives have been historically synonymous” (ibid.). Burton’s observations, I  suggest, provide a helpful starting point for an analysis of the oil archives. In this chapter I first consider the historical emergence of what I have termed the oil archives and their multiple audiences. I then address the question of their contents and internal organization, and the spatiality and temporality of their production and use. I then look at the relations between the documentary archive and the multiple encounters between researchers, activists, affected populations, and oil corporations in the field. Finally, I turn to the question of the presence and absence of technical data and research reports in the archives. My aim in this chapter is to understand the oil archives as full-fledged political actors in the present.

Emergence The growth of what I have termed the oil archives is a recent phenomenon. Indeed, their progressive formation arose from three related movements that gathered force in the late twentieth century and acquired particular salience in the early 2000s. One was the recognition on the part of oil corporations that they were faced with growing opposition from a range of sources, including investors and consumers, affected populations in oil-producing regions, and “a small army of civil society groups, watchdog

The Oil Archives   97 agencies, and NGOs devoted to the monitoring and surveillance of corporate activity” (Watts 2005, 375). In these circumstances, corporations sustained what were increasingly viewed by the industry as substantial reputational losses from events such as the Exxon Valdez disaster, the controversy that erupted around the dumping of the Brent Spar oil platform in the North Sea, and the ongoing conflicts in the Niger Delta, including the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Attending to the growing significance of “reputational risk” and growing pressure from investors (G. Clark and Hebb 2005), corporations sought both to demonstrate their commitment to the ethical values of corporate responsibility and to publish accounts that might provide an alternative to the influential stories told by their critics (Power 2007). Secondly, and relatedly, multinational corporations came to be both the objects and agents of what has come to be called “transnational governance” (Djelic and Sahlin-Andersson 2006; Hale and Held 2011; Barry 2012). This umbrella term refers to an array of overlapping laws, voluntary guidelines, and standards, the development of which has been driven by the combined force of professional communities, national governments, and a range of international organizations, NGOs, and activists. To take three of the more influential measures: the Åarhus convention “On Access to Information, Public Participation and Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters” (UNECE 1998); the “Equator Principles,” first introduced in 2003 as a “financial industry benchmark” for managing the environmental and social risks of large industrial projects, which stipulates that clients should demonstrate “effective stakeholder engagement” (Equator Principles 2013, 7); and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines on multinational enterprises, which now expect that firms should “establish measurable [environmental] objectives and, where appropriate, targets for environmental performance and resource utilisation” (OECD 2011, 42). The implementation of the World Bank’s policies on “indigenous people,” to take another example, requires oil companies to document the impact of their operations on the “livelihoods” of indigenous people (Gilberthorpe and Hilson 2014). In short, the social and environmental responsibilities of corporations have increasingly come to be judged against a growing body of transnational guidelines, standards, and soft laws, thereby generating further material for inclusion in the burgeoning oil archives. A third movement informing the progressive expansion of the oil archives has been the increasing stress on the importance of transparency as both a political principle and a set of technical practices; a technology of government (Foucault 2007). In this respect, the oil industry has not been unusual. After all, there have been growing demands for greater

98  Andrew Barry transparency across cognate fields such as public administration and finance (Hood 2006). However, the idea of transparency has come to have particular salience in the oil industry, and an influential justification. Economists such as Paul Collier and Joseph Stiglitz have extolled the value of transparency as a solution to some of the problems of the oil industry, the operations of which are all too often associated with corruption and violence, or with what has come to be termed the “resource curse” (Bannon and Collier 2003; cf. Weszkalnys 2011). As a result, the governments of oil-producing states such as Azerbaijan and Nigeria have confirmed and demonstrated their commitment to the value of transparency by signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) (Aaronson 2011). Multinational corporations such as BP, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell have publicized their support for EITI, according to which companies are expected to publish what they pay to governments, and the governments of oil-producing states are to publish what they receive. Moreover, international NGOs such as Global Witness have promoted transparency, and supported its development, while also criticizing the limits of transparency in practice. Transparency was said both to address the problem of the resource curse and to foster, according to one group of advisors to BP, “the free exchange of ideas” (BTC/CDAP 2003, 13; Barry 2013, chap. 3). In the opinion of Sir John Browne, former chief executive officer of BP, EITI would help to reduce the “ongoing criticism” by NGOs of the governments of oil-producing states, such as Angola, but also, by implication, of multinationals (Browne 2010, 116). Nonetheless, the financial transparency demanded of signatories to EITI was and remains quite limited, and it only explains the existence of a small fraction of the oil archives. At this point I want to make two observations. First, it would be a mistake to view the expansion of the oil archives as simply another element of corporate public relations, although they do include public relations material. On the one hand, they are the product of a multitude of negotiations, compromises, and disputes between oil companies, national governments, consultancies, financial lenders, academics, and international organizations and their critics. The emergence of the oil archives is both the product of conflict between corporations, international organizations, and their civil society critics and an attempt on the part of corporations and international institutions to govern such relations. In his book Archive Fever, Jacques Derrida observed that “effective democratization [of the archive] can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and access to the archive, its constitution and its interpretation” (1996, 4). In this light, the oil archives have not become “effectively democratized,” to use Derrida’s terms. Oil corporations and their consultants remain responsible for their constitution. Nonetheless, the interpretation of the archives depends on the proliferation of other public accounts of oil industry operations, whether these emanate from government regulators,

The Oil Archives   99 parliamentary inquiries, international financial institutions, the news media, environmental or human rights NGOs, or people and businesses affected by accidents and disasters (e.g., BP 2014a). The oil archives exist in conjunction with other sets of documents such as the archives of international organizations and NGOs, which may also be extensive. Second, as Burton’s observations about colonial archives would lead us to expect, the oil archives have always been much more than mere repositories of documents that might subsequently be deposited in a corporation’s historical archive, to be consulted by scholars only at a later date. After all, the archives address a series of quite specific and selective concerns, raised by the ongoing and escalating demands and requirements of transnational governance, international financial institutions, shareholders, and NGOs. At the same time, they reflect the corporation’s response not just to such pressures but to the consequences of specific technical failures, accidents, acts of sabotage, and environmental disasters. Any analysis of the politics of the oil archives must address not just their relation to wider concerns with transparency, reputational risks, and transnational governance, but to the specific events that the oil multinationals’ activities continue to generate.

Constitution The contrast between the BP archive at Warwick University and the archive of documents made publicly available on the Internet seems clear enough. One archive is located in a particular place and is accessible with permission, to students, teachers, and researchers, “or somebody who is simply curious about the history of energy or our company” (BP 2014b). Whereas the other set of archives is openly accessible, and requires no permission to consult. But the contrast is not as straightforward as it might appear. First, as anthropologists and geographers have argued, the production and consumption of new media is never placeless. It occurs in specific material settings including Internet cafés, domestic spaces, and offices (D. Slater 2013). Although in principle the oil archives are accessible to anyone with access to the Internet, in practice they are likely to be read by metropolitan professionals, investors, bankers, officials, and activists. The oil archives have been made public, but they are addressed to a very specific group of professionals, or particular representatives of the public, not to the public in general (Osborne 1999, 54). Moreover, they are not the product of one agency (the corporation) but of a series of international financial institutions, investment banks, regulatory agencies, service firms, and specialist consultancies, as well as the corporations themselves, that sustain and form part of the wider oil complex.

100  Andrew Barry Second, the documents contained in the archive have their own biographies, and have existed in earlier material and textual forms. They may have been drafted by specialist consultants as well as corporate employees, circulated between managers, government officials, and interested outsiders, and edited and redrafted. Only subsequently are they deposited in the archive. If the archives are, as Burton argues, “historical actors,” then the agency of specific documents occurs both before as well as after their inclusion and publication in the archive. In short, the oil archives have a temporality, which is difficult for the researcher to investigate, but which is critical to their politics. Access to documents is not only effectively restricted to particular readers due to the variable availability and quality of translations, for example, but also by the timing of their release. But while the oil archives function in part as a brochure for investors, some archives include much more detailed analyses of specific regions and projects, their projected future, and their ongoing development. Esso, for example, established what they term a “library,” which holds a substantial body of documentation about the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, including reports on such matters as educational programs, oil spill response plans, reports on biodiversity, and notes of major and minor incidents along the pipeline route such as oil spills, as well as accounts of the consultation process. Indeed, according to Esso, “no other infrastructure project in Africa or perhaps in the world has conducted as much public consultation as the Chad/Cameroon Development Project” (Esso 2014). The existence of this library, and the extent of the consultation process that it documents, reflects, in part, the involvement of the World Bank in the project. In order to continue to push back the geographical and technical frontier (Watts 2012, 464), the oil corporation must be seen to be able to govern the social and environmental impact of its operations. BP’s archive of material on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, a $3.9  billion project also supported by the World Bank, is arguably on an even larger scale than the Chad/Cameroon archive. As well as a series of agreements between the consortium of oil companies of which BP is a part, this archive contains documents relating to at least five “layers” of monitoring by, among others, a committee of senior advisers, environmental and social specialists, and reports by external consultants working on behalf of BP on specific operational matters. One of the explicit functions of the publication of so much material was to render BTC accountable to stakeholders and civil society organizations. But the contents of the archive also incorporate a degree of institutional reflexivity, addressing, preempting, and incorporating the views of external critics, while also raising additional internal criticisms (Born 2003; Barry 2013, 80). For example, BP briefly established a local NGO, the Pipeline Monitoring Dialogue Initiative, with support and financial assistance from the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and other agencies (BP 2006,

The Oil Archives   101 15). In these circumstances, the contents of the Chad-Cameroon and BTC pipeline archives go far beyond that provided in corporate publicity material. They appear to provide an excess of detail about a vast range of matters, ranging from road safety and biodiversity to oil spills and oil spill response plans, apparently demonstrating that the corporation has taken potential risks and criticisms into account and anticipated the concerns of affected populations and other stakeholders. Shell’s annual report on sustainability, for example, also acknowledges the importance of criticism: “If we fall short of the standards society expects of us, we learn from our experiences to improve the way we operate” (Shell 2012, 4). Demonstrations of the capacity to incorporate criticism and to engage in self-criticism both form part of the archives. If the oil corporations, along with the international financial institutions, were once regarded as arrogant, the archives project an image of humility and piety as well as confidence (cf. Best 2013). The scale and scope of these archives provokes, I suggest, three possible critical responses. One response is that the quantity of documentation contained in the archive has the (intended) effect of overwhelming possible criticisms. In this view, the range of expertise available to an oil corporation, the publication of so much documentation, and the explicit willingness of corporations to listen to their critics together provide an effective form of legitimation, defending the corporation against the threat of substantial reputational damage. A second response is not to point to the scale of the archives and their function as legitimation devices, but to question some of the specific factual claims that they contain. Indeed, critics may point both to the failure of oil corporations to address relevant international guidelines and principles, and to the existence of discrepancies between what a corporation’s publications say about its operations and what the corporation does in practice. A  third critical response, which I  emphasize here, focuses not on what is present in the archives, and its limitations, but on what is more or less systematically absent. If the progressive development of the archives both fosters and responds to controversy, it also serves to channel debate toward a quite specific set of questions. In this way, criticism is enabled but it is also, at the same time, contained within limits. The latter two of these critical responses direct us to consider the relation between the contents of the archives and the operations of the oil corporations in the field, to which the production of the archive contributes. It is to this relation that I now turn.

The Archive and the Field As the oil archives have expanded in scope and scale, they have also generated internal tensions. One evident tension exists between the smooth narratives of corporate publicity and the stories that may be contained in

102  Andrew Barry the archives’ more detailed reports of ongoing operations and events. The sociologist of science Michael Lynch observes that archives “are not always coherent and they may contain a surplus of material which may enable adversarial readings” (Lynch 1999, 79). Lynch himself was reflecting on the archive of material generated during the investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal. However, his point is relevant to the study of the oil archives, which also produce, as he puts it, a “surplus of material.” The oil archives, which contain such a heterogeneous range of documents, inevitably contain a multitude of incoherencies and inconsistencies, depending on how they are read, and by whom. How is it possible for a corporation to state its commitment to the value of environmental sustainability and also be responsible for a large number of oil spills, for example? Or to claim that it is committed to public consultation, yet also be the subject of complaints by those who claim not to have been consulted? In brief, the progressive expansion of the oil archives also creates the potential for criticism, which ferments in the evident gaps between corporate publicity and more detailed accounts of corporate operations generated in the field. In practice, the oil archives do not smooth over these gaps, but instead may provide external observers with evidence of their existence. Nonetheless, while the formation of the archives raises questions about their veracity and coherence, the archives are also restricted in their focus. They provide material for certain lines of criticism, but not for others. This occurs in two ways. First, published documents tend to address a specific set of issues, such as threats to biodiversity and the need for public consultation, that reflect the range of guidelines, regulations, and standards that the corporation is expected to enact. At the same time, the archives do not address a series of other potential problems, such as poor working conditions or low wages, that could in principle become matters for wider public debate (Barry 2013, 172). Second, the publication of the oil archives directs attention to the way in which documents have been produced, or what Burton terms the “backstage” of the archive. Many of the disputes that erupted along the route of the BTC pipeline, for example, did not revolve around the environmental and social impact of the pipeline itself, but rather around the way in which the social impact of pipeline construction had been assessed. For example, the BTC archive contained a document claiming that a particular village in Turkey had been consulted about the construction of the pipeline in its vicinity (108). However, critical NGOs pointed out that the village was unoccupied during the consultation process and that a document available in the archive on the BP website that stated that the village was consulted by the company must therefore be mistaken. On the basis of this case, NGOs cast doubt on BP’s claim that it had properly carried out its program of public consultation, arguing thereby that it had contravened the stipulations of the

The Oil Archives   103 World Bank. In this case and others, the politics of the archive revolved around the question of how the contents of the archive were themselves produced. In this way, the production of the archives, or their “backstage,” may become “frontstage.” Yet if the archives appear to reveal a great deal, however imperfectly, they also leave a great deal unsaid. Critical readers may wonder when consulting the archives why something that they know, or imagine is the case, is not contained in the archives. It may be perfectly clear, for example, to the residents of a village that officials have fraudulently appropriated compensation payments that were due to be paid to them by an oil company, but this is not addressed in published documents. Or it may be rightly or wrongly thought that a nominally independent NGO is working on behalf of a government, but this is never mentioned in the archives. If one of wider functions of the development of transparency is to reduce the level of corruption and violence, as some influential economists have argued, then the complexity and dynamics of corruption and violence are not addressed by the transparency of the archives. If “everyone knows” that the development of the oil industry is associated with state interests, then the nature of the relation between oil corporations and states is barely described. As the anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler argues, in relation to the study of colonial archives, the analyst needs “to distinguish what was ‘unwritten’ because it could go without saying and ‘everyone knew it,’ what was unwritten because it could not yet be articulated, and was unwritten because it could not be said” (Stoler 2009, 3). Her observations about the limits of colonial archives have particular salience for those interested in the politics of the oil archives. For if the archives are political technologies, they also forge a distinction between the transnational politics of corporate social and environmental responsibility and the national politics of the state (Mitchell 1999). In this respect, the public record of Shell’s decision to make an out of court settlement in the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, for example, is a rare acknowledgement of a relation between the oil corporation and public politics, one that is seldom addressed explicitly in the archives (Brinded 2009). Indeed, in general, the archives are remarkable in their discretion about the relations between the oil corporations and the states of both oil-producing and oil-consuming countries. Whereas historians tell us about the entanglement of oil corporations and imperial rule, similar concerns remain at the margins of the oil archives.

Archived Materials The historian of science Lorraine Daston has recently drawn attention to the critical importance of those sciences that make use of archived

104  Andrew Barry data, such as astronomy, geology, demography, and meteorology. “Since the mid-nineteenth century,” Daston observes, “it has been a melancholy academic commonplace that whereas the humanities are the guardians of memory, the sciences cultivate amnesia” (Daston 2012, 156). Contesting this view, Daston highlights the value of archives to research in fields such as those that address phenomena over what she terms “superhuman” timescales (160). Indeed, the importance of historical data for climate change research is well understood. Although Daston’s argument is an important one, what she terms the “sciences of the archive” are not only concerned with phenomena such as climate change that extend over superhuman timescales. There are also sciences of the archive that are concerned with the ongoing environmental performance of industries such as oil, thereby addressing the widespread expectation that corporations both “establish measurable [environmental] objectives” (OECD 2011) and make their performance in relation to these objectives public. This is manifested in the form of reports covering such matters as, inter alia, CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, production levels, landslides, traffic accidents, levels of flaring, oil spills and sabotage, and the energy efficiency of refineries and chemical plants (see, for example, Shell 2014). The infrastructure of the oil industry includes pipes, drills, incinerators, platforms, tankers, trains, and rigs, but it has also come to include a growing metrological infrastructure of monitoring devices, performance reviews, and inspections, and systems of calculation and comparison that track the state and behavior of the material infrastructure of oil, thereby contributing to the progressive expansion of the archives (Barry 2006). The industry often operates offshore, or underground, or is contained in enclosed enclaves (Appel 2012a). But it is nonetheless increasingly visible in the form of growing quantities of information that are routinely produced and made public. The authors of a technical paper on the problem of trench excavation along the route of an Algerian gas pipeline made the following unexpected claim: “there is an increasing need in modern projects to communicate terrain data between many stakeholders, in a way that is systematic, auditable and transparent” (Fookes, Lee, and Sweeney 2004, 144, emphasis added). In the view of these pipeline engineers, interested stakeholders need to know not just about construction costs and routes but about the state of the terrain that might potentially lead to a rupture in the pipeline in the future. The relations between pipes and rocks in Algeria have become, in principle, a matter for inclusion in the archives. Nonetheless, if the oil industry has itself come to support the “sciences of the archive” there is an evident difference between the forms of archival data and research discussed by historians of science, such as Daston, and the research reported in the oil archives. For while research in fields such

The Oil Archives   105 as astronomy, demography, and meteorology is widely thought to be in the public interest, and substantially funded by public sources, the sciences of the oil archives are not. There is a clear contrast, in particular, between the level of public support for research on climate research and the absence of publicly funded research on oil and other fossil fuel resources. In these circumstances, many national governments are poorly equipped to monitor the conduct of the oil industry, or to assess the risks posed by the development of unconventional resources, or to generate their own data on the industry’s environmental impact in these circumstances. Moreover, debates about the quality of the data that are made public by the oil corporations do not take place within the agonistic space of an interdisciplinary scientific field, as they do in the case of climate change research. Rather, they are likely to occur in the antagonistic space that has developed between the corporations and their critics. In effect, the corporate sciences of the archive have come to exist in conjunction with what we might call, following Ulrich Beck, countersciences of the archive, sometimes linked to the work of NGOs such as Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth (Beck 1992). Counterscientific research, which is relatively poorly resourced, may direct attention to the weaknesses and uncertainties of the data published by corporations including, to give one example, the “widespread under-reporting” of oil spills and sabotage in Nigeria (Amnesty International 2009, 16; cited in Watts 2012). However, the quantity of scientific data made public by multinational corporations cannot be understood simply as a response to the multiple demands of international institutions and investors, or even the counterclaims of critics. It also necessarily reflects the complex materiality of the industrial process, which both generates a series of pollutants (e.g., methane, sulfur oxides, hydroflourocarbons, oil and its impurities) and the growing series of technical challenges posed by the drive by corporations to exploit new sources of carbon. Thus Statoil informs us of its work in modeling Giant Carbonate reservoirs in southwestern Iran (Statoil 2014), while Total tells its readers about both the quality of their expertise in fracking and other unconventional extraction methods and of their concern to engage in consultation with affected communities, in order to identify impacts that can be “included in the project cost analysis” (Total 2014, 7). Such accounts of technological innovation remind us that the capacity of the oil industry to appropriate new sources of carbon is associated with an ongoing process of technical innovation, in materials, diagnostic techniques, drilling systems, geographical information systems, modeling, and refining (cf. Bowker 1994). Whereas the archives therefore tell us something about the technical dynamism of the industry, they do not contain accounts of the research  methods, instrument designs, and results that one would expect

106  Andrew Barry to find in a scientific paper. They direct careful readers toward the broad concerns of corporate material scientists, chemical engineers, and geophysicists, among others, but they convey little of the limitations of their investigations, their models, or the information to which they have access. The assessment of geohazards, for example, is fraught with uncertainty. Geohazards need to be monitored, managed, and modeled, but modeling is an imprecise art, and its imprecision may be compounded by a lack of historical data about the occurrence of landslides and earthquakes in many of the regions in which the oil industry now operates (Sweeney 2004). Or consider the corrosion of infrastructures such as pipelines and rigs. Steel structures such as pipes will corrode and suffer from fatigue stress over time, but the rate of corrosion of a complex structure will depend on local environmental conditions and can only be monitored remotely or through visual inspection. In these ways the risk of geohazards and corrosion may be unclear or poorly described. The archives provide us with a record of the industry’s environmental impacts, but they tell us little about the assemblages of material as well as human agencies that generate such impacts (Braun and Whatmore 2010). There are thus clear limits to the quality and form of technical detail provided in even the most extensive archives. Sociologists of scientific knowledge have observed how the messy processes of scientific research and technical research are progressively purified in the polished form of the published scientific paper (Latour 1987). But many of the reports of the scientific and technical activities of the oil industry published in the archives are doubly purified. On the one hand, they are purified of any account of the messiness of the research process as described by sociologists of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, they tend not to contain the original reports of the corporate researchers and consultants, which may document the limitations of available data, the variability of environmental conditions, the assumptions built into predictive models, and the uncertainties that are a normal feature of scientific research (McGoey 2007; Barry 2013, chap. 6). The oil archives tell us a great deal about the desire of corporations to push back geographical and technical frontiers, but little about the inevitable limitations of the expertise that they employ. The political limits of the archives are scientific and technical as much as they are political in the conventional sense of the term. As Ann Laura Stoler has argued, in order to understand the significance of colonial archives, it is critical to consider not just what they contain but also what they do not contain. Stoler’s point applies equally to the study of the oil archives. Certainly, the analyst of the oil archives has much to learn from an inspection of their contents. The growing range of documents made public by oil corporations cannot be understood as mere

The Oil Archives   107 fictions, whatever their inaccuracies and limits. In practice they tell us a great deal about the operations of corporations, particularly when read in conjunction with the accounts produced by international institutions and national and international NGOs. At the same time the oil archives are technologies of a form of transnational governmentality, in which practices of impact assessment, risk management, and transparency have come to play a central part, and in which corporations themselves have assumed a critical role. Yet the oil archives are marked by systematic absences. They do not address, except in passing, the question of the relation between corporations and the states of both oil-producing and oil-consuming countries, and in this way they evade what Béatrice Hibou has termed the “political problem” (Hibou 2011, 282). And despite the importance of monitoring, assessment, and research to the operations of the industry, the archives are discreet about the rigor, uncertainties, and limitations of the research on which they report and the data that they make public. The archives are far from being effectively democratized. Those concerned with the democratization of the archives need to address not only the relation between the archives and the law but also the degree to which the technical content of the archives is open for inspection.

Chapter 6

Securing the Natural Gas Boom Oil Field Service Companies and Hydraulic Fracturing’s Regulatory Exemptions Sara Wylie, Northeastern University

On a busy Thursday morning in April, a gas-field worker walked into Mercy Regional Medical Center’s emergency room, complaining of feeling sick and lightheaded. From 20 feet away, the nurse on duty, Cathy Behr, could smell “a sweet kind of alcohol-hydrocarbon” odor. It would be the last thing she smelled for three weeks. Behr put on rubber gloves and a thick paper mask, and went to the worker. She realizes now she should have told him to wait in the parking lot while she put on more protective gear. “I  took him straight to the shower. Mistake. This is the embarrassing part of the story,” Behr said Wednesday in an interview with the Durango Herald. Another nurse took the Materials Safety Data Sheets from the man’s supervisor and looked up the chemicals in a computer database. Meanwhile, Behr noticed the patient’s boots were damp. She removed his clothing and boots and double-bagged them in plastic sacks. The other nurse almost vomited while taking the bags outside. But Behr didn’t notice. She had already lost her sense of smell and wouldn’t get it back for three weeks. At the time, though, she felt fine—just a little headache, which she put down to not eating lunch. (Hanel 2008a)

Two days later, after coming down with what she thought was the flu, the nurse experienced liver, heart, and respiratory failure. Her intensive care doctor decided to treat her for chemical exposure, but when he called the company they refused to release information on the “proprietary phosphate ester” listed in the MSDS or the other unlisted ingredients to which she had been exposed (Hanel 2008b). “The same privacy rules prevented

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   109 Behr from telling the reporter when she found out which chemical made her and the worker sick, she said. The rules also prevented Mercy officials from revealing the gas-field worker’s employer” (Hanel 2008). Despite this clear case of oil field chemicals causing illnesses in both workers and nonworkers, there was no continuing investigation into the case (Hanel 2008). Behr spent over 30 hours in intensive care, and after a long recovery she returned to work in July of 2008 (Moscou 2008/2010). The oil field worker reportedly had no further symptoms but was fired (Frankowski 2008). Why was the chemical information Behr and her doctors desperately needed unavailable? Why does hydraulic fracturing involve chemicals that pose human health hazards? Why was the operator able to refuse to provide information on the proprietary chemicals? Answering these questions requires looking deeper at the role of oil field services companies in the contemporary U.S. gas boom and particularly why sequestrating information on their proprietary chemicals is, according to the companies, vital to maintaining their market edge. This chapter describes how a novel public health threat from chemicals used in the natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing is related to the corporate structure of the oil field services industry, and its close association with both science-based regulatory agencies and the nation’s premier science and technology centers. This health threat is not a side effect of industrial activity; it is directly related to how the oil field services companies have developed to retain control over their intellectual property and is a result of the technical challenges of extracting gas from unconventional gas reserves. The world’s largest oil field services companies, Schlumberger and Halliburton, have made record profits throughout the early twenty-first century’s U.S. gas boom (Casselman 2008). They have shown high profits in part because their services have been increasingly required to stimulate shale and other unconventional gas reserves to produce natural gas, using a proprietary technique called hydraulic fracturing (Manama 2010a and 2010b). The structural process of protecting oil field services companies’ intellectual property around hydraulic fracturing is creating a novel form of petro-violence, this chapter argues—widespread public health threats from chemicals that are made structurally impossible to monitor (Peluso and Watts 2001; Watts 2005). Highlighting the role of science-based agencies and the academy in this process is important, as it generates new opportunities for resistance and transformation and new responsibilities on the part of academics to intervene.

History and Theory of the Oil Field Services Industry It is easy to forget that oil and gas extraction is very much a guessing game, since it is hard to know what lies beneath our feet. Mapping the

110  Sara Wylie subsurface has required the technical development of alternatives to and expansion of the human senses, including the development of electromagnetic and acoustic seismic imaging. Except perhaps for the U.S. military or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, no government agency or industry is more invested in developing alternative means of sensing and mapping than the oil and gas industry, since success in the business depends on identifying and accessing subsurface reserves of oil and gas (MacKenzie 1990; Masco 2006; Bowker 1987 and 1994). Of all the branches of the oil and gas industry, the oil field services companies are the most heavily invested in the technical cultivation of alternative modes of human sensing required for this activity (Bowker 1987 and 1994). Schlumberger, as Bowker describes in his history of the company’s early development, made their market niche by black boxing one mode of sensing, the differential electrical conductivity of geological layers, and linking that with potential fossil fuel reservoirs (Bowker 1987 and 1994). They have maintained their market niche by dramatically expanding their technical sensing ability. As the chairman of the energy-consulting firm PFC Energy, J. Robinson West, remarked in a 2008 news article that characterized Schlumberger as a “Stealth Oil Giant,” “Schlumberger is the indispensable company. They are involved in every major project in every important producing country” (Reed 2008). Schlumberger has come a long way from the struggling company founded by two brothers in 1919; it is a capitalist colossus that in 2010 made $27.45 billion (Bowker 1994; Schlumberger 2011). To say that this is a global industry does not quite do it justice. Schlumberger works in eighty countries; it has roughly seventy thousand employees of 140 different nationalities. It operates thirty different research and development units worldwide. The company expanded from its initial market niche of downhole oil and gas reservoir analysis to be involved in practically every aspect of fossil fuel extraction. In his history of Schlumberger, Science on the Run, Bowker analyzed how the company forged its market niche through the development of elaborate technical and social protections of its intellectual property, because that property was its most valuable resource (Bowker 1994). Schlumberger began by using electrodes to create maps of differences in conductivity in order to locate subsurface oil and gas. When they realized that their technique was relatively easily copied, they started making their machines overly complex in order to make them appear hard to follow and they took their data analysis operation away from the sites of detection (Bowker 1987 and 1994). Schlumberger was extremely successful in tunneling out and maintaining this market niche through protecting these costly investments. This term “costly investments” comes from a sentence in Michael Watts’s work that is crucial to understanding the relationship between the environments of natural gas extraction in the United States and those of

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   111 oil and gas production worldwide. When we examine how federal politics facilitated the present natural gas boom, the United States begins to look like Michael Watts’s description of a “petro-state,” a state whose economy, society, and governance structure is entangled with the extraction of oil. In petro-states, Watts notes, “the security apparatuses of the state (often working in a complementary fashion with the private security forces of the companies) ensure that costly investments are secured” (Watts 2005, 9.7–9.8). The term “security” for Watts refers to the physical use of the state’s military force. What if the definition of the security apparatus of the state is expanded to account for other means of imposing a state’s power? In his lectures on territory, security, and population, Michel Foucault (2007) develops an alternative definition of security. For Foucault, security apparatuses seek to produce particular environmental and social structures conducive to sustaining a territory and developing a population. This process is achieved by balancing the rates of particular outcomes: births, deaths, stock market bubbles, crashes, bumper crops, dust bowls, crime and trade, for instance. Mechanisms of maintaining security recognize that these rates are interrelated, since, for example, attempts to increase trade by increasing the ability of people and goods to circulate could also increase opportunities for and rates of crime; however, restricting or reducing the mobility of goods and people to prevent crime could also reduce trade. Therefore, producing a healthy nation means measuring and optimizing social and environmental conditions that increase the rates of perceived social goods over those of social ills (Foucault 2007). Foucault argues that mechanisms of security rely on the apparatuses of science, particularly the science of bureaucracies: statistics, mapping, and databases. These are the tools that are used by states to count their populations and measure the rates of particular social issues such as crime or trade. Taking Foucault’s equation of security and science into account, the petro-state’s work of protecting oil field services investments could be rewritten: “The [science] apparatuses of the state (often working in a complementary fashion with the private sector [scientific] forces of the companies) ensure that costly investments are secured.” The next three sections analyze how the contemporary shale gas boom hinges on the complementary operations of the science apparatuses of the state and the scientific forces of private industry. I  examine the process of hydraulic fracturing’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 2005 first through industry lobbying and second through influence over the science-based regulatory process. Next I analyze the close relationship between oil field services companies and the academy. I argue that the practice of securing intellectual property by utilizing the scientific and technical apparatus of the state is producing a mode of violence proper to fracking—that is, chemical contamination that is impossible to track.

112  Sara Wylie Brief History of Hydraulic Fracturing Until the mid-1990s hydraulic fracturing was unregulated. The method of “well stimulation” had been pioneered in the 1940s and patented in 1949 by Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company (Montgomery and Smith 2010, 26). The practice gradually developed in an “on the run” fashion in the field, through a process of trial and error, adapting machinery such as surplus World War II airplane engines to pump the fluids (Bowker 1994; Montgomery and Smith 2010, 28). Fracking has since become technically and chemically complex, requiring the services companies to “furnish several million dollars’ worth of equipment” for each well (Montgomery and Smith 2010, 30). Tax breaks in the 1980s supported further research and development of the methods for extracting gas from unconventional reserves (Shellenberger et al. 2012). Shale gas, tight sands, and coal bed methane (CBM) are termed “unconventional” gas reserves, which differ from conventional natural gas supplies whose gas is trapped underneath a nonporous rock to form a bubble. In unconventional gas reserves, gas is distributed throughout a porous matrix such as coal or sandstone. To access such gas it must first be given routes for travel through that porous matrix. Fracturing (the underground injection of large volumes of fluid at high pressures) creates such routes (EPA 2004). Although hydraulic fracturing has been practiced within the industry since the 1940s it has only been proved effective, through the support of tax breaks, at extracting gas from unconventional gas reserves in the past twenty years (EPA 2004, 2–5). Between 1990 and 2010 the industry spread rapidly with the advent of successful gas shale, coal bed methane, and tight sands drilling methods, and with the introduction of the combination of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling (Nijhuis 2006; Clarren 2006a; Applebome 2008; Hamburger and Miller 2004; Willis 2008; D. Anderson 2009; Fox 2010; Mouawad 2009; Paulson 2008). Hydraulic fracturing makes gas extraction possible from the numerous shale beds found throughout the United States and helped to facilitate a boom in unconventional natural gas, such that estimated service-company hydraulic fracturing revenues tripled from $2.8 billion in 1999 to $13  billion in 2007 (Wagman 2006; Montgomery and Smith 2010, 35–36; EPA 2004, 3). Oil field services companies are now fighting vigorously to preserve sole control over the processes and chemicals involved in hydraulic fracturing. This fight began in earnest in 1997 when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that hydraulic fracturing ought to be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. A high-volume hydraulic frack is a large-scale industrial operation. First a cavalcade of eighteen-wheeler trucks is drawn up to a frack site bearing containers filled with the thousands of gallons of fluid and the

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   113 associated machinery necessary for the procedure. The containers are arranged around the “head” of the well to be fracked and then connected to the wellhead by what looks like an octopus of piping. Within the containers, fracturing fluids are mixed together from dry or nondiluted stores of chemicals and other materials such as proppants, sand, or other grainy materials used to prop the fractures open. The mixing of these chemicals is achieved through blending machinery (Montgomery and Smith 2010, 30). This work is carried out by frack teams, specialized work groups that set up and monitor the fracturing process using specialized equipment and vehicles—owned by oil field services companies—that look like large recreational vehicles complete with satellite uplinks. Computer software connected to sensors within the well and the mixing machinery provides data on the pressure, flow, consistency, and temperature of the frack mixture (31). This mixture is pumped into the well by powerful diesel engines capable of producing 15,000 hhp (hydraulic horse power), which is roughly equivalent to about twenty-three 650 hp eighteen-wheel truck engines roaring to life as a frack operation begins (30). A frack operation can continue for many hours as the mixture is forced underground at a high enough pressure to break pathways in the subsurface gas-bearing layer, thousands of meters below the surface. The force of these fluids generates a mini seismic event. There is little data on how much frack fluid returns to the surface; estimates put it at between 50% and 70% (EPA 2004). A single frack can require one million gallons of fluid, and a well might be fracked from three to forty times in its life cycle. The U.S. average number of fracking cycles for a horizontally drilled well is ten (Montgomery and Smith 2010, 28). Frack fluids were developed to suit the unique challenges of surfaceto-subsurface operations. The fluids must be capable of breaking rock formations thousands of feet below the earth, where temperatures in deep wells can reach over 250 degrees Fahrenheit and shear pressures are intense, and then must return as fluids to the surface (Montgomery and Smith 2010). Engineering a substance that remains fluid in such conditions is a challenge (LaGrone, Baumgarther, and Woodroof 1985). Moreover, hydraulic fracturing fluids must be mixed and combined in the chemical and physical environment of the surface, and transferred into very different subsurface conditions, after which they are returned again to the surface. This mixing creates a variety of problems. Surface water is used in very large quantities. According to a 2009 report by the Ground Water Protection Council, between two to four million gallons of water is used during the fracturing process (GWPC 2009). Oxygenated surface water comes with a bacterial load, much of which will not survive the high heat of deep wells. However, within bacterial populations found in this water, a small proportion will thrive in the low-oxygen, high-heat environment

114  Sara Wylie “downhole,” and on the chemical constituents of fracking fluids. The surviving bacteria may destabilize the fracking fluids and reduce gas yields by populating the fractures in the form of biofilms that limit the gas flow. To control this blockage, biocides are added to kill the bacteria in surface water. Fracking fluid returning to the surface is therefore laced with biocides that are toxic to surface life and hazardous to dispose of (Rimassa 2011). As this biocide case illustrates, this fracking fluid, in order to function downhole, presents inherent risks to surface life. Similar engineering and social quandaries are created by other chemicals presently used in fracking. One example involves acids, which are used to clean the well of drilling muds and other debris following drilling (Kalfayan 2008). Following well completion approximately five thousand gallons of a diluted acid, either acetic or hydrochloric acid, are pumped down the well at a flow rate of about five hundred gallons a minute. This amount could simultaneously fill fifty bathtubs with an average volume of one hundred gallons in ten minutes). Flow-back water containing acids is frequently stored in open-air pits, where hydrochloric acid can volatilize, forming precursors to acid rain. Additionally, surface storage of acid itself poses risks, as seen in Leroy Township, Pennsylvania, where forty-seven hundred gallons of hydrochloric acid leaked out of its container (Hrin 2012). Chemical additives such as acid also create hazards for the infrastructure of the well itself, requiring the addition of other counteracting chemicals such as corrosion inhibitors to neutralize excess acids. Oxygen scavengers such as ammonium bisulfite are additionally used to remove oxygen from fracking fluids as oxygen can react with chemicals in the fluid and destabilize the composition of the gel (M. Walker et al. 1995). Additionally oxygen can cause rusting of the pipes’ infrastructure, which, given the high pressures used in fracking, can threaten the wells’ integrity (GWPC 2009). Both oxygen scavengers and corrosion inhibitors are very reactive and some can act as sterilizing agents. As these cases show, the challenges of creating and preserving linkages between the surface and the subsurface create hazards to surface life. There are eighteen different cycles overall in each fracking operation, each cycle involving changes in the chemistry and composition of fracking fluids (McKenzie et al. 2012; GWPC 2009). Presently, the exemption of fracturing fluids from federal reporting requirements and monitoring makes it hard to evaluate the health and environmental risks posed by chemicals used in fracturing. High-volume hydraulic fracturing began to be used in the United States in the late 1980s as a method to extract gas from unconventional reserves in Alabama. In 1994, a Florida-based NGO, the Legal Environmental Assistance Fund (LEAF), petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), arguing that hydraulic fracturing ought to be regulated

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   115 by the state under the SDWA after numerous families in Alabama experienced contamination of their water wells and strange health effects coincident with fracturing operations. The Hocutt family’s water well became contaminated in June 1989 with brown, slimy, petroleum smelling fluid that was similar to the discharged hydraulic fracturing fluid that traveled downhill from the USX-Amoco methane well near their house (reportedly killing all plant and animal life in its path). . . . Ms. Hocutt and her husband have both experienced a variety of diseases including cancers of unknown etiology. At least 8 more neighbors also have some form of cancer of unknown etiology. (NRDC 2002a, 3)

The SDWA requires states to regulate threats from underground injection to drinking water. Fracking, LEAF argued, is plainly underground injection and should be regulated by the state (LEAF 1997). “Fracturing is not underground injection,” said the EPA in a 1997 response to LEAF. The EPA argued that fracturing was not underground injection because the primary goal of fracturing is not to leave chemicals underground but rather to promote natural gas rising to the surface. LEAF did not believe this argument held up under scrutiny (because it contradicts the SDWA), and appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 1997 concluded that fracturing indeed constituted underground injection by the plain language of the SWDA (LEAF 1997). The potential impact of this ruling was not lost on the oil and gas industry. The fact that fracturing had been legally defined as underground injection, and therefore required regulation under the SDWA, potentially meant that every state in the United States would have to halt the use of the practice until they had reviewed and developed an Underground Injection Control (UIC) plan that ensured there was no contamination of water sources. The SWDA requires that UIC “represents an effective program (including adequate record keeping and reporting) to prevent underground injection which endangers drinking water sources” (LEAF 2001). Drilling Contractor reported that “industry is working feverishly to develop legislative remedies specifically exempting hydraulic fracturing from the underground injection program” (Drilling Contractor 2000, 43). In 2001, an unprecedented opportunity to develop such legislative remedies emerged. Dick Cheney, former chief executive officer of Halliburton, was elected vice president to President George W. Bush in 2000, and in 2001 Cheney formed the National Energy Policy Development Group, more commonly known as the Energy Task Force (United States General Accounting Office 2003). Details about the Energy Task Force are hard to gather because

116  Sara Wylie Cheney, in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires the disclosure of activities and details about federal advisory committees, refused to release documentation on the Energy Task Force’s members, meetings, or discussions. Four lawsuits were filed by civil liberties groups, which eventually resolved into two lawsuits on file, one by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) under the Freedom of Information Act against the Department of Energy, and the other by Judicial Watch, a nonprofit governmental accountability organization that filed a lawsuit against the Energy Task Force itself (United States General Accounting Office 2003, 4). As the lawsuits and FOIA requests proceeded, approximately forty thousand pages of documents filtered into the public domain, though many of them are redacted (Abramowitz and Mufson 2007; Milbank and Blum 2005). These documents, republished by the NRDC online, illustrate that the Energy Task Force was directly lobbied on regulation of hydraulic fracturing. In May 2001, members of the Energy Task Force received documentation about the possible impacts that regulation of hydraulic fracturing could have on the development of coal bed methane production. E-mails exchanged about this documentation imply it was shown in a presentation given to the Energy Task Force on March 27, 2001. Parts of the presentation were produced by an industry lobbying firm, Advance Resources International (NRDC 2002b, 6681). The firm’s presentation, copied below, argues, making direct reference to the LEAF ruling, that regulation of hydraulic fracturing would cause more than a 50% decline in coal bed methane production in the United States by 2010 (NRDC 2002b, 6667): Hydraulic Fracturing. In the case of Leaf vs. EPA, the court ruled that the injection of fluids for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing constitutes underground injection as defined in the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA), that all underground injection must be regulated, and that the hydraulic fracturing of CBM wells in Alabama was not regulated under Alabama’s UIC program. . . . It is our understanding based on a review of EPA’s proposed study methodology, that the regulations would govern the injection of all fluids. Given the scope of this ruling, this would affect virtually every CBM well drilled in the U.S. Under the “worst case” scenario (i.e., all CBM wells affected), only a limited development would take place. Therefore, current production would gradually decline over the next 10 years to 700 Bcf [billion cubic feet] with little or no replacement drilling (Exhibit 2).

The methods used to produce these projections are not described in the supplied materials, nor do the documents identify exactly which regulation or “restriction” on hydraulic fracturing was modeled to develop

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   117

Coal bed methane production (Bcf )



1,685 Bcf

lations ent regu


d Projecte


r curr on unde producti

1,200 1,000

Projecte d CBM p ro with res trictions duction declin e on hydra ulic frac turing

800 600 400

700 Bcf

200 2010












Figure 6.1. A diagram from documents given to the Energy Task Force illustrating the over 50% decline in natural gas production by 2010 if hydraulic fracturing were to be regulated. Reprinted with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC 2002b).

this data. Nevertheless, regulation of hydraulic fracturing was identified as one of three pending issues that could affect the goal of producing 1,684 Bcf of coal bed methane by 2010 (see fig. 6.1). Based on such industry lobbying, in 2003, when the first version of the Energy Policy Act was debated (and later defeated) in Congress, it contained specific provisions exempting hydraulic fracturing from the SDWA. The fail-safe means of securing hydraulic fracturing in this case was not the sledgehammer of the federal exemption from the SDWA itself, which could in the future be contested as cronyism. Arguably, the deciding factor was the more subtle work of generating scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a threat to drinking water. In 2004 the Environmental Protection Agency released a white paper with this crucial statement: “EPA has concluded that the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into CBM wells poses little or no threat to USDWs [Underground Sources of Drinking Water] and does not justify additional further study at this time.” With this statement, EPA, the scientific research branch of the state, worked in coordination with industry science to protect and secure the costly investments made by the oil field services industry in intellectual property as opposed to the physical property of pipelines and wells that Watts’s work in Nigeria investigates. This protection is achieved not through the use of physical force, as in the Nigerian case, but rather through the development of scientific research favorable to the industry.

118  Sara Wylie Following the ruling against LEAF’s petition to protect drinking water in relation to hydraulic fracking, the EPA commissioned a study of fracking. The initial plan was that this was to be a two-stage study, the first being a literature review and the second field studies. In July 2000, the EPA put out a call for stakeholders to participate in designing a study around the potential of fracking to impact underground sources of drinking water (EPA 2004, 2–1). From the outset, this study was limited to considering only the impacts of fracking operations on underground sources of drinking water (USDW), based on its perceived mandate under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The study did not consider fracking holistically to include hazards created by the extended infrastructure of fracking such as waste pits, chemical storage, or other routes of environmental and human health hazards such as through surface water or air or soil contamination. Further winnowing the possibility of identifying and analyzing such risks, the study was built around available peer-reviewed literature; no information was subpoenaed, no proprietary information was provided by fracking companies (EPA 2004, 2–3): “In Phase I, EPA did not incorporate new, scientific fact-finding, but instead used existing sources of information, and consolidated pertinent data in a summary report to serve as the basis for the study” (EPA 2004, B-8). This approach is limiting, as the health and environmental impacts of fracking were understudied in the literature at this time since the majority of the literature focused on improving the engineering efficacy of fracking. Additionally, the threshold for performing follow-up field research to fill in gaps around environmental health questions was set very high from the outset of the study: “Specifically, EPA determined that it would not continue into Phase II of the study if the investigation found that no hazardous constituents were used in fracturing fluids, hydraulic fracturing did not increase the hydraulic connection between previously isolated formations, and reported incidents of water quality degradation could be attributed to other, more plausible causes” (EPA 2004, 2–2). The methods section of the EPA report italicizes “and” in this statement as if to emphasize that all of these conditions must be met to trigger a Phase II review. A whistle-blower, Dr. Weston Wilson from the Denver EPA office, argued in a letter to Congress dated October  8, 2004, that the study was fundamentally flawed. He points out EPA did find that the first condition was met, that is, hazardous constituents were used in fracking. However, this was arguably insufficient to cause further review because they only considered impacts if the water- and methane-bearing formations had previously been structurally separated from each other, and if there might have been other “more plausible” causes for water quality degradation. EPA was not required to prove these other potential causes were the actual cause, or to materially rule out fracking as the cause of contamination through field research.

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   119 The study itself is a confusing document. EPA found that “10 of the 11 basins may lie, at least in part, within USDWs” (EPA 2004, ES-13) and that “in many coalbed methane-producing regions, the target coalbeds occur within USDWs, and the fracturing process injects stimulation fluids directly into the USDW” (EPA 2004, 1–6). Additionally, they report: In any fracturing job, some fracturing fluids cannot be recovered and are said to be “lost” to the formation. Palmer (1991a) observed that for fracture stimulations in multi-layered coal formations, 61 percent of stimulation fluids were recovered during a 19-day production sampling of a coalbed methane well in the Black Warrior Basin. He further estimated that from 68 percent to possibly as much as 82 percent would eventually be recovered. (EPA 2004, 3–23)

Considering the volumes of fluid used in fracking, a loss rate of 39% is extraordinarily high, particularly considering that it may well be moving into an aquifer. The report also notes that multiple chemicals used in fracking fluids pose health hazards and that there is a lack of data on this point (EPA 2004, 4). However, these regions of usable drinking water were not considered previously isolated, so the report argues that dilution should be sufficient to resolve any concerns, without performing their own field studies. On the basis of this first report, the plans for a second study, which could have included long-term field studies, rather than the short site visits to view four fracking operations undertaken in phase 1, were cancelled (EPA 2004, B). The one achievement of the report was a voluntary, though unmonitored, agreement between oil and gas companies to no longer use diesel as the primary fracking fluid, which as Wilson pointed out, creates internal contradictions in the report. Why ban diesel if there was no concern about contamination of water supplies? Wilson’s letter argued, “EPA decisions are not consistent with the findings of its study nor have EPA decisions complied with the purpose of the SDWA.” He based this conclusion on the fact that the EPA established that fracking fluids contain “toxic and carcinogenic” substances, yet it concluded there was no need for further study (Wilson 2004). Wilson also argued that the EPA stated that there was a lack of field data on whether or not such fluids could contaminate the water supply, even in the face of evidence from the San Juan Basin that CBM production had indeed led to contamination of water wells with natural gas. (Durango, Colorado, the hometown of Cathy Behr, whose story begins this chapter, is located in the San Juan Basin.) Wilson concluded his letter: In June of this year [2004], EPA produced a final report pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act that I believe is scientifically unsound and

120  Sara Wylie contrary to the purposes of the law. In this report EPA was to have studied the environmental effects that might result from the injection of toxic fluids used to hydraulically fracture coal beds to produce natural gas. In Colorado, coal beds that produce natural gas occur within aquifers that are used for drinking water supplies. While EPA’s report concludes this practice poses little or no threat to underground sources of drinking water, based on the available science and literature, EPA’s conclusions are unsupportable. EPA has conducted limited research researching the unsupportable conclusion that this industry practice needs no further study time.

In the process of developing this report, in the composition of the peer review panel and in the report’s findings, can be seen a structural alignment between the scientific apparatus of the state and the scientific forces of industry. The review committee, also discussed by Wilson, was convened not from EPA experts in toxicology and hydrogeology, but rather from external individuals drawn heavily from industry. Wilson argued that by EPA’s own standards, five of the seven members of this review panel had conflicts of interest. The review panel was made up of one petroleum engineer from BP Amoco, a technical adviser from Halliburton, an engineer from the Gas Technology Institute, a former employee of BP Amoco, an engineer from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and a former employee of Mobil Exploration. There was no one on this panel qualified to analyze the human and environmental effects of chemicals used in fracturing, nor were there any groundwater experts qualified to speak to the dynamics of aquifers (Wilson 2004). Despite the outcry from environmental organizations (D. Anderson 2005), when the matter was reconsidered in 2005, the Energy Policy Act passed, containing, in Section 322, provisions exempting hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the SDWA (Energy Policy Act 2005). This exemption meant that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing would not be publicly disclosed, nor would state Underground Injection Control plans be developed to monitor and ensure against harm to drinking water. Also, there would be no public record on hydraulic fracturing operations.

Sustaining Hydraulic Fracturing’s Exemption through Industry/Academic Relationships The close relationship between the scientific infrastructure of industry and the state, which in this case helped to secure the costly investments of the oil field services industry, extends beyond the direct policy process and regulatory agencies and into the structure of academic science and

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   121 technology development. The impact of this network is demonstrated in the present policy and scientific debate about the safety of hydraulic fracturing and the necessity of shale gas extraction for national security. Partnering with universities to develop technologies and scientific knowledge that promotes and enables gas extraction allows the oil field services companies two benefits: first, it increases the technical feasibility of unconventional gas extraction; second, academic scientific reputation and standing gives credence to their policy recommendations. This cyclical relationship between industry and academia is exemplified by MIT’s relationships with Schlumberger and the larger energy industry through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative, or MITEI (pronounced Mighty). As a research and development-driven company, Schlumberger is interested in participating in and developing useful research programs and technologies at MIT that might assist their company’s development. Schlumberger moved its primary research and development headquarters in 2005 to a building across the street from MIT (Tuz 2004). Schlumberger reports that the move has been a great success: “We made the move after 50 years in Connecticut and already it’s paying off for us tenfold,” said Peyret [Olivier Peyret, former vice president for university collaborations and recruitment at Schlumberger]. “The last time I visited, I was amazed to see how many MIT faculty were in the Schlumberger cafeteria as a matter of routine. It demonstrates the value to us of proximity, as well as helping people studying at MIT learn about Schlumberger.” (Innovation Quarterly 2008, 4)

Schlumberger has an executive management training program within MIT’s Sloan School. The company has given gifts of their proprietary mapping and data visualization tools to the geology and geophysics departments. This software was key to the establishment, in 1999, of a new seismic research laboratory, which expands “its research activities in petroleum reservoir imaging and monitoring, borehole seismology and acoustics, environmental geophysics, geologic mapping and remote sensing,” all tools that instrumentally support oil and gas extraction (Halber 1999). MIT’s institutional relationships with this industry were further solidified by the MIT Energy Initiative, founded in 2006, whose stated goal is “to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today’s energy systems” (MITEI 2010). MITEI brings together researchers from all five of MIT’s schools in a cross-institutional research effort that is supported by oil and gas companies. Founding corporate members of the MITEI such as BP, Shell, and Eni “operate in the oil and gas, electricity generation

122  Sara Wylie and sale, petrochemicals, oilfield services construction and engineering industries” (MITEI 2014a). Founding members have a seat on the MITEI Executive Committee. They may place a researcher in a participating MIT faculty member’s lab, can direct 75% of their contribution to MITEI to targeted research, and have “the option to obtain a worldwide, royalty-bearing commercial license for patented technology, with the right to sublicense” (MITEI 2009, Glickman 2009, 36). Founding members pledged to give MIT $5 million per year for five years to support MITEI (MITEI 2009, Glickman 2009). These industry partnerships are a celebrated part of MITEI, according to MIT President Susan Hockfield: “This exciting partnership between MIT and BP epitomizes what the MIT Energy Initiative is designed to accomplish: the pairing of innovative MIT researchers across the entire campus with results-oriented scientists, engineers and planners in industry, working together to transform the world’s energy marketplace” (MIT News 2007). As part of the partnership, MITEI has focused research efforts in numerous areas vital to natural gas development such as “Multiscale simulation of gasification; Synthesis gas cleanup and upgrade; Gasification technology development; New processes for converting synthesis gas to liquid fuels; Process integration and design for operability; and Fuels market and policy analysis” (MITEI 2010). These research  focuses are already bearing fruit and have become foundational to MITEI studies on “hydrocarbon products and processing,” that is, oil and gas (MITEI 2014b). In November  2006, MITEI reported that “MIT engineers have developed a mathematical model that could help energy companies produce natural gas more efficiently and ensure a more reliable supply of this valuable fuel” (Stauffer 2006). In 2006 it reported on novel acoustic technologies produced to help identify “sweet spots,” particularly in tight sands gas reserves, for natural gas extraction (Halber 2006). These reserves are the kind of unconventional gas reserves that require hydraulic fracturing. Thus, while MITEI is pushing forward research  on non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources, they are also actively promoting and producing technologies that encourage and enable the expansion of natural gas extraction. Researchers at MITEI both develop technologies that enable the extraction of natural gas in collaboration with oil and gas companies and oil field services companies and author policy papers that advocate that natural gas is the bridge fuel. The two-year study, managed by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), examined the scale of U.S. natural gas reserves and the potential of this fuel to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: “Much has been said about natural gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future, with little underlying

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   123 analysis to back up this contention. The analysis in this study provides the confirmation—natural gas truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future,” said MITEI Director Ernest J. Moniz in introducing the report.” (MIT News 2010)

This draft report released in 2010 and their finalized report released in 2011 focuses on the potential of unconventional natural gas formations, such as shale or tight sands: “The United States has a significant natural gas resource base, enough to equal about 92 years’ worth at present domestic consumption rates. Much of this is from unconventional sources, including gas shales. While there is substantial uncertainty surrounding the producibility of this gas, there is a significant amount of shale gas that can be affordably produced” (MIT Press Release 2010). The report also finds that unconventional reserves are “rapidly overtaking conventional resources as the primary source of gas production,” and that the “U.S. currently consumes around 22 Tcf [trillion cubic feet] per year and has a gas resource base now thought to exceed 2,000 Tcf” (MIT Press Release 2010). Such intensive resource extraction requires hydraulic fracturing as well as other technological development, the report concludes: “In order to ensure the optimum development of these important national assets, it is necessary to build a comprehensive understanding of geochemistry, geological history, multiphase low characteristics, fracture properties and production behavior across a variety of shale plays” (MITEI 2010, 14). To ensure this, it recommended that the Department of Energy sponsor research  and development “in collaboration with industry and academia, to address some of the fundamental challenges of shale gas science and technology, with the goal of ensuring that this national resource is exploited in the optimum manner” (MITEI 2010, 14). Further, it recommended that the United States Geological Survey continue to improve methodologies for assessing unconventional reserves. The report recognizes that there are environmental impacts associated with natural gas development. They cite those problems as being: 1. Risk of shallow freshwater aquifer contamination, with fracture fluids; 2. Risk of surface water contamination, from inadequate disposal of fluids returned to the surface from fracturing operations; 3. Risk of excessive demand on local water supply, from high-volume fracturing operations; 4. Risk of surface and local community disturbance, due to drilling and fracturing activities. (MITEI 2010, 15)

Although the list of problems would be recognized as generally sound by the gas patch communities, there is no discussion of the research on

124  Sara Wylie which this list of problems is based. The report neglects to point out that many of these risks are understudied and impossible to study given present regulations. The report adds that “with over 20,000 shale wells drilled in the last 10 years, the environmental record of shale gas development is for the most part a good one,” while providing no evidence to support this statement (MITEI 2010, 15). Further, it asserts that the “protection of freshwater aquifers from fracture fluids has been a primary objective of oil and gas field regulation for many years” (ibid.). This claim is hard to support given the regulatory exemptions accorded to the extraction industry for the SDWA. Rather than investigating whether there have been cases of aquifer contamination during gas extraction, it offers a table that indicates that “there is substantial vertical separation between the freshwater aquifers and the fracture zones in the major shale plays. The shallow layers are protected from injected fluid by a number of layers of casing and cement, and as a practical matter fracturing operations cannot proceed if these layers of protection are not fully functional” (ibid.). EPA research in Pavillion, Wyoming, in Alabama, and in New Mexico and Colorado’s San Juan Basin that contradicts this finding passes unmentioned (EPA 2004 and 2009). Finally, while calling for disclosure of fracturing chemicals it concludes that “good oilfield practice and existing legislation should be sufficient to manage this risk” (MITEI 2010, 15). This statement lacks supporting evidence, nor is it clear what research was performed to support such a determination. Given the present state of scientific knowledge about the environmental and human health hazards of natural gas extraction, definitive statements on its environmental and human impacts cannot be made as yet. The evidence of those living in the gas patch provides an alternative view to that of the oil and gas extraction industry (Amos 2005; Clarren 2006b; Nijhuis 2006; Lustgarten 2008; EPA 2009; Fox 2010; Urbina 2011a, 2011b, 2011c). A gas patch perspective is lacking from MITEI’s presentation in part because communities impacted by oil and gas extraction lack the close connections to research institutions that companies are capable of forming (Noble 1977; Hightower 1978). In a sociotechnical discourse such as natural gas extraction, the role of an academic report should be considered holistically. One probable outcome of the 2010 MITEI draft natural gas report will be that natural gas development is more ardently pursued, thereby fulfilling the document’s predictions. The production of “white papers,” none of them peer-reviewed academic studies that make policy recommendations, deserves further academic investigation, particularly the production and publication of “draft” white papers like the 2010 MITEI report. This white paper perpetuates and occupies a gray zone of academic production that is both certified by the author’s expertise and the

Securing the Natural Gas Boom   125 institution’s reputation, and yet framed as a provisional “draft” that is not formally peer reviewed as a scientific publication. A discursive function of this draft’s publication in 2010 in the midst of growing public controversy about gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale is arguably to alleviate public concern. Such documents are important to analyze as they circulate with high credibility to both industry and policy circles despite their provisional nature. Indeed, the “draft” status further functions discursively to (1) perform a kind of academic transparency, similar to the function of the oil archive (see Barry, this volume), as if the document might be modified by public comment, though there is no structure for such feedback, and 2) protect the document, the authors, and the institution by creating deniability for errors in analysis because of its “draft” status. Academic study is not removed from this discourse. It has a fundamental role in producing gas economies because the choice of which technical and scientific questions are worthy of investigation in the long term shapes what is known and what can be known (Winner 1980; Noble 1977; Hightower 1978; Downey 1998; Proctor and Schiebinger 2008). Exemplifying the need for agnotological analysis of this industry (discussed in this volume’s introduction as the study of structured forgetting), a regime of imperceptibility, taking the form of regulatory exemptions, and institutional, technical, and social bias, has been developed around natural gas extraction and has played an integral role in allowing the present gas boom to flourish (Murphy 2006). A regime of imperceptibility is produced when the very tools intended to investigate a problem actually work to render the problem less visible. For instance, in this case EPA’s 2004 report contributed to making fracking hazards imperceptible by assisting in the exemption of fracking from the 2005 Energy Policy Act. This exemption meant that Cathy Behr, the nurse, and her fellow medical practitioners, whose story began this chapter, were unaware of the chemical risks posed by exposure to fracking fluids. The regime’s logic is self-supporting: it is easy to argue that the environmental record of the extraction industry is a good one when there have been no studies. I suggest that as evidenced by the regime of imperceptibility around hydraulic fracturing, which has developed to protect the costly investments of oil field services companies, we can begin to see a pattern proper to the corporate form of oil field services companies—the alignment between corporate and state scientific and technical apparatuses—which, like the security alliance between the state security and oil and gas industry, must be unwound if we are to transform or intervene in the dynamics of this industry.

Chapter 7

Crude Contamination Law, Science, and Indeterminacy in Ecuador and Beyond Suzana Sawyer, University of California, Davis

Between 2004 and 2007, dozens of judicial inspections of alleged contaminated sites unfolded in the Ecuadorian Amazon as part of a lawsuit filed in 2003 on behalf of thirty thousand local inhabitants against the Chevron Corporation for environmental contamination.1 Presented in the Superior Court of Nueva Loja2 (or Lago Agrio as the town is commonly known)—a bustling Amazonian oil frontier town—the lawsuit alleged that, between 1964 and 1990, Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) spewed industrial wastes in its oil concession, contaminating the environment during This chapter would not have been possible without the generosity of Steven Donziger and Doug Beltman. Steven Donziger, the plaintiffs’ long-term legal adviser in the United States, graciously facilitated my access to the case file. Doug Beltman, an environmental scientist with Stratus Consultants, graciously shared his time and knowledge in answering my questions about the science of crude oil. I also would like to thank Kate Scow (professor, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources) and Peter G. Green (associate research engineer, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) at the University of California, Davis, for their scientific guidance. Douglas M. Mackay (adjunct professor, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources) would also surely have spoken with me had not Chevron lawyers instructed him not to do so. Similarly, I am grateful for my conversations with Sara McMillen (Chevron’s chief scientist for the lawsuit). I also thank Sara Wylie for her critical read and Hannah Appel, Arthur Mason, and Michael Watts for their insightful comments. 1.  Initially, both sides agreed to complete judicial inspections at 122 alleged contaminated sites. Given the length of time needed to complete an inspection and analyze the data emerging from it, and given that the results garnered from the inspections were by and large corroborative, the plaintiffs proposed, and the court agreed, that the number of inspections required of alleged contaminated sites be reduced to fifty-four. 2.  In 2009 the court’s name was changed to the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios in Nueva Loja.

Crude Contamination  127 its thirty-odd years of operating in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon. Industrial wastes, plaintiffs claimed, devastated the local ecology and endangered the health of local inhabitants. The judicial inspections comprised the legal teams from both sides accompanying the judge (variously followed by the press, interested observers, and local inhabitants) as he tramped through the secondary rainforest surrounding former Texaco oil wells, processing stations, and exposed or purportedly remediated waste pits. At each site the plaintiffs’ and the defendant’s team of technical experts extracted soil and water samples, examined them visually, and sent them off to laboratories to be analyzed for their chemical content. Two written reports—one from the plaintiffs and one from the defendant—with multiple appendices resulted from each site inspection. Ranging in the hundreds of pages, the reports each map an inspection site, the coordinates of each extracted sample’s location, and its position relative to waterways, human habitation, and other Texaco infrastructure (wells, pipelines, pumping and processing stations), and they methodically detail the geomorphic and chemical composition of the samples taken. In line with legal procedure in Ecuador’s civil law tradition—an inquisitorial system of law—the judicial inspections constituted the “evidentiary phase” of the trial and, as such, they represented the crucial events for garnering or dispelling proof of contamination. The scientific reports emerging from them formed an integral part of the evidence on which the Superior Court judge ruled in February 2011. Among the issues at the heart of the legal proceedings was each party’s capacity to materialize or dematerialize the presence of toxic elements, derivative of Texaco’s operations, in the region’s soil and water systems forty-odd years after crude production began. Although the presence of crude and its by-products in the environment was not in question, the toxicity of these substances was, and still is. Virtually all the technical reports submitted to the Superior Court of Nueva Loja on the plaintiffs’ behalf assert that “soils, dispersed at various points [at the site], are severely contaminated with the presence of petroleum residues and toxic heavy metals. . . . [and this] represents a real present and future risk to the [local] population” (FDA Informe Sacha-57 2005). By contrast, those that the defendant submitted reach opposite conclusions. Chevron’s scientific analyses assert that alleged contaminated sites pose “no oil-related risk to public health or the environment” and that collected samples of water and soil “contained no hydrocarbons—BTEX, PAH, and metal concentrations—that pose risks to human health” (CVX Informe Sacha-57 2005, v). With Chevron admitting that Texaco’s operations dumped over sixteen  billion gallons of formation waters (the high-salinity subterranean

128  Suzana Sawyer liquids that surface along with crude during all oil production) directly into the environment, burned roughly 230 million cubic feet of natural gas, and dumped heavy oil from exploratory and producing wells into open waste pits, some might suggest that Chevron representatives must have distorted, manipulated, or concocted evidence for the corporation to receive such clean reports.3 Much is at stake. This lawsuit could, after all, lead to the largest cash outlay that a multinational corporation has made for environmental cleanup outside U.S. borders. On February 14, 2011—after more than seven years of litigation in Ecuador layered on top of a prior decade of pretrial hearings in the U.S. federal court system—Superior Court Judge Nicolas Zambrano Lozada found Chevron liable and fined the company $8.646 billion in damages.4

3.  This is information from Texaco’s drilling logs as compiled by DINAPA, the Dirección Nacional de Protección Ambiental (Cabrera’s Report 2008, appendix F, page 15, and appendix U3). TEXACO extracted 1,312,940,910 barrels of oil, dumped 379,246,100 barrels of wastewater into the environment, and burned 230,464,948 cubic feet of gas. 4.  On January 3, 2012, the Sucumbios Court of Appeals upheld Zambrano’s ruling. In November 2013, Ecuador’s National Court of Justice—the country’s highest court—upheld the appellate court’s decision. On March 4, 2014, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rendered a ruling in a counterlawsuit filed by Chevron in 2011 seeking to delegitimize the Ecuadorian judgment. Judge Kaplan’s decision issued an injunction against attempts to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment in the United States because, in his judgment, the ruling in Ecuador was the product of bribery, fraud, and extortion. The defendants in Chevron’s countersuit have (for the second time now) appealed Kaplan’s ruling in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. (In 2011, the appellate court struck down Kaplan’s interim ruling on this case.) A labyrinth of webs entangles Zambrano’s 2011 judgment in Ecuador and Kaplan’s 2014 judgment in the United States, rendering a postcolonial landscape in which the partiality of evidence, attribution, and translations (writ large) is lost and instantiated as truths within the hubris of U.S. law. Unpacking this requires a chapter of its own. Clearly improprieties transpired during the seven-year trial in Ecuador—improprieties by both sides, however. The first significant concern Judge Kaplan underscores in his 485-page 2014 opinion—that the plaintiffs’ technical team ghostwrote the extensive report of a court-appointed and purportedly independent expert—did not figure in the 2011 Ecuadorian ruling; Judge Nicolas Zambrano explicitly chose not to consider the expert report in his judgment because of the emerging controversy over the report’s providence. The second significant concern Judge Kaplan underscores—that Judge Zambrano did not in fact write the ruling and that it was authored instead in part (or whole) by the plaintiffs’ legal team and a hired ex-judge—is based on compromised and circumstantial evidence. The over $32  million that Chevron spent (11 Civ. 00691 [LAK-JCF], Document 1855, page 40) to fuel the company’s aggressive legal tactics and mount its 2011 counterlawsuit in the United States raises probing questions about law and U.S. litigation. In hiring armies of lawyers and filing seventeen legal claims in jurisdictions across the country scouring for evidence of potential wrongdoing by anyone connected to the plaintiffs and their lawyers, Chevron created a “truth”—one that Judge Kaplan similarly espouses. The effect of Kaplan’s ruling is to turn the second largest oil corporation in the United States into a “victim” (11 Civ. 0691 [LAK], Document 1874, pp. 3, 309, 343, 352, 258, 364, 378, 380) and simultaneously to leave the compromised nature of Chevron’s “truth”—especially once adopted by a district court judge—seemingly conclusive and incontestable. The making of that corporate-legal truth is ripe for examining.

Crude Contamination  129 In most cases, however, the test results and concentration levels detailed and submitted to the Ecuadorian court on behalf of Chevron are not radically dissimilar from the results obtained from the soil- and water-sample analyses that the plaintiffs’ experts submitted to the court in their reports. This is not to dismiss differences; they do exist.5 But despite these differences, the laboratory results for samples taken from or near former waste pits by both the defendant and plaintiff broadly corroborate and coincide with one another. Indeed, one of the plaintiffs’ key pieces of evidence that Chevron contaminated the environment is the fact that levels of total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH)—as measured by both the plaintiffs and the defendant—exceed Ecuadorian standards (by tens to hundreds of times) in 97% of the sites examined during the judicial inspection. Clearly—so the lawyers for the plaintiffs argued—this is the present toxic materialization of past negligent practices. So how do diametrically opposed interpretations of contamination emerge? In this chapter, I explore one dimension of the imbricated technical, chemical, and legal work that allowed toxins to matter, or not, in the lawsuit against Chevron. In particular, I read the scientific reports produced by the plaintiffs’ and defendant’s technical experts analyzing alleged contaminated sites against transformations in industry science and regulation in the United States. Doing so helps unravel the sociomaterial formation of toxicity, and how that specifically has played itself out in the lawsuit Notably, as Judge Kaplan states, his “analysis, it should be understood, does not reflect any review by this Court of the substantive merits of the [Ecuadorian] Judgment” (11 Civ. 0691 [LAK], Document 1874, page 211). He writes: “The Court assumes there is pollution in the Orienté [sic]. . . . The issue here is not what happened in the Orienté [sic] more than twenty years ago. . . . It instead is whether a court decision was procured by corrupt means” (11 Civ. 0691 [LAK], Document 1874, page 4). Consequently, Kaplan’s ruling does not speak to the substance of the Ecuadorian lawsuit, and thus does not address the concerns around contamination and toxicity that are at the core of the Ecuadorian litigation. This leaves indeterminate future interpretation and application of the Ecuadorian ruling, given that both the Ecuadorian court of appeals and equivalent-to-supreme court have upheld and extended its legal soundness. Similarly, Judge Kaplan’s ruling does not block enforcement of the Ecuador judgment elsewhere in the world; his opinion, however, presents a formidable obstacle if upheld on appeal. As of July 2014, the defendants’ appeal had submitted significant evidence seeking to vacate Kaplan’s ruling. It is anticipated that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal will render a decision by 2016. For analyses of the lawsuit during its first decade of pretrial hearings in the New York federal court during the 1990s, see Sawyer (2001, 2002); and for analyses of the 2003 opening hearings of the trial in Ecuador, see Sawyer (2006, 2007). 5.  The sampling strategies and laboratory techniques used to derive results differed significantly between the parties. First, Chevron took five times as many samples as the plaintiffs and these samples were taken from obviously problematic areas (e.g., waste pits and their effluents) and obviously unproblematic areas (e.g. higher elevations away from oil operations), whereas the plaintiffs took samples only from locations they deemed problematic (e.g., waste pits, effluents, contaminated platforms, oil spills). Second, the parties each used a scientific assay that registered the existence of hydrocarbons differently.

130  Suzana Sawyer against Chevron. As such, this chapter is not an ethnography of the judicial inspections in Ecuador. Rather, it interrogates the ways in which matters of concern were made (often prematurely and under the influence of interests) into matters of fact (cf. Latour 2005). First, this chapter  is an archaeology of the North-South-traversing knowledge-producing practices that informed the reports that came out of the judicial inspections and were distinctively able to render crude oil as toxic or not. Second, it explores the legal logic that delivered a consequential judicial pronouncement notwithstanding the controversy that experts on hydrocarbons generated around toxicity. Strikingly, U.S. capital-informed regulatory science was not universally recognized and did not seamlessly translate into the Ecuadorian realm. Contrary to common assumptions, toxicity is far from natural. Rather, the mattering of toxins—whether from seepage, spills, or combustion—is suspended in chains of association enrolling industry and atoms, legal contracts and chemical bonds, corporate profit and failing bodies, and scientific knowledge and regulatory standards. Part of a larger project on the lawsuit, this chapter explores one facet of how toxins came to matter through the interrelations among regulatory, scientific, and molecular processes. I argue that crucial to understanding determinations of toxicity is understanding how the complex connections among the production of scientific knowledge, the spatial/temporal complexity of hydrocarbon compounds, and the structure of legal reasoning allow for multiple determinations of crude oil that index distinct toxic and nontoxic realities. The work on “historical ontology” (Hacking 2002) by a number of historians and anthropologists of science is particularly informative to my analysis. Historical ontology is an analytical framework that claims, as Michelle Murphy writes, that “what counts as ‘truth’ is the result of historically specific practices of truth-telling—laboratory techniques, instruments, methods of observing, etc.—and the objects that are apprehended through that truth-telling are also historical” (2006, 7–8). If, as key scholars suggest, reality is the product of historically situated and precisioned instruments, techniques, protocols, nonhuman capacities, and human subject positions (Latour and Woolgar 1986; Law 2004; Mol 2002; Murphy 2006; Shapin and Shaffer 1985), how is this consequential to understanding the ways in which crude oil is deemed toxic or not—both scientifically and legally? Within the context of the litigation, the manner in which each party distinctively dissected or collapsed the chemical elements of petroleum differentially determined whether crude oil could be said to be toxic or not. The plaintiffs espoused a conviction that toxicity was absolute and incontrovertible, and that scientific analyses repeatedly registered levels of total hydrocarbons in excess of Ecuadorian standards established in 2001. By contrast, the defense sustained the conviction that crude toxicity was

Crude Contamination  131 not directly related to total hydrocarbon readings and that a corporate science of risk management—based on discrete subsets of hydrocarbon compounds and powerful enough to shift the regulatory process in the United States—best determined the extent to which crude contamination posed a risk to human and environmental health. Recognizing that Ecuadorian law is not retroactive (thus a 2001 law was not applicable) and that crude toxicity is controversial, Judge Zambrano’s ruling departed from both convictions and trenchantly opened an Ecuadorian legal reasoning of measured action in the face of indeterminacy, which thereby astutely affirmed a distinction between a scientific and a legal fact.

Chemical Bonds and Corporate Risk Criteria Crude oil is a complex brew composed of thousands of hydrocarbons— molecules or compounds composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Because of this complexity, various analytic techniques have emerged to make sense and give meaning to the concoction that makes up “rock oil.” Total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) is the umbrella term used to capture this chemical complexity and—as the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) notes in its toxic profile of crude oil—is “the measurable amount of petroleum-based hydrocarbon in an environmental medium” (ATSDR 1999, 9). The amount of TPH found in a sample is “useful as a general indicator of petroleum contamination at that site” (ATSDR 1999, 2). Further chemical isolation and analysis proffers a sense of the constituents in a TPH measure. The technical reports generated from the judicial inspections and submitted to the Nueva Loja Superior Court contain reams of data on the chemical composition of thousands of soil and water samples. They enumerate the various analytical results for 2,837 unique samples (2,371 from the defendant and 446 from the plaintiffs). These values include measures for TPH and various constituents—benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and a collection of heavy metals. This data was to provide the empirical scientific evidence for whether or not chemicals derived from Texaco’s former petroleum operations were still present in the environment in sufficient quantity to cause harm. Yet far from being indicative, these data were a source of disagreement. Determining what exactly specific chemical values actually signify is embroiled in controversy as science differs on how to measure and assess the presence of hydrocarbons and their effects. Take “total petroleum hydrocarbon.” A  dominant understanding among scientists in the United States maintains that, although levels of

132  Suzana Sawyer TPH are general indicators of petroleum contamination in soil, water, or air, the amount of TPH calculated tells little about how the particular petroleum hydrocarbons in a given sample may affect humans, animals, and the environment. First, TPH is a method-dependent reading. That is, different analytical methods and techniques for extracting hydrocarbons from a matrix will result in different TPH values (ATSDR 1999, 24; TPHCWG 1998, 3). Second, North American scientific wisdom contends that a TPH measurement does not determine risk. Being a gross assessment, a TPH value does not proffer any meaningful information on the multiple chemical compounds within that measure. Nor does it offer insight into how chemical components have in the past or will in the future interact with each other or the medium in which they exist—both key concerns in understanding toxicity (ATSDR 1999; TPHCWG 1998). In the first of its five volumes outlining a method for understanding the complexity of petroleum hydrocarbons, the U.S.-based Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon Criteria Working Group (TPHCWG) noted: “TPH concentration data cannot be used to quantitatively estimate human health risk. The same concentration of TPH may represent very different compositions and very different risks to human health and the environment. For example, two sites may have TPH measurement of 500 ppm but constituents at one site may include carcinogenic compounds while these compounds may be absent at the other site” (TPHCWG 1998, 5). With this paradox being of primary concern, the TPHCWG was formed “to develop scientifically defensible information for establishing soil cleanup levels protective of human health at hydrocarbon-contaminated sites” (TPHCWG 1997a, ix; Twerdok 1999). Within the United States, TPH is not regulated by the federal government, and never has been. Rather, beginning in the 1970s, individual U.S. states have engaged in monitoring TPH by establishing regulatory cleanup levels—that is, levels beyond which contamination is not permissible. These cleanup standards (measured in parts per million, ppm) have varied dramatically from state to state, ranging from 10 ppm to 10,000 ppm TPH, with regulation in the preponderance of states hovering around 100–200 ppm TPH (Michelsen and Boyce 1993, 3; Staats, Mattie, and Fisher 1997, 660). This variation was thought by many, especially industry, to be a problem. Established in 1993, the TPHCWG—a consortium of scientists from the oil and gas industry, the consulting community, the U.S. military, state regulatory agencies, and the University of Massachusetts—sought to address this great disparity in state regulatory directives for cleaning up sites contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons. It reasoned that by standardizing the science used to set standards, regulatory disparities among states would diminish. In pursuing this goal, the TPHCWG enacted a crucial transformation in how to assess contamination. This transformation shifted the focus from

Crude Contamination  133 measuring the gross value of hydrocarbons in a matrix to assessing the risk to human health that constitutive groupings of hydrocarbon compounds (or subsets) might cause. In explaining the science behind assessing the toxicity of crude oil, Sara McMillen, Chevron’s senior scientific adviser for the lawsuit, noted: “It used to be, in encountering petroleum in the environment, that we would ask, ‘how much of the contamination do we need to clean-up.’ Now we ask, ‘how much do we need to clean-up to make the area safe for humans’ ” (Crude 2009). Unpacking this statement provides insight into the recent shift among U.S. states to regulate for specific compounds, instead of gross TPH levels as they previously had. And it offers insights into the capacity to materialize and dematerialize toxins in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Such an unpacking requires a brief excursion through the chemistry of crude oil. Hydrocarbons are a class of organic chemical compounds composed largely of the elements carbon (C) and hydrogen (H). They account for roughly 95–99% of what makes up crude oil. The carbon atoms join together to form an architecture for the compound, and the hydrogen atoms variously attach themselves in a plurality of configurations. The exact chemistry of an individual hydrocarbon depends in large part on the structure and type of chemical bonds that form between and within constituent carbon and hydrogen atoms (ATSDR 1999; TPHCWG 1997; TPHCWG 1998, 54). Schematically, hydrocarbons are broken into two groups on the basis of structure: aliphatic and aromatic (fig. 7.1). Aliphatic hydrocarbons are











Methane (CH4)

Ethane (C2H6)











Propane (C3H8)

Simple aliphatic hydrocarbon
























Simple aromatic hydrocarbon Figure 7.1. Chemical structure of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons.

134  Suzana Sawyer chains or branching chains of single bonds, or carbon-carbon double bond, or carbon-carbon triple bond. Aromatic hydrocarbons are ringed compounds—with benzene being the purest. This ringed structure of alternating carbon-carbon double and carbon-carbon single bonds is said to possess a “special stability” due to the movement (or what in chemistry is called “dislocation”) of valence electrons in the bonding of the six carbon atoms forming the ring. This special dislocation-dependent stability creates the uniqueness of an aromatic ring compound such that its ringed structure (not simply carbon-carbon links) solidifies the compound, making it stronger than would be mathematically anticipated. Chemically this means that aromatic rings are more stable and less reactive, yet similarly contain greater thermodynamic force. These structures and qualities give aromatics the capacity to transform into different compounds under the right conditions. Similarly, as I’ll discuss below, there is an association between this structure and toxic capacity. In trying to assess the toxic effects of TPH, scientists classify constituent compounds into groupings—or fractions—that cluster hydrocarbons according to their structure (aliphatic versus aromatic), their equivalent carbon number, their boiling point, and their “fate”—meaning how they will react and move in the environment depending on their solubility, vapor pressure, and propensity to bind with geomorphic and organic particles. Together these properties serve to establish the proclivity of a hydrocarbon to be volatile, to leach, or to persist in a matrix (ATSDR 1999; McMillen, Magaw, and Carovillano 2001a; TPHCWG 1998). The assumption is that chemicals grouped by transport fraction have similar toxicological properties, although this is not always the case (ATSDR 1999, 13–14). Minimal risk levels have been determined for some fractions with respect to inhalation and oral contact. But crude oil contains thousands of hydrocarbon compounds—some consisting of one hundred carbon atoms or more—and the majority of these compounds have never been analyzed. As of 2001, scientists had identified the physical and chemical properties of only 250 hydrocarbon compounds (ATSDR 1999, 9, D-1; TPHCWG 1999, 3; McMillen et al. 2001c, 58). Yet only twenty-five hydrocarbons have been sufficiently studied and characterized to determine their toxicity, and virtually all of those contain less than a couple dozen carbon atoms. Of these twenty-five hydrocarbons, two classes of aromatic hydrocarbons— BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) and seventeen PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)—are of most concern. BTEX are crude oil’s lightest aromatic compounds—all based on one benzene ring—while PAHs, a class consisting of several hundred compounds (Sanders and Wise 2011), are hydrocarbons composed of two or more

Crude Contamination  135 fused benzene rings. BTEX and the seventeen light PAHs are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic, or all three; they intervene in the cellular development of life-forms. Beginning in the 1970s with the Clean Water Act, the U.S. EPA incrementally included these hydrocarbons among its “priority pollutants”—a set of chemicals that the agency regulates given their potential harm. With respect to the judicial inspection, the technical reports that both the plaintiffs and defendant submitted to the Nueva Loja Superior Court between 2004 and 2007 present data detailing the analytical results from soil and water samples. Tables enumerate concentrations of TPH, BTEX, aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons (divided into incremental fractions according to the number of carbon molecules they contain), and the seventeen PAHs within a given soil core or water sample. Overall, TPH values from laboratory analysis by both the defendant and plaintiffs overlap—ranging from low to astronomical levels.6 But notably, the technical reports from both sides register no (or only a scant) presence of BTEX and light PAHs—the hydrocarbon compounds within crude oil understood universally to detrimentally affect life-forms. It is on this basis that Chevron’s chief counsel and experts were able to state that former Texaco operations pose no present oil-related risk to public health or the ecosystem. When crude oil is released into the environment, its composition changes quickly and irreversibly as a result of various physical and biological processes know collectively as degradation. BTEX (the four aromatic compounds composed of one benzene ring with between six to eight carbon atoms) is extremely volatile, and tends to dissipate from oil relatively quickly. As oil weathers, BTEX evaporates within days to weeks to months, depending on the conditions once exposed to the air; when underground, BTEX dissolves in groundwater and can even slightly evaporate. The same is true of light PAHs—that is, those with less than a dozen carbon atoms and a relatively low molecular weight. Consequently, Chevron is correct when it says that “all our test results demonstrate the virtual absence of BTEX, and the disappearance of light and mobile fractions of PAH” (CVX Informe Sacha-57 2005, vii). For those isolated cases in which Chevron’s sampling did indicate the presence of one or two of these known toxic compounds (e.g., benzene) at well sites still under production, the corporation quite legitimately argued that given these compounds’ volatility their appearance could not be the result of Texaco activities between 1964 and 1990. 6.  The number of samples and analytical results taken by each party, however, differs significantly: Chevron took 2,371 samples, producing 50,939 test results, and the plaintiffs took 466 samples, producing 6,239 results. The highest TPH reading was 900,000 ppm (mg/ kg) taken from oil well Shushufindi #4.

136  Suzana Sawyer Perforce, crude oil’s capacity for harm radically differs depending on the matrix of legibility—TPH levels versus BTEX and light PAHs—in which it is placed. Each matrix of legibility rests on, as it fuses together, a distinct constellation of molecular, technical, and social processes. Differently assembled atomic, laboratory, and policy actions invest hydrocarbon compounds with unique meaning—evincing and foreclosing qualities, capacities, and the possibilities of their effect. Much to Chevron’s favor, in the late twentieth century United States, the spatial and temporal volatility of light hydrocarbon compounds conjoined with a scientific impulse to standardize and a corporate compulsion to obviate undue regulation; the effect was to institutionalize restrictive parameters for what defined crude oil toxicity. Disturbingly, this assemblage allowed toxins (narrowly defined—BTEX, light PAHs) to dematerialize and culpability for them to disappear precisely at the moment when the industry was advocating for an “accurate” (rather than “general”) science for making a contaminated “area safe for humans” (Chevron chief scientist, in Crude 2009).

Knowledge Production and Risk Management In reworking a methodology for assessing hydrocarbon contamination, the TPHCWG was motivated by one “truth”: “there is no single TPH toxicity criterion for developing human health risk-based cleanup goals” (TPHCWG 1999, 2). As such, the “introduction” to each of its five volumes affirms that the range of TPH standards used across different U.S. states to assess the need for hydrocarbon cleanup are “not based on a scientific assessment of human health risk” (TPHCWG 1998, ix). Although these “sometimes arbitrary TPH standards” may “reduce human health risk,” this is “by an unknown amount” (1999, 2), and standards may be overly conservative and costly. After compiling and reviewing hydrocarbon chemical and toxicological data in five extensive volumes, the TPHCWG “developed an approach for calculating RBSL [risk-based screening level] that provides a quantifiable degree of health protection” (1999, 2). TPHCWG risk-based cleanup goals emerged from a tiered risk-based decision-making framework: (1) determining the specific fraction composition of the particular hydrocarbon contaminant at a site; (2) executing mathematical calculations (ingestion/inhalation/dermal contact) that establish risk-based-screening levels for thirteen hydrocarbon fractions (in soil/groundwater/surface water) based on TPHCWG’s assigned toxicity criteria; and (3) and assessing the hydrogeological conditions, history, possible exposure pathways, receptors of contamination, and present and future land use of the site. Since the late 1990s, scientists working for oil companies, the American Petroleum Institute, and environmental consulting firms have

Crude Contamination  137 avidly promoted, disseminated, and extended the TPHCWG’s work in peer-reviewed scientific journals and books. As noted in the preface to a much cited book coedited by Chevron’s chief scientist for the Ecuadorian lawsuit (McMillen et al. 2001a), the work of the TPHCWG was formative in transforming how hydrocarbon-contaminated sites are understood in the United States: “The most desirable environmental goal” is “risk reduction . . . not achieving generic hydrocarbon concentration limits” (Loehr 20014). “Risk assessment” and “risk management” based on scientific knowledge is what will “achieve an environmentally protective endpoint, i.e., a concentration of a chemical in such soils below which there is no expected adverse effect to human health and the environment” (Loehr 2001, 2). This reasoning was powerful. Whereas all U.S. oil-producing states regulated gross TPH levels when the TPHCWG published its reports between 1997 and 1999, by the mid-2000s not one U.S. state regulated or determined cleanup on the basis of TPH levels. Rather, following and adapting TPHCWG guidelines, state regulatory agencies set new cleanup standards based on dividing hydrocarbons into the thirteen constituent fractions. In theory, breaking up hydrocarbons into these fractions provides a more accurate understanding of risk. The publications of a cohort of industry-related scientists that build on the TPHCWG’s work sound a recurrent take-home message: after a contamination event, those hydrocarbon compounds known to detrimentally affect human health and the environment—light aromatic compounds (BTEX and two-ring PAHs)—dissipate or biodegrade in the environment. Heavy PAHs (> three rings) remain in the environment but are immobile, inert, and safe to human health and the environment (Alexander 1995; Bobra, Shiu, and Mackay 1983; McMillen et al. 2001a; Heath, Koblis, and Sager 1993; O’Reilly and Thorsen 2010; Vorhees and Butler 1999; Twerdok 1999; Staats et al. 1997; Claff 1999). These studies reach this conclusion using scientific methodologies and reasoning: they complete a review of “the literature” and perform the requisite tests and equations (K coefficient for sorption, Henry’s Law coefficient for volatility, vapor pressure, and water solubility) necessary to demonstrate that the petroleum hydrocarbons that remain after seepage, discharge, or a spill—the crude oil that contains heavy PAHs—do not pose a risk to human health and the environment. Research  conducted by Sara McMillen (the Chevron chief scientist) and colleagues (McMillen et  al. 2001d) used the TPHCWG’s thirteen equivalent-carbon fraction method to reconstruct a risk-based-TPH screening level for seventy different crude oils representative of the chemical composition of the types of crude produced around the world. Their analysis indicated that a composite TPH level of 41,300 ppm (derived from a range of 35,000 ppm to 67,300 ppm) at production and exploration sites was “protective of human health.” Although significantly greater than all

138  Suzana Sawyer state regulatory directives at the time, McMillen et  al. determined that such a level was valid “because most of the equivalent carbon fractions found in crude oils are either not soluble or volatile enough to cause a concern” (2001d, 126). Analyzing data that Chevron’s technical experts collected during the Ecuadorian judicial inspections, Kirk O’Reilly (a former Chevron employee and then consulting scientist) and Waverly Thorsen examined whether weathering affects the solubility of large “recalcitrant” PAHs. They concluded that, given the “rapid weathering of the more soluble aromatics and the low effective solubility of larger PAHs,” soils impacted by Ecuadorian crude would “not  .  .  . result in dissolved [PAH] concentrations that exceed health-based drinking water goals” (O’Reilly and Thorsen 2010, 402)

Alternative Chemical Stories Within other spheres of science, however, a growing literature suggests the opposite of industry-related studies. For a number of decades, scientists have understood that the aging of crude reduces acute toxicity—as single-ringed (BTEX) and double-ringed (light PAHs) aromatic compounds evaporate and dissolve (Griffin & Calder 1977; MacKay and McAuliffe 1988). Similarly, scientists have understood that aromatics with a greater molecular weight (three to six rings) are more toxic, and increasingly so by an order of magnitude per carbon ring, than their lighter, more volatile counterparts (Black et al. 1983; Griffin and Calder 1977). Because of their low solubility and tendency to sequester in the micropores of soil particles, however, it was thought these aromatics compounds were not biologically available and thus posed little concern. But research following the Exxon Valdez and other oil spills challenged this assumption. Spurred by declines in fisheries populations, a number of studies have documented the negative effect that long-term exposure to low concentrations of weathered crude have had on fish embryos and larvae (Rice et al. 2001; Marty et al. 1997; Peterson et al. 2003; Incardona et al. 2005 and 2012). Contrary to prior assumptions, these scientists discovered that many of the multiringed PAHs in weathered oil are bioavailable and that chronic exposure to weathered crude can result in long-term negative effects. In Alaska’s Prince William Sound, heavy aromatics passed through the porous membranes of fish embryos and lodged in lipophilic yolk reservoirs during cellular differentiation and development. Observed long-term toxic consequences—although often not expressed until long after exposure ended—included cranial and spinal malformations, cardiac dysfunction, decreased size, slowed development, inhibited swimming, increased mortality, reduced marine survival, and reproductive impairment on larvae and fish (Bue et al. 1996; Incardona et al. 2005).

Crude Contamination  139 Most likely these effects were the result of PAH clastogenesis; three-five ringed PAHs metabolized as clastogens—or agents that added, deleted, or rearranged sections of chromosomes—inducing chromosomal disruption (Incardona et al. 2005; Rice et al. 2001). Significantly, scientists’ capacity to materialize the toxic effects of multiringed PAHs depended on experimental designs whose locus of analysis and laboratory techniques differed significantly from that of industry-associated science. Overall, these studies on molecular and genetic toxicity suggest that weathering does not, necessarily, mean becoming more benign. Although the acute toxicity of crude may quickly dissipate through degradation, the chronic, long-term, sublethal effects of crude have been shown to increase with time and toxicity can intensify, rather than diminish—especially for tricyclic PAHs (Amat et al. 2006; Heintz, Short, and Rice 1999; Incardona et al. 2005 and 2012). The mechanisms by which this occurs have yet to be understood. But a number of studies suggest that grouping PAHs into fractions by carbon number and assuming that the individual compounds within a fraction share similar properties (in terms of transport and fate) may not be an effective way to assess risk to life-forms. A number of scientists (Incardona et al. 2005 and 2012; Jacob 2008; EPA Draft Document PAHs 2010; ATSDR 1995) underscore the complexity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: PAHs with similar molecular weight (i.e., the same number of carbon atoms) but different ring arrangements have different capacities for solubility and uptake; the pathways that enable PAHs to bind to receptors (ArR) that control genes encoding enzymes (converting PAHs to water-soluble derivates) may metabolize and eliminate xenobiotic compounds or they may intensify toxic capacity and effect; and the metabolites of distinct PAHs vary in their toxicity depending on the organism, the tissue, and the stage of development of the entity that has metabolized the PAH. The assertion by industry-related science that complex hydrocarbons are immobile and harmless increasingly appears a premature conclusion.

Knowing and Unknowing Differing opinions among industry and nonindustry scientists as to the behavior and consequence of multiringed petroleum compounds raise questions about the production of scientific knowledge. As a number of scholars (Proctor 1995; Markowitz and Rosner 2002; Michaels 2008) have explored, the production of scientific uncertainty is a time-honored strategy within an assortment of industries in an attempt to preclude unwanted regulation or postpone liability, or both. The tobacco industry—with “doubt-is-our-product” infamy—has been perhaps the most egregious (Proctor 2011). But the petroleum industry is not innocent in this regard.

140  Suzana Sawyer Even though an association was recognized between chemicals in fossil fuels and cancer in 1775 (Pickering 1999) and medical research had documented a causal link between benzene and fatality beginning in the 1920s (ATSDR 2007, 39) and benzene and leukemia beginning in the 1930s, the oil and gas industry effectively forestalled federal regulation of benzene for fifty years by “manufacturing uncertainty” (Markowitz and Rosner 2002; Michaels 2008, 70–78). With respect to hydrocarbons more broadly, the industry has more recently been engaged in a complementary strategy: the production of certainty—a certainty that has delegitimized prior regulatory standards in the United States, facilitated more lenient cleanup directives, and sought to foreclose the need for further research. Toward this end, corporate and consulting science has pursued a double tactic. On the one hand, it has repeatedly demonstrated that gross TPH measures are meaningless; that the best way to assess risk from hydrocarbon contamination is by measuring levels of thirteen distinct fractions and assessing toxicity from them; and that multiringed PAHs are inert and pose no risk to human health. On the other, it has demonstrated that soils contaminated with composite crude oil with a TPH level of 41,300 ppm are not deleterious to humans or the environment. The former is an effort to control the science and assert truths in the face of ambiguity. The latter is an effort to reduce the need to assess and analyze exploration and production sites. Both, in turn, promote cost reduction—in terms of analysis, restoration, and reparations. In a self-referencing citational loop, the corporate and consulting science of hydrocarbons has forged a scientific legitimacy and technical protection of oil operations and their collateral damage. This production of truth claims serves to hide the controversy around petroleum hydrocarbons and the partiality of the industry’s own claims. At one level, industry-related scientists must depict the state of scientific knowledge in constrained and limited terms in order to magnify corporate certainty; that is, they misrepresent by selectively ignoring, even censoring out, other science—those alternative chemical stories that don’t suit industry interests. Not one of the industry-sponsored or -associated studies I  examined cited research  outside its bubbled industry-science realm. But more profoundly, and insidiously, the laboratory techniques and protocol that industry scientists have standardized produce the inability to apprehend the harmful effects of three-ringed PAHs. That is, their experiments—with the requisite tests and equations—cannot register a consequential value. The life-debilitating capacity of heavy PAHs is made imperceptible; and imperceptibility is inevitable because it is actively produced as such. The shift in U.S. regulatory policy in the mid-2000s to assess petroleum in the environment on the basis of discreet hydrocarbon fractions (instead

Crude Contamination  141 of gross TPH measures) was arguably an industry strategy to contain and stabilize what can be understood as contamination. The historical context is notable. The TPHCWG was officially formed in 1993, only a few years after the Exxon Valdez spilled 11,088,000 gallons of crude oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. The magnitude of the spill—the largest at that time in U.S. history, spreading over 750 kilometers—and the ensuing scientific investigations, cleanup operations, and legal actions over the following decade gave witness to the impressive financial liability that assessments of contamination could wreak on the oil industry. Among those U.S. states with TPH cleanup regulations on their books at the time, most tended toward the more conservative side (requiring cleanup action when contaminated soil samples registered 100 ppm to 1,000 ppm TPH)—with the majority of state cleanup levels hovering around 100–200 ppm and a handful of other states extending beyond 1,000 ppm (Hamilton, Sewell, and Deeley 2001, 38; Staats, Mattie, and Fisher 1997, 660). Were Alaska to have been among those states mandating cleanup at TPH levels of 100 ppm, or even 1,000 ppm, the consequences of postspill environmental politics and remediation might not have been so devastating for Alaskan wildlife.

Action in the Context of Indeterminacy In a written rebuttal to one of Chevron’s technical reports, the plaintiffs’ lawyers noted that Chevron’s “expert attempts to confuse and distort the very concept of contamination; he seeks to relativize it—when the very concept of contamination is absolute. The contamination either exists, or does not exist” (FDA Observaciones Sacha-57 2005, 15). One might argue that Ecuador’s Executive Decree 1215, Environmental Regulations for Hydrocarbon Operations in Ecuador, promulgated in 2001, concurs. Asserting a logic contrary to regulatory scientific opinion in the United States, Executive Decree 1215 established national legal limits for the quantity of TPH permissible in distinct land uses: 1,000 ppm for sensitive ecosystems, 2,500 ppm for agricultural land, 4,000 ppm for industrial use land, and 10,000 ppm in areas of industrial wastes.7 The legal limit for the Amazon—a sensitive ecosystem—is 1,000 ppm TPH.

7.  Decree 1215, Environmental Regulations for Hydrocarbon Operations in Ecuador, published in the Official Registry #265 on February 13, 2001. The Unified Text of Secondary Environmental Legislation (Texto Unificado de Legislación Secundaria del Medio Ambiente, TULSMA) by the Ministry of Environment, Executive Decree 2825, published in the Official Registry #623 on July 22, 2002, sets standards for all other analytes in crude oil and the oil process.

142  Suzana Sawyer In February 2011, the president of the provincial court, Judge Nicolas Zambrano, presented his ruling. Within a carefully reasoned 190-page judgment, Zambrano’s discussions on liability and causation are instructive. Because the Ecuadorian judicial system does not allow law to be retroactive—“rules cannot be applied to acts prior to their approval” (2011, 96)—Judge Zambrano reasoned (coinciding with the defense) that Chevron could not be expected to comply with legislation that was passed a decade after it terminated its operations in 1990. As such, the maximum allowable limits for TPH established in 2001 under Decree 1215, or the maximum allowable limits for BTEX and seven PAHs established in 2003 under Executive Decree 3516, could not be used as instruments for determining a violation. Rather, the court would take measures of TPH and distinct hydrocarbons into account as “reference parameters” that offer insight into the “current condition of the environment in question”—Texaco’s former oil concession (Zambrano 2011, 74, 96). However, a number of legal provisions were in effect during the period of Texaco’s operations, Judge Zambrano noted, and these provisions did carry the force of law: the earliest was the 1964 concessionary agreement whereby the right that the Ecuadorian state granted Texaco to explore for and exploit oil was conditioned by the company’s obligation not to deprive local inhabitants of their livelihood rights (to water, navigation, fishing) or “to deprive the waters of their qualities of potability and purity” (Registro Official No. 186 of February 21, 1964, in Zambrano 2011, 61–62, 97). Although TPH values may “not [be] a precise indicator of health risk,” Zambrano argued, the impressive measures recorded in samples taken from every waste pit during the fifty-four judicial inspections make TPH measures a “good indicator of the environmental condition in terms of hydrocarbon impacts” (Zambrano 2011, 101) and “gives us certainty that environmental conditions are similar in all of the sites” (Zambrano 2011, 105). And although controversy foreclosed any definitive reading of the potential significance of TPH—the crown jewel of the plaintiffs’ argument with the highest level reaching 900,000 ppm—controversy was less problematic in considering PAHs. Zambrano argued that the results of the majority of samples taken from pits by the plaintiffs’ and court-appointed experts exhibited high levels of “PAHs, which are potentially carcinogenic” and, as the inspections demonstrated, “can deeply penetrate soils, especially if there is prolonged contact as would be the case with waste pits, putting the soil and groundwater at risk of contamination” (Zambrano 2011, 108). Together, measures of PAH and limited evidence of heavy metals in soil and water samples taken in and near former Texaco waste pits “demonstrates . . . the hazardous presence of polluting agents” (Zambrano 2011, 108), irrespective of the fact that Chevron’s analyses determined otherwise.

Crude Contamination  143 In response to Chevron’s defense that these substances (TPH, PAHs, metals) were not regulated during the time of Texaco’s operations, Judge Zambrano retorted that “beyond any irreverent argument of some lawyer who intends to deprive the law of its meaning . . . the lack of regulation” over the dumping of a substance does “not in any way mean an implicit authorization to dump this hazardous substance into the environment” (Zambrano 2011, 99). These substances were known to be hazardous by Texaco, Zambrano concluded, because prior to beginning its operations in Ecuador, the director of the company’s Research, Environment, and Safety Department collaborated on a 1962 publication that outlined “extreme care” in handling wastes from oil operations due to their deleterious nature (Zambrano 2011, 81–82). Given this foreknowledge, Zambrano argued, “the defendant had the obligation to foresee and prevent the presence of products that are hazardous to health and/or the ecosystem” (Zambrano 2011, 97) in its oil operations; not only did the company’s actions constitute violations of Ecuador’s law at the time but also the presence of substances “that may place life and/or the health of people at risk . . . would constitute evidence of legal harm, which, as such, brings with it the obligation to make reparation” (Zambrano 2011, 97). Citing a 2002 ruling of the Ecuadorian Supreme Court of Justice—and seeming to echo Beck (1992) and Callon, Lascoumes, and Barthe (2009)— Judge Zambrano wrote: “The current world and that of the near future, with its extraordinary and steady accumulation of risks, calls for a more vigorous defense of human values, as a result of a science that is both all-providing and all-threatening at the same time” (Zambrano 2011, 82). This “multiplicity of actual contingencies of dangers and risks,” he wrote, had spurred new understandings of liability and causality. “Risk theory” asserts that “whoever uses and takes advantage of any benefit-yielding medium generates social risks, and therefore must assume liability for the injury thereby caused.  .  .  . This is risk of advantage, with its origin in the Roman maxim emolumentum ibi llus (there where the benefit lies is also where the responsibility lies)” (Zambrano 2011, 83). In the context of hazardous industry, because it is “almost impossible” to prove fault for the excesses—or what Callon, Lascoumes, and Barthe (2009) call “overflows”—that the production and use of hazardous elements generate, fault is presumed to reside in “whoever uses and takes advantage of the risky thing through which the harm occurred” (Zambrano 2011, 83). And because of “the irrefutable lack of scientific certainty” (Zambrano 2011, 89) about the effects of elements in our environment, “the court will consider these elements without having to determine precisely which element caused harm. . . . The mere existence of harm would be sufficient to accredit a causal nexus between the harm and the hazard that had been created” (Zambrano 2011, 88–89).

144  Suzana Sawyer Judge Zambrano’s ruling—along with an evolving Ecuadorian regulatory system (as seen in the 2001 and 2003 legislation)—was not asserting that “the very concept of contamination is absolute—that contamination either exists, or does not exist” (FDA Observaciones Sacha-57 2005, 15). Rather, an emergent legal logic concerning the environment recognized that relying on limited and contested knowledge about petroleum hydrocarbons (i.e., debate around the significance of high TPH readings, the controversy over the transport and fate of PAHs) might not be the best way to secure care for life-forms. As such, Zambrano’s 2011 ruling traced (without invoking) many of the contentions central to an evolving precautionary principle: where an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if cause and effect relationships are not determined scientifically. Like Zambrano’s judgment, the precautionary principle’s foundational ethic insists on interrupting the onus of proof and on obliging decision makers to take responsibility for addressing plausible dangers despite uncertainty. In this vein, Zambrano’s note of “the difference between legal causation and scientific causation” (Zambrano 2011, 89) echoes Latour’s discussion of the distinction between law and science. Latour writes: “When Roman lawyers intoned the celebrated adage res judicata pro veritate habetur, they were declaring that what had been decided should be taken as truth, which means, precisely, that is should in no way be confused with the truth” (2010, 238). Zambrano’s judgment did not fixate on the specificities of scientific measures and their significance—as the arguments of the plaintiffs and the defense did. Rather, his judgment rested on the extent to which corporate behavior violated the broader spirit of the law at the time, and the extent to which that violation posed deep uncertainty to the soils and waters, and by extension all human and other-than-human life-forms dependent on them. Zambrano’s decision—as well as Ecuador’s recent environmental laws—reflected an understanding that scientific knowledge of crude toxicity is inherently open-ended and lacks closure. This emergent Ecuadorian environmental reasoning is the enfolding of knowledge, ignorance, and imprecision—one in which indeterminacy, uncertainty, and probability proffer an expanded platform to those who share a stake in its epistemological rules (cf. Petryna 2002). By contrast, a corporate risk-management logic expended significant energy seeking to establish certainty about hazard: industry-promoted science could and would accurately analyze and calculate whether a contaminated site posed risk. It sought to claim that only science-based risk could determine danger and legitimize regulation and remedial action. Through the generation of scientific “truths,” industry sought to control the capacity to assess and prove a hazard. But given the complexity of crude oil, it is misleading to claim that assessing the levels of thirteen

Crude Contamination  145 hydrocarbon fractions at a site against assigned concentration levels determined toxic is a more scientifically accurate understanding of risk. As the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states, “Despite the large number of hydrocarbons found in petroleum products and the widespread nature of petroleum use and contamination, only a relatively small number of the compounds are well characterized for toxicity. The health effects of some fractions can be well characterized, based on their components . . . (e.g., light aromatic fraction—BTEX . . .). However, heavier TPH fractions have far fewer well-characterized compounds. Systemic and carcinogenic effects are known to be associated with petroleum hydrocarbons, but [this agency] ATSDR does not develop health guidance values for carcinogenic end points” (ASTRD 1999, 16). Left out of the story told by the TPHCWG is that many of the unstudied or understudied hydrocarbon compounds within its hypothetical 500 ppm level could be deleterious to well-being and health. We just don’t know. And many of the compounds in the excessively high levels of TPH (most certainly, but not only, the heavy PAHs) in samples gathered during the judicial inspections could likewise be harmful to life-forms. We just don’t know. The toxicological studies—including those underpinning industry-sponsored research on the risk of hydrocarbons—are highly circumscribed. As others have argued (Fortun and Fortun 2005; Jasanoff 2002, 2005; Murphy 2006; Petryna 2002; Sellers 1997), the science of chemical exposure is inherently inexact. In the laboratory, dose-response curves graph the “threshold-limit value” for a unique chemical—the point at which a substance becomes toxic. But outside the laboratory, the effect of chemical exposure is difficult to ascertain given the complexity of the phenomenon. Reactions to combinations of chemicals or to long-term exposure to low levels of chemicals cannot easily be registered in the laboratory. And reactions to chemicals that have never been studied are non-episodes marked by the impossibility of indexing them as a consequence of exposure events. Widespread, long-term, low-level exposure to hydrocarbon elements (some studied and many not) is precisely what fisheries scientists are confronting as they study the consequences of oil spills years later (Incardona et al. 2005 and 2012; Jacob 2008; Peterson et al. 2003). Widespread, long-term, low-level exposure to hydrocarbon elements (some studied and many not) is precisely the condition that haunts human and nonhuman life in Ecuador’s northern Amazon. It is this predicament that Zambrano’s ruling recognized. What is increasingly clear is that toxicity and chemical hazard are not inherent properties. Rather, they are probabilities and capacities. As such, toxicity is not merely calculated (as is done conventionally in toxicology) through measures of concentration, dose, exposure pathways,

146  Suzana Sawyer length of exposure, and the predilections of an organism. The capacity to claim toxicity and chemical hazard is also uniquely determined depending on a laboratory’s knowledge production milieu (i.e., industry- versus non-industry-affiliated), differently materialized depending on methods (i.e., gross TPH versus carbon equivalent fractions), distinctly apprehended according to technique (i.e., chemical versus molecular versus genetic analyses), and variously adjudicated in accordance to the legal regime through which probabilities and capacities are reckoned (i.e., inquisitorial versus adversarial judicial systems). That is, toxicity and chemical hazard are made to matter through imbricated technical, chemical, and legal work.

Chapter 8

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil Mona Damluji, Wheaton College, Massachusetts Many photographs preserve the moment when the first oil spurts from the well: people jumping for joy, falling into each other’s arms, weeping. Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free. . . . In this sense oil is a fairy tale and, like every fairy tale, a bit of a lie. —Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs

The most spectacular and mythic image of oil is indeed, as Ryszard Kapuscinski describes it, that of its vivid origins: black gold bursting skyward from the subterranean depths of a far-off desert. Yet, the images that do the persistent work of narrating dominant stories of petroleum leave crude oil out of the picture altogether. Films and photographs staged at the behest of petroleum company public relations offices over the past century have worked through routine channels of advertising, cinemas, schools, industrial expos, and social media to seamlessly equate the story of oil with the experience of modernity. Reoccurring images of petroleum’s spectacular infrastructures, dedicated oil workers, and booming metropolises map the unidirectional and invisible flow of oil from periphery to core, with the tide of modernity purportedly moving along the opposite track. Petroleum companies have a fundamental role in shaping our collective imaginaries of the modern world. In fact, oil makes modern ways of seeing possible. Petroleum was integral to the development of early photography and the creation of celluloid filmstrips. Beyond petrochemicals, oil as fuel was essential for transporting film pioneers and their heavy equipment to remote locations around the world. In short, the history of cinema is a history of oil. At the same time, oil and cinema are entangled with histories of imperialism. Since the turn of the twentieth century, British and American oil companies have extensively filmed their operations

148  Mona Damluji in producing countries and used cinematic representations to craft images of postcolonial modernity that were eventually seen by citizens in Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Nigeria, and beyond. In order to understand the constitutive ways that the politics of petroleum have shaped the cultural production of documentary images of modernity, this chapter examines linkages between British oil companies operating in the Middle East and the British documentary film movement during the first half of the twentieth century. Technological innovations of the oil and gas industry in the past century have reached unprecedented ways of seeing—from sophisticated mapping of clandestine fields to high-tech imaging of extractive subterranean processes (Wylie, this volume). The birth of cinema was no exception. “No sector of society made more enthusiastic use of the sponsored film than the oil companies,” Patrick Russell explains in Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain, “no medium was more enthusiastically embraced by them than the documentary film, and so nobody interested in the relationship of media to society can afford to leave the post-war oil documentary out of its history” (Russell and Taylor 2010, 88). In fact, as this chapter shows, petroleum company film units were largely responsible for globalizing the British documentary film movement after World War II. At the same time that orientalist Hollywood films reproduced cultural stereotypes about Arabs as lecherous and backward in films like The Sheikh (1921), petroleum companies circulated “factual” films to impress mainstream audiences with images of oil modernity in the Middle East. The emergence of the public relations industry in Britain generated the earliest moving images of modern life in oil-producing countries to play in cinemas and nontheatrical circuits across Europe and the Middle East. In this chapter I argue that oil company documentaries made in and about oil-producing countries facilitated the petroleum industry’s efforts to equate the story of oil with the promise of postcolonial modernity for national, regional, and global audiences. The objectives of this chapter are, first, to introduce readers to available cinematic oil archives; second, to present a context for the study of oil and visual culture; and third, to historicize oil companies’ use of film for public relations in oil-producing countries of the Middle East. In what follows, I trace the genealogy of oil company prestige documentaries from a pathbreaking collaboration between John Grierson (the so-called father of British documentary film) and the Anglo-Dutch Shell Oil Company to the work of the London-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company film unit during the 1950s. I show how hegemonic companies and compliant states used film as a powerful public relations tool to shape global imaginaries of oil and its role in modern nation-building. Although the scope of this study focuses on oil companies with operations in the Middle East, the

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    149 implications go beyond a regional case study. Indeed, most oil companies have used film and continue to use digital video in some capacity for the purpose of public relations in oil-producing countries of the global South, from Southeast Asia to South America.

Cinematic Oil Archives First, this chapter directs scholarly attention to the rich and untapped archives of oil company films that exist as counterparts to what Andrew Barry (this volume) calls the “oil archives.” Similarly, individual oil company films and the collective digital archives they constitute are not merely repositories of documentary evidence but rather are “historical actors” that do work in mediating the reputations of company brands as well as the grand project of postcolonial oil extraction. Beginning in 1940, films produced, managed, and circulated by oil companies were catalogued, stored, and distributed through the Petroleum Film Bureau in London. Over the past seventy-five years, as control of oil company operations in the Middle East has changed, divided, and multiplied (from foreign to national companies and back again), the films have been scattered unsystematically in various repositories. The British Petroleum Video Library recently created a digitized collection of films online to sell stock footage to contemporary production companies. Beyond this, some documentary reels still rest in original cans and can be retrieved from boxes stored arbitrarily in company paper archives, national film libraries, and private collections. The shifting sands of oil company holdings and the changing hands of government ministries over the past century have created oil film archives that are often incoherent, difficult to access, and limited. Nonetheless, these are rich visual archives that require unpacking and analysis by scholars. To begin unraveling the co-constitutive histories of oil and film, this chapter outlines the origins and early histories of a subset of oil company films, which I refer to as petrofilms. Companies intended these films to simultaneously entertain and educate mass audiences, relating the story of oil and its effects as the story of modernization in oil-producing countries. Industrial firms commonly used technical and informational films for internal relations and promotional films for direct advertising; however, John Grierson’s grand vision for oil company public relations introduced petrofilms as a special and separate category of corporate media: the “prestige” company film, intended to impress and entertain stockholders, employees, and general audiences. Born out of the early British documentary tradition, petrofilm productions typically followed a stringent top-down procedure that filtered

150  Mona Damluji visual and narrative content according to executive vision. In other words, petrofilms cannot be conflated with “the kind of politically and ethically committed documentary filmmaking that for publics has to a large degree become identified with the function of documentary as such” today (Szeman 2012, 424). On the contrary, oil companies conceived of their prestige films as objective documentaries for educational use in schools as well as entertainment for the general public. Pre-production planning typically took place in company public relations offices in London. From the initial concept, oil companies without in-house production units hired “expert” European or American film crews or consultants to scout locations, determine potential characters, write up treatments, and prepare storyboards. Executive approval was required before public relations offices could obtain a budget to continue to production. Once approved and altered in accordance with top-level concerns, production units developed a script and shooting schedule. After on-location production wrapped, postproduction started in London or New York where film editors assembled footage, musicians composed soundtracks, writers adjusted scripts, and actors recorded voiceover commentaries. Distribution commenced only after executives and government censors approved the cut. The documentaries screened in theaters prior to feature films and were distributed through educational institutions and the Petroleum Film Bureau.1 This study of the dynamic role petrofilms played in public relations campaigns sheds light on how oil companies worked to control public perceptions of political events and social realities in the Middle East. Previously, film historians have lumped petrofilms into the catchall genre of industrially sponsored postwar documentary (Barnouw 1993; Ellis and McLane 2005; Hediger and Vonderau 2009; Russell and Taylor 2010), limiting critical analysis of the distinct relationship between oil and film histories. With the exception of two short chronicles of Shell’s prolific film and video unit (Shell 1999, Canjels 2007), official oil company histories such as Stegner’s Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil (1971) and Ferrier and Bamberg’s History of the British Petroleum Company (1982) neglect to mention the companies’ significant filmmaking efforts. Based on declassified BP memos and trade magazine articles, this chapter will address this gap and examine the evolving strategies that motivated British petroleum companies’ investment in filmmaking in and about the Middle East. Indeed, industrial operations the world over have entailed the systematic production of massive image archives since the invention of photo­ graphy (Hediger and Vonderau 2009, 35). In his study of General Electric’s 1.  This summary of production practices is based on various documentation files in the British Petroleum Archive, Canjels 2007, and “On Location in Saudi Arabia” 1962.

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    151 photographic archive, Image Worlds, David Nye (1985, 5) argues that a corporation’s complex communication system “cannot be dismissed as a secondary or tertiary institution but must be studied as the principal instrument coordinating and harmonizing the corporation’s activities.” He maintains that the images produced as part of this system “objectify the corporation’s values, presenting in concrete terms its conception of both economic and social relations.” This chapter  builds on Nye’s contention that examination of media systems, or what he refers to as corporate “image worlds,” is necessary to understand how a corporation constructs and expresses a worldview of economic, social, and political realities. The image worlds of oil companies are embodied in the vast collections of film reels, as well as the stock photography, company magazines, promotional booklets, news photographs, advertisements, and trade publications they have generated.

Oil, Cinema, and the Production of Culture Twenty years ago, in his essay “Petrofiction,” Amitav Ghosh (1992) put forth the critical question of the relationship between oil and the production of culture. With the exception of Abd al-Rahman Munif’s Cities of Salt (1987), which he goes on to discuss at length, he laments the dearth of literary work of intellectual distinction to be born out of either Western or Middle Eastern experiences of the so-called Oil Encounter. Ghosh observes that the drama of oil history has proven to be “imaginatively sterile,” and speculates that the lacuna exists because “to the principal protagonists of the Oil Encounter . . . the history of oil is a matter of embarrassment verging on the unspeakable, the pornographic. It is perhaps the one cultural issue on which the two sides are in complete agreement” (Ghosh 2007, 138–39). The absence of any Great American Oil Novel, in his term, is conceivable for Ghosh because Western companies and Arab states have invested massively in keeping stories of human experience in the Oil Encounter unheard and unseen behind regimes of secrecy and practices of segregation (140). Peter Hitchcock (2010) challenges the genealogical boundaries of Ghosh’s original conceptualization of petrofiction. Hitchcock envisions a framework that excavates “the very ways oil has fictively come to define so much of being in modernity, or what is sometimes referred to as an oil ontology” (81). In his words, “it is oil’s saturation of the infrastructure of modernity that paradoxically has placed a significant bar on its cultural representation” (ibid.). Hitchcock contends that “petrofiction provides provocative insight into oil’s claims on an American imaginary and holds some important lessons for the ways we might read oil both as

152  Mona Damluji a commodity and as a cultural logic in its own right” (ibid.). Hitchcock’s interpretation of petrofiction provides a useful framework for drawing out an analysis of the parallel emergence of the oil and film industries. The author’s dialectical reading of oil, as both commodity and cultural logic, holds a mirror to the way in which film scholars interpret the dialectic between modernity and early commercial cinema in Europe and the United States at the turn of the nineteenth century. Cinema’s emergence as a popular commodity is indebted to the entrepreneurial spirit of inventors who deliberately and methodically patented their film technologies and ensured monopoly control over their innovations. As Brian Larkin’s historiography explicates, early commercial cinema served as “an important part of a massive transformation in the nature of the economy and society in twentieth-century modernity, where the creation of value has shifted from production and the making of goods to consumption and the stimulation of desire” (2008, 80). Cinema’s fundamental role in the transformation of consumption into spectacle through the mass production of desire shifted the commodity “from being an historical a priori for the cinema—an integral part of the historic conjuncture from which cinema emerged—to being a fundamental part of the ontology of cinema itself” (ibid.). Beyond this, I argue that oil and film are distinct from typical commodities, in that production of petroleum and cinema at an industrial scale quickly transformed their role into drivers of industrial capitalism. Technologies of fuel and film worked side by side to shape consumption and economic growth, facilitating innovation and invention, global commodity chains, mass media platforms, and norms of consumer culture in much of Europe and North America. These operative characteristics of oil and cinema constitute the central narrative of a Euro-American experience of modernity. However, this experience of modernity existed by no means in a vacuum. Western industrial capitalism and its drivers were always constituted by the colonial system of power that enabled the exploitation of resources, land, and labor in the global South. Petro-capitalism, Watts explains, operates in particular ways that produce “specific configurations of territory, identity and rule” (2004b, 53), shaping relations between capital, governance, and modernity in oil-producing states in fundamental ways. Vitalis’s (2006) and Mitchell’s (2011) historical inquiries into the question of how oil has shaped political geographies in the Middle East, and in particular Iraq, reveal the inadequacy of accounts that uncritically reproduce uncomplicated fairy tales of oil as either an inherent force for progress or an inevitable curse. The remainder of this chapter engages the oil archive to explore how petroleum shaped cultural productions through the use of film in the twentieth century.

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    153 “Inventing a Need”: Royal Dutch Shell and Film Centre The documentary film movement in Britain credits its origins to the strong vision of John Grierson, a Scottish scholar-in-training at the University of Chicago who viewed filmmaking as a fundamental practice of mass media to be used in the public service for improving social and democratic education. Film had the unique power, Grierson contended, “to bridge the gap between the citizen and the wide world” (L’Etang 2006, 32). His ideas diverged from those of the commercial film pioneers in Europe and America who were motivated by cinema’s potential to entertain and its function as a commodity to be bought and sold. To the contrary, Grierson declared, “its function is the immediate and practical one of being a deliberate social instrument—not dreaming in an ivory tower, but outside on the barricades of social construction, holding citizens to the common purpose their generation has set for them. Education is activist or it is nothing” (32). Grierson held the position of assistant film officer at the Empire Marketing Board, where he wrote, directed, and produced his first major documentary, Drifters (1929). Soon after, the government abolished the Empire Marketing Board, which it had established as the official marketing research and publicity organization to promote imperial preference in the colonies. Grierson’s film unit moved under the administration of the General Post Office and made several landmark documentaries, which primarily circulated through nontheatrical distribution channels, such as public screenings, school classrooms, and film societies. While Grierson was making his move from the Empire Marketing Board to the General Post Office, he saw an opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship between documentary filmmakers and the private sector. Grierson imagined industrial sponsorship as a fruitful bargain between private companies and the general public. He argued that industrial sponsors could step in as financiers of documentaries on critical social issues when government support fell short. Companies, in turn, would benefit from the social capital of its positive cultural contribution. Grierson organized the Associated Realist Film Producers collective in 1935 to “liase between documentary filmmakers and potential sponsors” (Foxton 2006, 411). Grierson famously articulated his vision for the potential of corporate film sponsorship in his 1933 report for the Anglo-Dutch Shell oil company (Elton 1956, 344). He proposed a scheme of six uses of film to serve the company’s interests: prestige films “dramatizing dominant themes in the oil industry; sales-promotion films; popular science films; technical films for specialized audiences; staff department information films; and a Shell newsreel” (Canjels 2007, 18).

154  Mona Damluji Shell had already produced one of the earliest examples of an oil company prestige film, or petrofilm, nearly a decade prior to the report. Bataafsche Petroleum Film (1924) was a silent three-hour documentary film of the Dutch East Indies, which “besides showing the colonies, the exotic nature, and promoting the company as an important player on the world market, the film also had a clear educational function, displaying the production of crude oil, oil products, and the uses to which they were put” (Canjels 2007, 17). The film premiered near The Hague for government representatives, diplomats, businesspeople, and the press. As the oil company’s first public relations film it was considered a success. A glowing Dutch newspaper review lauded Shell for teaching the audience “that the petroleum industry is not a money-making concern for shareholders;. . . but she, wherever she comes, creates a prosperous colony, spreading her benevolent influence far and wide. Without a doubt many eyes will be opened, and it is good that the Royal Dutch called in the aid of the honest film to present herself, as she has nothing to hide” (as quoted in Canjels 2007, 17). Thereafter Bataafsche Petroleum Film circulated among film societies and elite circles, while unused footage was recut for subsequent versions and shorter films. Following Grierson’s report, Shell established its in-house film unit in the 1930s, which became an integral feature of company operations. The oil company employed its unique and creative approach to public relations, as Hewitt (1992) explains, because Shell was in the position to appeal to its customers, to build up brand loyalty, in a different manner. Increasingly through its most prestigious campaigns it chose to market the company and not the petrol. You bought Shell petrol not for what it did but because of what the company stood for, for its concern with the wholesome aspects of civilized life, nature and art. (126; my emphasis)

Shell invested in making documentaries that featured subjects made possible by petrol and petroleum-based products: aviation, motor racing, firefighting, disease control, and robotics engineering, to name a few. The films were distinct in that they were not used as a vehicle for product advertising. Instead, they associated the Shell brand with the prestige and promise of modern science and technology, as well as the art of cinema. For example, the first Shell film unit documentary, Airport (1935), depicted a “typical day” in London’s Croydon Airport, one of the world’s busiest travel hubs. It circulated in London cinemas and was billed as “compelling entertainment” for the masses (Canjels 2007, 19). Shell instituted a blanket “no-plugging” policy that kept its name from appearing in the motion picture or on the soundtrack, with the exception

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    155 of the film credits. Arthur Elton, the managing director of Shell’s film operations, detailed the logic behind this strategy: This detachment has served Shell companies well for today. Shell films are a part of the curriculum of schools all over the world. They have been adopted by scores of universities and are used by international, national and government institutions everywhere. They have publicised Shell Petroleum’s reputation as a great international commercial company, but one with a lively sense of international responsibility and a leader in the fields of science and technology. Such is the broad public relations purpose of the Shell Film Unit. (Elton 1956, 344–45)

In Canjels’s words, “with a few exceptions (made for special purposes), prestige was to be obtained through association instead of clear propaganda” (2007, 19). The number of in-house film projects produced yearly elevated the company to a status all its own among corporate contemporaries. Shell produced more than 130 films during the 1950s, reaching over 8.5 million people worldwide (27). By 1938 Grierson established Film Centre in London as a formal organization to assume Associated Realist Film Producers’ role as the go-between among companies and filmmakers. At that point, Film Centre oversaw planning and supervision of Shell film productions in order to give the documentaries “an appreciated sense of detachment” from the oil company and to make them supposedly “more universal” (Canjels 2007, 19). In fact, more than half of Film Centre’s work involved Shell commissions, and staff shifted seamlessly between the two entities. Film trade magazines such as Film User and Sight and Sound catalogued oil company films as “factual” and “educational” documentaries, regularly recommending them as classroom teaching aids. The quantity and popularity of oil company documentaries increased, and the Petroleum Film Bureau was created in London for nontheatrical distribution of oil films to grade schools, colleges, film societies, and special interest clubs. In addition to circulation in theaters and at festivals, nontheatrical distribution climbed to seventy-eight thousand oil films borrowed in 1956 alone (Tritton 1953, 465). The unprecedented scale of Shell’s film output created, in Elton’s words, the first “genuine international documentary film movement” (Elton 1956, 345). Shell was indeed the first company to institutionalize global film production and distribution. The oil industry differed from most others because of its explicit efforts to extend public relations to countries where existing and potential markets had been identified. For this reason, Shell began exporting its filmmaking endeavors and expertise wherever the company was already extracting, refining, and marketing petroleum

156  Mona Damluji products. It placed film units in Venezuela, Australia, Nigeria, Egypt, and India (Canjels 2007, 25). Shell actively promoted the company’s role as a cultural agent in oil-producing countries, and it claimed that Shell pursued this policy in order to contribute something of value to the culture of these countries (Jeakins 1956, 55). In part, Shell used its film program as evidence for its claim of improving educational and social welfare in oil-producing countries. British colonial film units pioneered this model in Nigeria and elsewhere, underlining the ways in which film viewership and filmmaking served Britain’s civilizing mission (Larkin 2008, 76, 106). Shell’s ambitions, however, were global in reach and influence. Shell translated its documentaries from English into over twenty languages for distribution to classrooms, film libraries, film festivals, and commercial theaters worldwide. Increased distribution after 1952 saw film circulation grow from eighty thousand to nearly 375,000 viewers worldwide over just two years (Canjels 2007, 25). Shell’s petrofilms were versatile in subject matter and sought to fulfill a number of purposes simultaneously, including brand building, entertainment, education, and at times propaganda in oil-producing countries. However, relative to the immense film collection produced by Shell, its film unit turned the camera onto oil-producing countries only on occasion. In one instance, Shell planned a series of prestige films about Venezuela’s history and culture, its national economy, and transportation, public health, and education systems. The series was Shell’s first film program made explicitly for general audiences in Venezuela. The company wanted to use the films to narrate the importance of the country’s oil for national development. Shell completed two of the planned films, Horizontes Nacionales (New Horizons, 1949) and Las Bases del Progreso (Harvest for Tomorrow, 1950), and distributed them widely within the country. Canjels suggests that the foreign oil company intended the films to communicate to the population “that profits derived from oil could create opportunities to industrialise the economy, stimulate agricultural development, and raise technical and educational standards” (Canjels 2007, 23–25). Tinker Salas’s (2009) study of oil, culture, and politics in Venezuela suggests that during the 1940s and 1950s foreign oil companies were particularly concerned with establishing the country’s reputation as a model of strong positive relations between oil companies and indigenous societies. The model could potentially serve as a positive precedent for continued American and European expansion into oil-rich territories of the Middle East (Tinker Salas 2009, 218–19). Shell’s petrofilms on Venezuela worked to produce a coherent and controlled story about oil and its effects, associating the image of a prospering petroleum industry with the promise of modernization and national development in the oil-producing state.

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    157 John Shearman, a British filmmaker who worked closely with various oil companies, declared that by the 1950s Grierson and his colleagues at Film Centre in London “had invented a need for films to be made for oil companies in the Middle East” (Shearman 1987). As cinema increased in popularity and accessibility around the world, more and more oil companies invested in new public relations strategies that used film to craft the story of oil for mass audiences.

“A Sympathetic Portrayal”: Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s Persian Story Shell was the first oil company to establish an in-house film unit, but it was not the first to experiment with motion picture technologies. Following the completion of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s (AIOC) first pipeline in 1911, the company recorded its first documentary, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s Operations in Iran (1921). The silent black and white 35mm documentary survey of “company activities” for company officials ran just over sixty-five minutes and cost just over £2,000 to make (Naficy 2011, 183; Adams 2008, 1). It served as the prototype for AIOC’s first prestige film, The Persian Oil Industry: The Story of the Great National Enterprise (1925), a silent 35mm that ran ninety-eight minutes. That footage was recut to a forty-five-minute version and distributed in technical institutions and schools. AIOC recut the film again into a fifteen-minute version, In the Land of the Shah (1926), which premiered in England and was eventually seen by upward of one million people across Europe (Naficy 2011, 183). AIOC’s earliest petrofilms depicted the most visible aspects of company operations in southern Iran: a busy network of derricks, mechanical workshops, pipeline, railway, and tankers centered on the great Abadan refinery. In a letter to the editor of the Persian newspaper Ettela’at, a skeptical viewer shared his frustrations with the depiction of the Iranian oil industry in these films. “Khuzestani” wrote: In Tehran they show you the beautiful films of the oil operations in the south. Of course, these tell of the enormity of the company’s buildings and facilities and of the importance of its oil lines, and, naturally, you and your journalist colleagues enjoy them, and perhaps think that this company is serving and benefiting Iran. But have these films ever shown the wretched lives of those lowly Iranian workers who for three qerans a day toil in highly dangerous conditions and in really heart-wrenching manner?. . . Have these films ever shown you the dictatorial manner in which the [British] managers of the southern oil company govern your

158  Mona Damluji fellow citizens and push and shove them around and stifle those who voice the slightest complaint? (as quoted in Naficy 2011, 183–84)

As he points out, the film presents Iran and its people as little more than an exotic oriental backdrop to the expansion of the British Empire. As I argue elsewhere, the film’s focus on the spectacle of industrial machinery effectively renders invisible the exploitation of Iranian and other non-British oil workers (Damluji 2013). AIOC established its public relations division in 1948 and pursued documentary projects that showcased industrial modernization and social progress in Iran that resulted from the British company’s “investment” in the country. According to Ronald Tritton, AIOC public relations director, films worked as a public relations strategy because they “can evoke feelings in an audience: they can make people feel well disposed towards a company or an industry and realize that it is a decent, honest, well-run and efficient organization” (Tritton 1953, 465). AIOC’s petrofilms were intended first and foremost for company stockholders and staff and second for other industry-based audiences and the general public in Britain. Unlike Shell, which emphasized nontheatrical distribution and educational use of its documentaries, AIOC prestige films were made expressly to impress and entertain, circulating through international film festivals circuits, commercial releases, and limited screenings to industry audiences in Europe and Iran (ibid.). Derek Williams, a prolific British director of oil company films, noted that the first and most famous film to engage the politics of oil was AIOC’s 1951 Technicolor documentary Persian Story (Williams 2011).2 AIOC executives conceived of the film as one that would have appeal to the general public, and even as “the first genuine effort to portray Iran sympathetically to the outside world in a film” (Tritton 1951, 1). While the petrofilm’s representation of Iranian residents in the oil company town of Abadan was a novel subject for an oil company film at that time, Persian Story ultimately painted a rosy picture of the Iranian experience and obscured the problematic aspects of oil modernization. In short, the filmic portrait of Anglo-Iranian’s newest garden suburb avoided depiction of the slum conditions in which most Persian oil workers lived (Damluji 2013, 84–87). Indeed, just as filmmakers started shooting on location in Iran in 1951, mounting protest among oil workers in response to AIOC’s exploitative practices and the squalid conditions in the city had reached a peak. By April, Iran’s prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, made a move to

2.  Williams, D. 2011. Interview with M. Damluji.

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    159 nationalize Iran’s oil industry, provoking strikes at the refinery and in major cities. AIOC evacuated its British employees from Abadan and company operations were usurped by the National Iranian Oil Company. Despite enduring a troubled production amid political upheaval that concluded with the company’s departure from Iran’s oil fields, an upbeat final cut of Persian Story premiered to an audience of over eleven thousand viewers in seven cinemas across London (Petroleum Times 1953). Despite the film’s failure to sufficiently explain, or even describe, the so-called Iran Oil Crisis, Persian Story garnered exceptional praise in Britain as the only surviving documentary about the westernized oil city as it was prior to the Iranian takeover. In response to the threat of nationalization demonstrated in Iran, the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), a multinational enterprise with headquarters in London and concessions for unmitigated oil exploration and exploitation within Iraq’s borders, responded immediately with a new public relations strategy. This included the establishment of a new film unit, the commission of several prestige films, and the production of an original Arabic cinemagazine for general audiences in Iraq. While the cinemagazine crafted stories about development and nation building in Iraq, IPC’s petrofilms drew on popular western imaginaries of Iraq to reproduce a fairy-tale narrative of oil’s promise to modernize the ancient “cradle of civilization.”

“Projecting a Modern Iraq”: IPC and the Challenges of Nationalism The Iraq Petroleum Company established its public relations department and documentary film unit in 1951. In many ways IPC relied on the Shell Film Unit model, eventually establishing a permanent production unit in Baghdad facilitated by London’s Film Centre. However, the IPC’s concern with its public image among Iraqis set it apart from its contemporaries in the region. Following the landmark deal in 1951 between Saudi Arabia and the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) to establish a 50–50 profit-sharing agreement, the Iraqi government put significant pressure on IPC to renegotiate its existing financial arrangement. The following year the oil company agreed to split its profits according to the 50–50 formula, and as a result the government established a Development Board to oversee the allocation of 70% of the nation’s oil revenues into national and urban development (Tripp 2007, 124–25). At the same time IPC established its film unit in Baghdad in order to “project modern Iraq” to Iraqis (“Welcome to a New User” 1953, 47). An

160  Mona Damluji internal IPC Public Relations office report (1966) emphasizes that IPC made its documentaries with the cooperation of the Iraqi government, “which welcomed the concept that films would publicise the country’s historical traditions, plans for development and, generally speaking, arouse public interest, both inside and outside Iraq.” The same report claims that these films “probably contributed to bringing Iraq before the public eye, both in the sense of awakening the interest of the Iraqi people themselves, many of whom had little or no concept of their own country’s history and an equally sketchy knowledge of development projects” (2-3). The company speculated that the government looked to the IPC “to do a job of general publicity that, for various reasons, they were unable to do themselves” (4). According to its founder, John Shearman, the IPC film unit’s stated goals were, first, “to train Iraqi film technicians in [the British] tradition of technical and documentary filmmaking,” and second, “to make films which would explain to the people of Iraq what the oil company was doing in their territory . . . that it was not really taking away the black gold because it was putting money back into national development” (Shearman 1987). Initially, IPC adopted Shell’s model of translation, scripting films in English and then translating them into Arabic with the help of local Arabic writers. By 1953, IPC’s public relations strategy took a more nuanced approach in response to the so-called Iran Oil Crisis, producing original Arabic-language film episodes of a company cinemagazine. Beladuna was filmed and edited by a team of British and Arab filmmakers. At this point, IPC’s stated priority was to produce Arabic-language documentaries for Iraqi audiences. The British filmmaker Michael Clarke has emphasized that “the Arabic version was very important because the film was designed to reconcile the oil company to the population, much more than to describe its operations to the English speaking audiences in Europe” (Clarke 1990). While petrofilms had implicitly embodied the political position of the British oil industry as a colonial enterprise, IPC was the first to use in-country film production as part of an explicitly political strategy. Elton (1958) clearly spelled out the motivation behind this approach: If . . . done imaginatively and from the point of view of the people . . . themselves (and not from that of the film technicians introduced from overseas), the effect will be gradually to create a favourable attitude towards the oil industry as a whole, and to make the Operating Companies seem a more natural and useful part of the economy . . . than many people are at present prepared to allow. Irrational, emotional attitudes will be damped down and criticism directed into informed and constructive channels. (6)

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    161 Revamped public relations efforts in Iraq were intended to prevent an oil crisis like that witnessed in Iran in 1951, which ejected the British and nationalized the oil company (“Welcome to a New Film User” 1953, 47). The decision to make the national population of an oil-producing country the primary audience for corporate films was until then unprecedented in the Middle East. As previously examined, oil companies such as AIOC and Shell had been far more concerned with crafting stories of oil for modern consumers and stockholders than for local populations. Michael Clarke, the director of IPC’s first petrofilm, The Third River (1952), explained: Our aim throughout was not merely to make a record of the construction of the 30 in. line, but to put this into its context. The new pipeline is more than an example of remarkable engineering skill; it presages much for the people of Iraq. During our stay in the Middle East, the new “fifty-fifty” agreement was signed. . . . About us was the bustle of change; and we wanted to say, however briefly, however synoptically, that the subject of our films was, fundamentally, Iraq itself. Our theme was, indeed, twinfold: in the foreground, the drama and achievement of building the pipelines, the pumphouses, the terminal; and beyond all this, the development and improvement of the human lot which the Iraq Government, through the Development Board, would have the means to achieve. (Clarke 1952, 18)

The Third River gave audiences an unparalleled, close-up view of the impressive infrastructure of oil and the construction of the mighty pipeline that would deliver unprecedented amounts of Iraq’s black gold to the European market—yielding unprecedented amounts of oil revenue. Yet, filmmakers saw the true drama underlying the image of the construction of the world’s largest-capacity pipeline between Kirkuk and Banais, a port in Syria—Iraq’s so-called Third River—as petroleum’s potential to transform the “cradle of civilization” from a traditional society into a modern nation-state. The Third River crafted the story of oil extraction using dignified images of Iraqi oil workers participating in the construction of the pipeline. The pipeline construction is represented not as a corporate or colonial project of extraction but as a nation-building project. In short, the film ties the project of oil extraction to the promise of modernity and social progress in Iraq. In 1953 the Iraq Petroleum Company initiated a new program of short Arabic films in a cinemagazine format. The series was called Beladuna, which translates as “our country.” This was IPC’s most notable effort among its contemporaries to engage with the complexities of modernization.

162  Mona Damluji Several of the Beladuna films provide somewhat nuanced considerations of the challenges of development projects, from debates on the destruction of old neighborhoods in Baghdad to documentation of the laborers who help the city cope with flooding. This may be attributed to the fact that the film unit responsible for pitching and producing the cinemagazine included a number of Iraqis.3 Beladuna episodes never depict or make mention of the oil company or even the oil industry. Almost impossibly, oil is invisible from IPC’s cinematic stories of modernization in Iraq. Yet Iraqi audiences who watched the films certainly believed the underlying yet unstated premise of IPC’s films: that national wealth and development in Iraq stemmed from the increased productivity of IPC’s Kirkuk pipeline. Ultimately, despite its public relations efforts of continued film sponsorship, IPC could not significantly counter its reputation among the majority of Iraqis as the quintessence of Western imperialism. Many agree that “there is no question that Iraqis, even those who welcomed the foreign contribution to the oil industry and had no strong feelings against the government of the time, felt that the sovereignty of the country was reduced by the power of the IPC” (Penrose and Penrose 1978, 539). IPC continued to make petrofilms until 1958, when the July Revolution overturned the Hashemite monarchy and regime of Nuri Al-Said that had facilitated British control over Iraq’s economic resources and development for more than forty years. Under the leadership of General Abd Al-Karim Qassim, the Republic of Iraq proclaimed Law 80 in 1961 to take back almost 99% of the IPC’s concessionary area without compensation, a major blow to the hegemony of the British company (Tripp 2007, 160–61). The oil film archive is a repository of storytelling about modernity in an oil-dependent world. This study of petrofilms has sought to contextualize how and why British oil companies invested in the production and distribution of “prestige” documentary films and how those films worked to project the companies’ political agendas in the Middle East. Beginning in the 1930s, oil companies made films as a means to control global imaginaries of their brands and oil as a commodity in a rapidly changing world. Whereas documentary filmmakers in London viewed industrial sponsors as an ideal means to get films made in the name of the public good, companies like Shell understood film as an innovative public relations tool to showcase the brand. Shell and AIOC experimented with film’s potential to address emerging political challenges and anti-imperialist movements that were gaining traction in oil-producing countries, constructing stories of how oil companies

3.  Kelly, P. 2012. Interview with M. Damluji.

The Image World of Middle Eastern Oil    163 worked to improve the economic and social circumstances for people in oil-producing countries. In the pivotal decade of the 1950s, pan-Arabist, prosocialist, and anti-imperialist movements gained even more popularity across the Middle East. Uprisings in Iran jeopardized the British oil company’s claims to regional concessions and 50–50 profit-sharing arrangements surfaced as the new norm between companies and governments in the Middle East (Yergin 1991, 431). In response to regional tensions, IPC increased its public relations efforts in Iraq, including a new film program intended for Iraqi audiences that focused on the promise of modernizing nation-building projects. Oil companies projected their story of petroleum’s potential to transform former colonies into modern states to mass audiences. In subsequent decades, Aramco made films depicting a heroic story of oil discovery in the Arabian Peninsula that strayed from the documentary model, as Vitalis details in America’s Kingdom (2006). In the company’s first and only feature-length narrative, Jazirat al-Arab (Island of the Arabs), as in a number of retrospective documentaries made in the last twenty years (distributed as “educational” media to American university libraries around the world), Aramco’s determination to maintain control over the origin story of Arabian oil is manifest. BP has followed suit recently with the making of First Oil (2008). Scholars should be wary of dismissing oil company public relations as mere propaganda. These films serve as a lens into the complex system of communication that developed among oil company officials, government ministries, artistic agents, and average citizens in oil-producing states. Vitalis (2006, 123) ascertains that “what the story of the film points out now, apart from the questionable media savvy of an oil-producing enterprise, is the moment when the firm began to market its story beyond the borders of the United States to Europe and, more significantly still, the Arab world.” Remarkably, this archive of moving pictures continues to grow as BP and Saudi Aramco actively invest in new prestige projects for online and nontheatrical distribution until today. Collectively, petrofilms have been fundamental in creating an illusion of development that cloaked what Coronil (1997) described as the “Faustian trade of money for modernity” and spotlighted oil’s potential to transform the “backwards” Middle East into modern players in the world economy. The cinematic history of oil companies foregrounds further critical inquiry of contemporary oil mediascapes. Today, multinational petroleum companies such as BP, Exxon, and Chevron generate a constant barrage of visual messaging through print, television, and Internet media intended to promote the oil brands as global icons of corporate social and environmental responsibility. Petrofilms, the predecessors of recent oil company public relations media, similarly masked the

164  Mona Damluji calculated environmental risks, acts of violence, and human consequences of extraction in oil-producing countries with slick images of progress and modernity fueled by oil wealth. Yet, despite the continued hegemony of corporate image campaigns, contemporary mediascapes have also sustained vital and increasingly visible counternarratives that throw a wrench into the cogs of the public relations machine.4 Ed Kashi’s photo essay (this volume) offers a powerful example of how independent media makers are working to reinvent the image world of oil.

4. Recent examples include Crude (2009), directed by Joe Berlinger; Gasland (2010), directed by Josh Fox; and the “Chevwrong” campaign by the organization Justice in Nigeria Now.

SPECTERS OF OIL An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi Michael J. Watts A photograph is effective when the chosen moment which it records contains a quantum of truth which is generally applicable, which is as revealing about what is absent from the photograph as what is present in it. The nature of this quantum of truth, and the ways in which it can be discerned, vary greatly. It may be found in an expression, an action, a juxtaposition, a visual ambiguity, a configuration. Nor can this truth ever be independent of the spectator, —John Berger, Understanding a Photograph

In The Production of Space , sociologist Henri Lefebvre (1978) outlined his famous triad, the three axes or principles, through which social space is produced: namely, spatial practices, representations of space, and representational spaces. Every society, says Lefebvre, produces its own multiple, overlapping, and intersecting spaces through the complex dialectical interactions among these three principles. Spatial practice (or perceived space) is what people do, a space constituted by common sense and social reproduction. Lefebvre says that these spatial practices “secrete,” “propound,” and “presuppose” society’s space; they entail the production and reproduction of spatial relations between objects and products that ensure social continuity and some degree of cohesion. Spatial practice is ordered through representations of space (or conceived space)—that is, the socially created plans tied to the relations of production and to systems of knowledge, signs, and spatial codes. For Lefebvre, these representations are “the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, and of a certain type of artist . . . —all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived” (1978, 38). Societies

166   Michael J. Watts are finally said to inhabit representational spaces (he also referred to them as the lived space of everyday life). These spaces “embody complex symbolisms, sometimes coded, sometimes not, linked to the clandestine or underground side of social life, as also to art” (1978, 33). In other words, lived experiences emerge as a result of the dialectical relation between spatial practice and representations of space. The person who is fully human (l’homme totale), argues Lefebvre, dwells in a lived space of the imagination, a space sustained and made accessible by the arts, literature, and human creativity. The world of oil and gas—the subterranean estates that Neruda invokes—contains its own spatial practices, representations, and lived experiences. This book concerns itself directly with such matters and with the nature of the oil talk that surrounds and helps to constitute this multifaceted universe of oil and gas workers, petro-infrastructures, forms of regulatory authority, the law and corporate agency, personal and social identities, and so on. As Andrew Barry explains in chapter 4, some of the sorts of knowledge invoked by Lefebvre constitute, in the case of the petroleum assemblage, a sort of “oil archive” (he focuses on the open and closed archives of the corporate oil world in particular) as a substantial field of information, technical expertise, propaganda, public relations output, legal and regulatory texts, and an endless stream of data on prices, markets, reservoirs, reserves, security, and so on. In practice the oil archive is much more voluminous, embracing materials produced by all manner of actors and agents, such as corporations, consultants, governments, civil groups, and watchdog agencies. But even framed in this more inclusive sense, the notion of an oil archive remains radically incomplete. Mona Damluji’s account in this volume of corporate filmmaking, for example, points to this incompleteness in describing representations of modernity (and the Arab world) purveyed by the international oil companies in Iraq in the interwar and immediate postwar period. There is, in short, an array of cultural materials produced within and outside of the industry as such. For Peter Hitchcock the cultural or visual archive of oil represents a sort of paradox, namely that “oil’s representation seems ubiquitous and yet is relatively absent from critically and creatively articulated claims on space, history and social formation?. . . It is oil’s saturation of the infrastructure of modernity that paradoxically has placed a significant bar on its cultural representation” (Hitchcock 2010, 81, my emphasis). Oil’s traces are everywhere but there is, as it were, no inventory. Oil’s representation and its representational spaces are both ubiquitous and diverse, encompassing commercial and documentary films, fine art and photographic reportage, graphic art, literature, poetry, sculpture (for example Ernst Logar’s oil rig sculptures constructed from detritus

An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi   167 found along Aberdeen’s beaches)1, multimedia installations (Alfredo Jaar’s “Geography = War” oil installation)2, and so on. In short, oil is not simply part of but is represented, experienced, and partially constituted by an archive of cultural productions and especially by a vast, often spectacularized image world. To invoke Guy Debord’s famous dictum, “in societies where modern conditions of production prevail, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation. . . . The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images” ([1967] 1994, 1–4). It is the combination of the massive inventory (the ubiquity) of oil imagery (and related cultural productions) coupled with what Hitchcock calls oil’s saturation in the infrastructure of the modern that—to return to Lefebvre—presents a challenge to a critical understanding the ontology of oil in our world, and to the very possibility of a critical (clandestine and underground) lived space of oil (see Szeman 2010). To convey a sense of this “cultural” archive, one can, for example, turn to the case of the Niger Delta oil fields in Nigeria, a space that appears in several of the contributions to this volume (see both Gelber and Golden Timsar). First, there is a considerable literary output by many Nigerian novelists and poets on the reshaping of Nigeria’s social life by oil wealth. Ken Saro-Wiwa’s poetry, plays, and novels (see Saro-Wiwa 1986, 1991, 1995) began to take on the “slick alliance” (the state-corporate nexus), as he called it, from the 1970s—as indeed did a number of his scripts written for Nigerian TV soap operas. Karen Barber’s (2000) research on Yoruba theater and peripatetic theater groups in Yorubaland in the southwest of the country has brilliantly documented how oil money and the prospect of

1.  Invisible Oil (2010) by Austrian artist Ernst Logar features prints and sculptural pieces. His oil rig sculptures are constructed from rubbish found on one of Aberdeen’s beaches; he photographed the rig he constructed against the shoreline of that same beach. Many North Sea rigs have been named after Scottish birds, but Logar’s petroleum-based structures carry the names of the most deprived Aberdeen neighborhoods. Invisible Oil documents his communication with companies operating in the North Sea as he attempts, often unsuccessfully, to gain access to crucial locations in the production process. See invisible_oil_e.htm. 2. Alfredo Jaar’s installation refers to an incident that took place in Koko, Nigeria, in 1987 and 1988. Five Italian tankers carrying toxic waste arrived in this port town and arranged with farmers, unaware that the materials contained within were toxic, to store the barrels for $100 a month. Although marked with the international toxic hazard symbol of a skull and crossbones, some of the barrels were emptied by residents of the area; others exploded in the heat, their contents seeping into the water system. Jaar’s work consists of fifty-five-gallon barrels filled with water, over which are suspended light boxes with photographs of the citizens of Koko. The images are viewed through the reflections in the waterfilled barrels; the viewer peers into the barrels to see the photographs but he or she also sees his or her own reflection. See

168   Michael J. Watts wealth without work has generated a number of cultural motifs—so-called money-magic and the trade in body parts—that emerged from the lived experiences of the urban poor (see Jennifer Wenzel’s [2006] review of this “petro-magic” literature). San Francisco playwright and performance artist Dan Hole has written his own award-winning monologue, Tings Dey Happen, on his time in the Niger Delta. More recently a raft of brilliant Nigerian novelists—Kaine Agary (2006), Helon Habila (2010), Chris Abani (2004), Ben Okri (1995), and Ayo Akinfe (2009)—have written powerfully about the combustible mix of environmental pollution, truncated hopes, illicit wealth, and violence on and off the Delta’s oil fields. Nigerian painters and sculptors—most famously, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Sokari Douglas Camp—have engaged directly with oil questions too in work that has circulated widely in the global museum world. Two recent multimedia exhibitions at the Munich and Dortmund museums, and Mark Boulos’s remarkable installation All That Is Solid Melts into Air3 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2012, all point to the curatorial appeal of much of Nigeria’s “petro-art.” Documentary films abound—Sweet Crude, Delta Boys, Poison Fire, Daughters of the Delta, The Naked Option, and most recently Rachel Boynton’s Big Men—as do commercially produced films by Nigeria’s Nollywood and by the BBC (Black November and Blood and Oil, respectively), both of which focus on conflict, corruption, and kidnapping.4 And not least a raft of some of the most distinguished American, European, and Nigerian documentary photographers have taken on the travails of Nigerian oil, among them George Steinmetz, Ed Kashi, Samuel James, George Osodi, Jane Hahn, and Veronique de Viquerie. This cultural production has been nothing short of extraordinary.5 Stephanie LeManager’s book Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (2014) is one of the first efforts—focused largely on North America—to address the full spectrum of cultural forms, from museum exhibits and oil industry tours to poetry, documentary film, fiction, still photography, novels, and memoirs. Her concern is the aesthetic, sensory, and emotional legacies of petroleum, from its rise to the preeminent modern fossil fuel 3.  See and also = MEt8VifiWUk. 4.  In an American setting, documentary films such as Josh Fox’s Gasland (2010), Joel Berlinger’s Crude (2009), and Basil Gelpke’s A Crude Awakening (2007), and commercial Hollywood productions such as Syriana and Promised Land all mine this rich vein. For a full listing of such film resources, see 5.  I am of course ignoring some of the extraordinary writing by journalists such as Ike Okonta, Ibiba Don-Pedro, and others, memoirs by Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. and Owens Wiwa, the various interventions of a literary sort by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the lively and vivid poster and cartoon art (some is reproduced in Curse of the Black Gold ), and a vast array of cultural materials (some in vernacular languages) that circulate in and across the Niger Delta and rarely see the light of day outside of the region.

An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi   169 during World War I through the current era of what she calls Tough Oil, namely the bid for the continuity of “the charismatic lifestyles of the American twentieth century.”6 In a famous essay written two decades ago, Amitav Ghosh (1992) argued that oil had little cultural presence in literary expression—what he called petro-fiction—apart from exemplary contributions like that of Abdelrahman Munif and his compelling extended fiction of the Arab petro-state, the quintet entitled Cities of Salt. Whether or not the Great American Oil Novel does or does not exist—Oil! by Upton Sinclair might be a candidate—the existence of Carlos Fuentes’s novel of Mexico’s oil rush, The Hydra Head, and Patrick Chamoiseau’s story of Martinique resistance to state and corporate oil in Texaco suggests that perhaps Ghosh and Hitchcock may be too harsh in claiming that oil and gas remains entirely “off-shore” in the cultural consciousness. As Graeme Macdonald says, oil representations, like oil itself, have “significant global routes, value changes and multiple . . . forms” (2012, 7). Nowhere is this mores the case than in the image world of contemporary photography.7 Sebastião Salgado’s (2005) iconic images of the burning Kuwait oil fields—and one might add here Werner Herzog’s apocalyptic vision of the first Gulf War oil fields in Lessons of Darkness (1992)8 and Edward Burtynsky’s (2011) massive inventory of oil in his book of the same name9 —point to a growing field of what one might call “petro-imagery.” In this section, we present one small part of the oil visual archive, namely a photo essay by American photographer Ed Kashi. Kashi’s own work—a very small sampling of his prodigious output is represented here—can be best appreciated by placing it on a broader landscape of what one might call petro-imagery. Edward Burtynsky’s oil project is an appropriate place to begin because of its scale, ambition, and scope.10 In the 1980s and 1990s, Burtynsky photographed industrial landscapes transformed by human action. His early work focused on mines

  6.  These cultural approaches have been and are being explored by Imre Szeman and a group of cultural theorists in Canada: see the special issues of Imaginations 3/2 (2012) entitled “Sighting Oil,” which addresses directly the question of petro-imagery (see http:// For work currently conducted at the University of Alberta, see petroculturestapsnewdepositofenergyknowledge; and at Rice University, see http://hrc.rice. edu/energy/. The American Book Review (March–April 201) was devoted to “Petro-Fictions.”   7.  See, for example, Effendi 2009, Mackie 2004, Steinmetz 2008, S. Taylor 2005, Osodi 2011, and Misrach and Orff 2012.   8.  See also Ursula Biemann’s Black Sea Files (2005). A comparison of Herzog and Biemann’s films appears in Szeman 2010.   9.  See 10.  A similar project using large format prints is undertaken in Mitch Epstein’s American Power (2009), an examination of the massive U.S. energy grid and its consequences. See

170   Michael J. Watts and quarries and how the human presence took the form of a geometric interruption into the natural world (Woods 2012). The images are almost abstract because industrial landscapes often tend to have angular, geometric shapes, but also because he frames the setting without any visible horizon. In his introductory remarks in Oil, Burtynsky notes that he experienced an “oil epiphany” in 1997: “It occurred to me that all the vast man-altered landscapes I had pursued for over 20 years had been made possible by the discovery of oil and the progress occasioned by the internal combustion engine.” His book compares three of the phases in oil’s life cycle as a commodity. “Extraction and Refinement” opens with the hard infrastructure of oil and gas: a field of pumpjacks stretching to the horizon in the California desert, a maze of shining pipelines in an Alberta forest, and a jumble of tubes, pipes, and valves at a New Brunswick refinery. “Transportation and Motor Culture” depicts armies of bright new automobiles, an exit ramp from a bridge in Shanghai, and a mesmerizing network of freeway intersections in Los Angeles. “The End of Oil” captures residual and fossilized landscapes and oil detritus: oil tankers being broken up in Chittagong, and abandoned, rusting derricks and spills at the Socar field in Azerbaijan. The end invoked here seems apocalyptic and contaminated. Typically, Burtynsky shoots at dawn and twilight on bright days and from the air, observing from an oblique angle. There are no shadows and the angle of vision is not quite that of either aerial photograph or the satellite image (Woods 2012). There is no Olympian vantage point. Rather, we are drawn into and made complicit with the image. The formal qualities of the prints, and their magnificent detail and depth of complexity, lend to the photographs a sublime quality, emphasizing pattern, color, and vanishing points. The images are overwhelming, awe inspiring, and horrifying in equal measure. Alberta Oil Sands #6 shows a massive installation for extracting oil from tar sands. A pair of yellow rectangles that appear artificially painted onto the image are in fact huge vats of sulfur hundreds of meters wide and hundreds more long. In an aerial view of a refinery on the coast at Pasadena, Texas, a sense of scale seems almost ungraspable— even the largest industrial apparatuses (tankers, refineries) appear to have been shrunken. In 2010, Burtynsky took several photographs of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill from a helicopter above the Gulf of Mexico: the human presence—boats and drilling rigs—is miniscule compared to the massive, marbled slick that dominates the image. If oil is ubiquitous—as Burtynsky’s project presupposes—this omnipresence is one of the things that makes it hard to depict as a totality. There are curious absences and silences: the geographic coverage tends to ignore the oil-producing zones of the global South; the connections to empire and militarism are weakly present; and the invocation of the end

An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi   171 of oil is in fact the fossilized oil relic, contaminated and abandoned; the industry, however, is propelled forward regardless. An altogether different approach to oil and gas emerges from the extraordinary collaboration between Richard Misrach—a Berkeley-based photographer best known for his powerful color photographs of the American West—and landscape architect Kate Orff in their documentation of the petrochemical industry in coastal Louisiana, the co-called Cancer Alley (Misrach and Orff 2012).11 Misrach’s stunning large format images are often ghostly and strangely unpopulated: sad looking cypress trees jutting out of the water, religious statuary framed by holding tanks and shotgun houses, revetment signs tossed into the Mississippi River. The creative integration of text, graphics (including architectural and landscape renderings by Orff and her team), and images addresses the sheer ubiquity and insidiousness of our petrochemical addiction. In the first part of Petrochemical America, Misrach depicts the riverside communities between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, replete with extended captions shedding light on the history of the region. The images are spectral and silent and almost entirely devoid of human life. There are pictures from restored plantation homes, churches, and strange roadside oddities—lunch signs, weird statues, and lawn art—and not least the massive towers and tanks of the petrochemical plants, which take on an eerie stateliness at the same moment that they dominate and overwhelm in Misrach’s spectacular landscapes. Petrochemical America seeks to show how ecology and oil have, as it were, coevolved in the striking landscapes of the Gulf Coast and the bayous. Misrach’s images take on an entirely new and different power in the second part of the book in Orff’s “Ecological Atlas,” which in its particular register often resembles a series of natural history museum displays. Each two-page layout contains multiple layers of text and graphical representation arranged into complex ensembles of meaning that supersede a simple inventory of the bleak facts of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. A timeline of oil production, entitled “Depths of Addiction,” bisects two pages horizontally; historical pictures of ever-taller drilling rigs are arrayed above it while below a stark wash of blue-black dissolves into a bar chart showing the relentless increases in average drill depth and costs per foot. A graph is superimposed on the rigs depicting trends in overall oil production, skyrocketing worldwide while remaining flat in the United States. These infographics distill key trends and markers about the American petrochemical landscape: an inventory of the chemicals produced, the waste

11.  Many of the images and graphics can be seen on the Fraenkel Gallery website including interviews with the authors:

172   Michael J. Watts profile, and the displacement of the poor African American communities along River Road, the chemical corridor linking Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Maps, data narratives, and eco portraits provide an accessible introduction to the scope of the industry, its environmental and human health impacts, and its double-edged consequences for social life. Orff’s account of infrastructure, for example, renders visible the pipelines, export routes, and material flows that are so important to the petrochemical industry but largely hidden from public view12 (see Appel, this volume). Yet as a model of integrating word and text, Petrochemical America, for all of its appeal as a sort of political aesthetics, fails to capture the lived space of Cancer Alley. People appear only in three images, and in Orff’s landscape renderings populations are abstract and silhouetted. This facelessness suggests a sort of detachment. There is a cool, glacial quality to the project, which curiously erases, whatever the massive costs of the oil industry in the region, a vibrant and distinctive working-class oil culture (Weaver 2010). Christian Lutz’s Tropical Gift (2010) is, on its face, much smaller and more intimate, capturing the closed world of the oil-producing states. The tenor and tone here is a marked counterpoint to Oil: the colors are washed out, flattened, and bleached; the settings intimate and secretive. During three successive trips to Nigeria in 2009 and 2010, Lutz documented the business of oil and gas among particularly, but not exclusively, the power elites. He takes pictures of businessmen, Nigerian and expatriate, in the capital of Abuja in their private life, at work, and in the middle of negotiations with Nigerian state elites and bagmen. The atmospherics are dominated by the deal, the corporate boardroom, and the life of the expatriate oil staff. The oil fields and the oil workers are largely invisible: the oil communities appear in portraits and odd depictions of ruins and battered objects. The book represents a sort of phenomenology of the oil deal. Lutz’s trip into the dark heart of the Nigerian oil industry is part two of a triptych of works examining power. The first pictured what he calls “the theatre of politics,” namely the different settings that politicians use to express their power, which were shot mainly while traveling abroad with various delegations of the Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs. These orchestrated and choreographed settings informed his work in Nigeria, with its shadow world of intricate and internecine power relations: it is an exercise of imperial oil at work at the most elevated levels. His pictures follow the trail of oil as it travels, figuratively, through the hands of key players at the upper echelons of the value chain. What is on offer is an aesthetics of gesture, of display, of suits and briefcases rather than poorly 12. See the work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation based in Los Angeles, which has curated a number of shows on the oil and gas landscape: newsletter/spring-2010/urban-crude.

An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi   173 shod children and plumes of fire. As he put it: “I thought it would be more expressive if I underscored that side of the story. I was a wealthy white in Nigeria, and I used this to get mixed up with the community. I ate fresh sushi that cost $150, and swam in their pools and drank some great South African wine, but I could hardly stand it. It made me sick. I never want to go back. How can we eat sushi in West Africa when the fish for the local population have been annihilated by the oil spillage? The population split in Nigeria is so extreme, it becomes surreal.”13 For Lutz, the story of the Nigerian oil industry is the same as the story of gold or diamonds, “at base, animalistic, rough type of capitalism. It’s like a huge motor, a big game in which everyone has chances, and you can’t make it stop. It’s really disgusting—I’m not ashamed to use that word—it’s a disgusting criminal business.”14 Lutz’s story is entirely pictorial. Apart from a single page at the end containing sobering and often cynical quotations collected in Nigeria, the book features only edited and sequenced photographs without any text, full bleed, occasionally paired. Ed Kashi’s corpus of work is different yet again. He came to the oil question quite late in his career. Having worked in many oil-producing states as a photojournalist and having completed two books on the Kurds (with Christopher Hitchens) and the Protestant community of Northern Ireland, he came to work in the Niger Delta in 2004. Ed Kashi first traveled with me to the Niger Delta in that year—our young sons were school friends—and so began a project that was to consume him (and me) for almost five years. The book Curse of the Black Gold appeared in 2008 and consisted of over 150 of Kashi’s images, typically juxtaposed with words, quotations, and poems and interspersed with a series of essays by a Nigerian intellectuals, activists, writers, novelists, and journalists.15 Born into a family of Iraqi Jews who fled Baghdad in the 1940s, Kashi was raised on Long Island and educated in fine art at Syracuse University. Cutting his teeth on a raft of social issues he describes as “stirring my passions about the state of humanity,” Kashi moved to San Francisco in 1979 where he and his wife, filmmaker Julie Winnower, founded Talking Eyes Media in 2002 as a vehicle for their ambitious multimedia projects on aging and the medically uninsured. The Niger Delta work represented Kashi’s first long-term meditation on international issues but it continued, and extended, his struggle to move beyond the photo-magazine format

13. Quoted in 14. Ibid. 15.  They include novelists Chimamanda Adiche and Kaine Agary; activists Von Kemedi, Nnimmo Bassey and Felix Tuodolo; journalist Ibiba Don Pedro; politicians Oronto Douglas and Ledum Mittee; and academics Ukoha Ukiwo and Ugo Nwokeji.

174   Michael J. Watts and to weld the power of the image and text—his unique powers of storytelling—to advocacy and social change. Between 2004 and 2009 Kashi returned to the Niger Delta several times, on occasion digging deeper into the well of local discontent that was to explode into the open in 2005 as a fullfledged insurgency. A ragtag but lethal guerrilla army, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), brought the oil industry to its knees (see Golden Timsar, this volume). After playing e-mail cat-and-mouse with their shadowy PR man “Gbomo Jomo,” Ed was finally able to meet up with MEND militants at a burial service for recently fallen comrades and to capture a noisy display of military hardware in the backwater creeks.16 Ed Kashi’s images are presented in a register different from either Burtynsky’s abandoned relic oil derricks and rigs in Belridge, California, and Baku, Azerbaijan, or Lutz’s secret world of the oil corridors of power. Kashi’s visual practice is ethnographic, and his imagery falls between social documentation and reportage. He is an anthropologist by disposition, working slowly and carefully, immersing himself in the local context. Kashi is an obsessive and courageous fieldworker: unflaggingly driven, bull-dog persistent, and supremely energetic in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, as I discovered.17 The images here also exhibit his work in Iraq, Kurdistan, India, and the United States, which picture various nodes and sites within the oil and gas assemblage. Kashi offers a sort of phenomenology of oil—the lived experiences and meanings of those who inhabit a universe populated by oil rigs, pipelines, and gas flares. It is a world of unimaginable oil wealth and of unrelenting misery, a world of stark class contradictions in which so-called traditional and modern forms of authority are inextricably intertwined. His rendering of the Niger Delta invokes an earlier oil era, the nineteenth-century whaling industry depicted in Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s devastating portrait of totalitarian power, greed, and avarice. Kashi’s oil world is bleak, apocalyptic, violent, austere, ruthless, and destructive. It is also spectral world, as he sees it, of shadows,

16.  Images from Kashi’s Niger Delta archive are ubiquitous in the activist and advocacy circles that concern him most. His pictures have graced the covers of reports by Amnesty International, the Open Society Institute, and Human Rights Watch. Oxfam-America has used his images as the centerpiece of a mobile show that travels around the United States to schools, community groups, and oil-producing communities. 17.  Kashi’s willingness to take risks perhaps inevitably brought down the wrath of the Nigerian state on him (his striking image of the oil-stained torsos of Shell workers near Nembe was taken under the watchful eye of the military). While working in the creeks near Warri in 2006, Ed and his Nigerian assistant Elias Courson were arrested at gunpoint by a naval task force and subjected to five days of detention and interrogation. Only an international lobbying effort and courageous interventions by well-placed Nigerian friends secured their release. Kashi is the first to admit that his sort of reportage must be a collective effort. Without a small army of committed Delta activists to guide him through a landscape that often resembled a country under military occupation, his work would have been impossible.

An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi   175 deception, and subterfuge, of corrupt politicians and carpetbaggers, of organized crime and powerful corporate capital, of masked guerrillas and sickened children. His images often juxtapose the contradictions of oil wealth amid structural inequity: the ubiquitous lines of plastic jerry cans awaiting fuel in countries literally awash in oil;18 the excess and display of the political classes cheek by jowl with a massive wageless class (the armies of alienated youth); the constant presence of violence and the threat of state terror amid the putative emancipatory freedoms conferred by oil wealth. The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski (1982) once said that countries dependent on oil live a fairy-tale existence, but like all fairy tales it is a bit of a lie. Ed Kashi has endeavored to bring into the harsh glare of daylight, to unmask, the full toll of oil’s deceit. Photographs are of course not innocent. They do not disclose or simply reproduce a “truth.” As John Berger puts it, a photograph “isolates, preserves and presents a moment taken from a continuum. . . . It has no language of its own” (2013, 26). As a result the photograph, all photographs, contain a deep ambiguity and a necessary incompleteness. For Berger, who long ago reflected on the use of images and was dismissive of the public iconic image—he pondered why the London Times published a harrowing image by Don McCullin of a Vietnamese man clutching his bleeding child while still publicly supporting the Vietnam War—the task of a critical, alternative photography is to incorporate the image “into social and political memory instead of using it as a substitute which encourages the atrophy of any such memory” (2009, 62). We can therefore legitimately ask whether the visual archive of oil meets this high standard. One of the very few people to address this question is the Scottish photographer Owen Logan (2012) who has offered a withering assessment of the visual culture of the resource curse. In his account, this image world of oil is captured, and utterly debilitated by, the irredeemable logic of pathos, which “invites the audience to identify with the photographer’s perspective through his or her expression of pity” (98). Resource curse images are, he says, an expression of what Agamben (1998) calls homo sacer or bare life, which Logan construes as a particular form of surrender. Labor politics in short are dwarfed and immobilized by the extremity of human suffering. Pathos in this story is the ideology of what Logan calls “consumer sovereignty.” Photographs of the resource curse do the work of discursive “ring-fencing,” creating walled gardens that endorse the negative liberties of liberal humanism: for example, “to identify directly with the 18.  Benin photographer, multimedia artist, and sculptor Romuald Hazoume also has a series of extraordinary photographs examining the plastic jerry can and oil transactions: see Hazoume 2012 andéspetrol-fumed-art.

176   Michael J. Watts others (as underdog) on a psychic level” (115) and with the power of corporate management (104). Indeed, the entire history of “modern cultural institutions” is in the business of using pathos “as a means to overcome and heal the politics of class” (15). The alternative—which Logan draws from the Communist-inspired New York Photo League—is working-class self-representation through dialectical antinaturalism (108). In the interest of full disclosure, it needs to be said that for Logan the epitome of this undialectical, voluntarist, business-friendly resource curse visual culture is Curse of the Black Gold and the images of Ed Kashi. In Logan’s account, Kashi is rendered guilty by association: his work has appeared in National Geographic19 and indeed the entire “master-frame” is provided by National Geographic. The Curse of the Black Gold has evacuated the Nigerian oligarchy, empire, the working class, and pro-labor subjectivity (Logan 2012, 119–20); the oil question is only depicted as black, oil’s hegemony is seen to “hinge on violence” rather than “the less marketable politics of the Nigerian labor movement,” and the book resorts to a few images of “local color” to brighten things up. Kashi, a “cultural entrepreneur” in combination with an academic (that would be me), has “narrowed public discourse” and created a walled garden productive of bare life (126). Critical realism has been surrendered. Logan has raised at the most general level the old question of the truth of the image, and, to return to Berger, of what might constitute a critical photography. For Logan this apparently is a question of “Whose side are you on?” (2012, 115). The crudity of this formulation is hard to reconcile with the complex class picture of, say, Nigeria or Louisiana, and it really does not require comment. More crucially, the contradictions of Logan’s own position are crystal clear. He invokes a working-class self-representation at a time—by his own admission (121)—when working-class power is most in doubt; he accuses Kashi of ignoring the Nigerian working class when the organized sector of the Nigerian oil industry is a textbook case of labor aristocracy and corrupt self-interest; he wants working-class self-representation when the images in the book depict a massive and historically unprecedented wageless class, a massive youth cohort alienated from the market and all forms of authority. In this sense it is odd that his own images, which appear in his text—hardly class self-representation— are bland and anodyne (a family portrait of what he calls “conspicuous affluence” in Bolivia). Most important of all, Logan has nothing to say about the relations between image and text, the photograph and the word (Berger 2013). Curse of the Black Gold, unlike most books of this sort, is text

19.  Logan’s work has appeared in the Scottish Parliament and in the National Galleries of Scotland, institutions that I presume are hotbeds of revolutionary workerism.

An Introduction to the Photographs of Ed Kashi   177 heavy: single images are juxtaposed with poetry, quotations, and analysis by a range of voices. The book is constituted by essays—on slavery, empire, state violence, and corporate power—not by “consumers” from the heart of American empire, but from, as it were, “producers”; that is to say, Nigerians representing their own oil world. There is surely always a danger that the relations between poverty, class, and oil can be repackaged and resold (2012, 126). Logan is right to cast a critical eye on the ways in which images—one thinks of the work of Sebastião Salgado here—are put to work in the name of what Ananya Roy (2010) calls “poverty capital.” But we need more discriminating analysis—and more inventive alternatives— than Logan has on offer. Readers can, of course, assess Kashi’s images, which begin on the following page, for themselves.

Oil as a way of life. Automobility and immobility in and near downtown Atlanta, Georgia, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Automobility. The thirty-six-hundred-mile-long Golden Quadrilateral Highway project, one of India’s largest and most ambitious infrastructure projects, aims to connect the four major cities of India (New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai) with a 4–6 lane superhighway at a cost of over $12 billion. It has been associated with considerable political contention and popular protest. This image depicts a government-owned rest stop along the Pune-Bombay expressway, 2007. Ed Kashi/VII.

Retail oil: an Essar petrol station in Surat’s industrial area. Surat, Gujarat, 2007. Ed Kashi/VII.

Scarcity amid plenty. Angry and frustrated Iraqis wait for hours in a long line for gasoline in central Baghdad. American forces were providing security and control over the gas stations in the city, but since they pulled out the lines have reappeared, along with calls for killing Americans. Baghdad, 2003. Ed Kashi/VII.

The Northern Oil Company runs the Kirkuk oil field, the largest in Iraq. The facilities are decrepit and run down from years of neglect and international sanctions. Kirkuk has been claimed as a cultural capital by both Kurds and Turkmen. Of the ten thousand employees of the Northern Oil Company, only 126 are Kurds. They are all watched closely. Kirkuk, June 2005. Ed Kashi/VII.

Oil infrastructure. A gas station during a sandstorm in Dawr al Zar, Syria, May 1991. Ed Kashi/VII.

Dohuk, Iraq, an early morning gas line in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. Some individuals had waited as long as five days. Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, November 1991. Ed Kashi/VII.

Petro-militarism. The U.S. Army’s 106th Transportation Battalion, responsible for logistical support for the Iraq War. Iraq, 2003. Ed Kashi/VII.

Petro-theology. Evangelical churches are ubiquitous in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Billboards like this one in the oil city of Port Harcourt offer an ecclesiastical means to refine the human subject, to service a faulty human engine in the name of the Holy Ghost Fire in Oil Zone One. Port Harcourt, 2004. Ed Kashi/VII.

The Marine Base, a slum community along the waterfront in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The slum world of oil cities in the Niger Delta have become centers of gang activity and political violence associated with the rise of militant groups since the 1990s. More recently they have been the object of violent and massive state-backed slum clearance projects. Port Harcourt, 2005. Ed Kashi/VII.

Okrika town, Rivers State, Nigeria. Okrika has been a center of extraordinary youth violence associated with conflicts over oil bunkering territory, local elections, and highly contested chieftaincy struggles, which confer access to local oil resources. A pregnant woman sells gas—some of which has been illegally refined from stolen crude oil—for motorbikes and cars on one of Okrika’s main roads. Okrika, 2005. Ed Kashi/VII.

Liquid gas. Aerial views of Bonny Island Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas terminal in the Niger Delta. This terminal is the largest of its kind in Nigeria and is owned by a consortium of Shell, Total of France, ExxonMobil, and Agip of Italy. The local villages in close proximity to the terminal are some of the poorest in all of Nigeria. Bonny Island has been periodically closed due to attacks by militant groups, endemic hostage taking, and piracy in the Cawthorne Channel, which leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Bonny Island, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Oil dispossession. Finima, with the ExxonMobil gas plant close behind, is a community of displaced people on Bonny Island, the heart of the massive liquefied natural gas industry in Nigeria. Very few of the locals are provided with employment within any of the gas and oil facilities on Bonny Island, which has caused widespread resentment and frustration. Finima, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Deepwater offshore. Aerial view of Total’s Amenam Kpono oil platform, which produces 125,000 barrels of oil a day. This platform is twenty-five miles off the coast of Nigeria in the Atlantic Ocean. Nigerian waters, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Laboring oil. Workers push heavy barrels of gas up from the waterfront into the main market road of Yenagoa, the capital of oil-rich Bayelsa State, Nigeria. Yenagoa, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Oil livelihoods. Okrika is a troubled area near Port Harcourt that has oil, refineries, pipelines, and violence. Factional fighting is common here. Local fishermen look for mullet and other small fish in the creeks around Okrika. Most fishing, which was once the main source of protein and employment for people in the Delta, has been radically threatened by massive oil spills. The Niger Delta experiences oil spillage equivalent to an Exxon Valdez spill every year. Okrika, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Illegal oil. Bunkered and locally refined fuel sold at a roadside intersection in Ogoniland, Rivers State, Nigeria. Ogoni, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Oil identities. A member of an insurgent group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), attending a funeral for one of his fallen comrades in Oporoza community, Delta State, Nigeria. MEND had just negotiated the release of a Shell worker who had been taken hostage. While on the way back through the creeks to deliver the worker to freedom, Nigerian military boats ambushed them and killed all nine insurgents as well as the Shell worker. Armed militants made a show of arms in support of their fallen comrades deep in the swamps of the Niger Delta. Oporoza, 2006. Ed Kashi/VII.

Petro-futures. Testing of all ethanol deliveries is mandatory at all gas stations in Brazil. Ethanol is tested at a Petrobras gas station. Santos, Brazil, October 2011. Ed Kashi/VII.

An ethanol terminal island at the port of Santos, Brazil. Brazil is emerging as a major oil and gas power associated with deepwater reservoirs in the Santos Basin. Historically the country has been a leader in ethanol production, using sugarcane as a feedstock, which is produced especially in Sao Paulo State. Santos, October 2011. Ed Kashi/VII. 

Chapter 9

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico Leigh Johnson, University of Zurich perfect hedge: A hedge where the change in the price or rate of the hedging device is exactly contrary to the change in the price of the underlying. Every hedger’s dream. —Oxford Handbook of International Financial Terms

When the blowout of the Macondo wellhead nearly five thousand feet (1.5 km) below the water’s surface disgorged 4.9  million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, risk once again figured as a keyword describing the seemingly perpetual abject condition of Gulf landscapes and populations: at risk. Five years earlier, following the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in quick succession, the Gulf was at the center of another national moment of recognition, at that time pivoting on the risks posed by the climate system to the already tenuous stability of the entire Gulf assemblage: its political, social, and ecological relations, its economy, and its energy system. This chapter is the story of certain consequences of these events—in particular, the crises and changes that ensued in the energy industry’s financial risk management practices—and the ironic coupling of growing financial “resilience” and environmental vulnerability in the Gulf that emerged in their wake. The End of a Viable Insurance Class? Although the offshore oil and gas industry has faced a perpetual shortage of insurance coverage from traditional markets due to the extraordinary magnitude and concentration of values involved in offshore operations, a

194  Leigh Johnson series of unusually destructive hurricane seasons (2004, 2005, and 2008) led some market observers to predict the outright extinction of insurance coverage for offshore risks in the Gulf. Hurricane Ivan in 2004 set the stage, damaging 168 offshore pipelines via mudflows and dragging anchors (Burkett 2011). But 2005 proved to be the critical turning point in the way that risks were assessed and managed in the Gulf oil complex. Early in the season, Hurricane Dennis delayed the launch of operations on BP’s flagship $5  billion semisubmersible Thunder Horse production facility in six thousand feet of water as the platform tilted dramatically into the ocean (NCBP 2011). The damages from Katrina and Rita left repair services overwhelmed and the Gulf energy complex crippled: 113 platforms and five drilling rigs destroyed, nineteen mobile drilling units set adrift, and enormous subsea damage from mudslides and dragging anchors. Since much of the onshore refining capacity was shuttered for months, the Gulf of Mexico energy sector lost an estimated 30% of oil and 22% of natural gas annual production (OEDER 2009). By the season’s unusually late end in December, 2005 was by far the most economically destructive North Atlantic hurricane season in history. The insured Gulf energy losses from 2005 consumed the entirety of total global premiums insurers had collected from energy underwriting— roughly $4  billion annually—in the four previous years (Willis Limited 2009). Rates spiked dramatically and insurance industry news magazines and brokerage reports voiced looming concern that on- and offshore energy in the Gulf of Mexico would soon become uninsurable. Then, following quiescent seasons in 2006 and 2007 in which insurers accrued hefty reserves, in September  2008 Hurricane Ike tracked through the heart of offshore production before making landfall near Houston. As claims mounted from direct damage and operator’s extra expenses such as redrilling, plugging, and abandonment costs, 2008 became the second most damaging year of energy losses in Gulf history. Between 2004 and 2008, Lloyd’s marine insurance syndicate Watson Underwriters estimated that the ratio of claims made to premiums collected for energy coverage for windstorms in the Gulf was 3.6:1. The collective market effects of just four hurricanes (Ivan in 2004, followed by Katrina, Rita, and Ike) reached far beyond the Gulf, giving the entire global “upstream energy portfolio a level of volatility perhaps unmatched in any other [insurance] industry sector” (Willis 2009, 10). In response, many major energy underwriters for the Gulf raised rates and retention limits (essentially deductibles) and capped coverage at $500 million per incident per client—hardly sufficient to repair or replace much in the way of the ultradeep installations. This led the reinsurance broker Willis to entitle its annual Energy Market Review in 2009 “Gulf of Mexico Windstorm: Still the Insoluble Risk Management Problem?” The

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   195 report pointed to the stark unpredictability and unprofitability of the past five years and the long periodicity of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation warm phase, which is expected to drive relatively higher than average Atlantic tropical cyclones activity for the next twenty to thirty years independent of climate change impacts. Willis claimed “the long term sustainability of the Gulf Wind insurance product has now been seriously questioned by both the reinsurance and direct markets. . . . Market pessimists are forecasting the end of GOM [Gulf of Mexico] wind as a viable insurance class” (2009, 9, emphasis added). This chapter  takes this apparent insurance crisis as a provocation and point of departure. The crisis attracted my attention as I conducted research  on the reinsurance industry’s production and management of knowledge about climate change risks and North Atlantic tropical cyclones (Johnson 2010a, 2011). The subset of results presented here are derived from interviews with underwriters, brokers, and climatologists, and observation at industry conferences, conducted from 2008 to 2010 at various sites in the United States, the City of London, and Zurich.1 I also draw evidence from a particular subset of the Gulf’s “oil archive” (Barry, this volume) generated by U.S. government agencies. What are we to make of the rather astonishing suggestion that one of the world’s largest and most politically stable oil complexes might pose an insolubly risky problem for insurers—even preceding the Deepwater Horizon disaster? Had the materialities of oil—that is to say, the problems posed by its physical extraction from the earth, transportation, and refinement—become so unwieldy and unpredictable that they were no longer manageable with the statistical tools of actuarial science? At first glance, this seems to resemble Ulrich Beck’s World Risk Society (1999, 2009), in which manufactured uncertainties have superseded the bounds of risk calculation. In Beck’s uninsurability thesis, the actuarial calculations developed by insurers to gauge the distribution of loss events within a population—and the probable costs of indemnifying claims—make insurers the ultimate arbiters of risk. As the “man-made” risks of industrialized society—nuclear power, genetic engineering, and climate change among them—become increasingly unpredictable and actuarially incalculable, private insurers refuse to cover them.2 By this logic, uninsurability 1.  I am deeply indebted to my interview respondents for their time and candor. Special thanks also go to Michael Watts, Robert Meister, Jane Guyer, James McCarthy, Tim Heinemann, Rebecca Lave, Geoff Mann, and Chris Muellerleile, and the participants in the Oil Talk workshop. 2.  Elsewhere I have questioned the empirical and theoretical validity of this premise with respect to climate change (Johnson 2010a). See also S. Collier 2008 and Ericson and Doyle 2004 for important discussions of the techniques by which seemingly “incalculable” risks are being rendered insurable and governable.

196  Leigh Johnson itself figures as the “autonomic signaling mechanism of the risk society” (S. Collier 2008, 228). Could the Gulf of Mexico energy insurance crisis circa 2009 be read as the quintessential embodiment of the uninsurable perils of the Risk Society? Here, I  argue the contrary. The examples presented in this chapter draw into question both Beck’s formulation of insurers as the ultimate arbiters of risk calculation and management and the insurance industry’s presumed power of sanction over certain climate-change-vulnerable landscapes. If in fact the Gulf oil complex is uninsurable through traditional means—which is ultimately an empirical question, the answer to which changes each year depending on the cost of capital and competitive dynamics within the reinsurance industry—this is a contingent result of the fact that futures and options markets provide alternate routes to underwrite the financial security that insurance once provided. Although the 2005 and 2008 hurricane seasons provoked a crisis of insurability as traditionally defined for Gulf energy risks, they also motivated the development of—and growing reliance on—a number of new financial instruments and meteorological forecasts that rendered the region’s weather risks into tradable instruments for hedging and speculation. This has troubling implications for how actors address the growing environmental vulnerabilities to which the Gulf is exposed in a changing climate (Burkett 2011). The region’s geography makes it particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, coastal subsidence, and potential increases in hurricane intensity (Pendleton et  al. 2010). But instead of envisioning and forecasting for the medium- to long-range future (and inevitable energy transition) in the Gulf, we are confronted with an ever-multiplying number of forecasts and contracts that mediate and produce near futures as financial objects. The “near future” refers to a temporal space between the present and the long-term horizon that anthropologist Jane Guyer (2007) argues was filled during the postwar period with imagining, planning, and struggling for social and political goals—among them the anticolonial, antiapartheid, and environmental movements. Guyer suggests that in the present, however, the near future has become strangely emptied of social and political reasoning about collective life, and is now instead organized around anticipating and reacting to events and managing the resulting volatility (see also Cooper 2010). The task for an anthropology of the present, then, is to understand the ways in which the near future “is still—and newly—inhabited,” and with what implications for collective life (Guyer 2007, 410). In the Gulf of Mexico we find an enormous density of financial instruments inhabiting this temporal space, including energy derivatives, storm-specific futures, seasonal hurricane futures, and over-the-counter

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   197 loss derivatives. These futures are circumscribed by the coevolving temporal frames of contract time and forecast time—periods from days to a few years at most—in which energy, insurance, and financial business is transacted. Technological advances in meteorology and computational modeling facilitated this financialization of geophysical events, but its theoretical roots lie in financial options pricing’s particular framework for valuing volatility.3 In short, because expected future volatility in the price of oil raises its current (spot market) price, uncertainty about meteorological and climate behaviors in the near future can generate excess returns on oil assets in the present. Up to a point, then, the increasing environmental vulnerability of the Gulf oil complex may provide an externally sourced regional solution to the oil complex’s perennial challenge of organizing scarcity and preventing abundance (Bridge and Wood 2010; Retort 2005; Mitchell 2011). As the Gulf’s escalating vulnerability to climate change brings certain energy and weather derivatives closer to embodying “perfect hedges” for the Gulf oil complex, the very fact that the landscape is growing ever more environmentally precarious could make it increasingly financially profitable. The Gulf of Mexico’s “oil complex”—the particular configuration of firms, the state, and communities that shape the character of oil and gas extraction (Watts 2004a)—is territorially sprawling and relationally extensive. With over four thousand wells and thirty-three thousand miles of pipeline on- and offshore, connected with a network of terminals, refineries, storage facilities, shipyards, and construction facilities strung along the coast from Mississippi to Texas, the Gulf accounts for around 30% of U.S. crude oil production and over 40% of U.S. refining capacity (Dismukes 2011). Fixed capital on- and offshore is now valued at an estimated $2 trillion. It is a massive industrial cluster, directly or indirectly employing roughly four hundred thousand people, as well as the source of a $20 billion annual revenue stream in the form of royalties and taxes paid to localities, Gulf states, and the federal government (IHS Global Insight 2010). The first offshore production began in the Gulf of Mexico in 1938, and even then hurricane-force winds and waves were a problem for the shallowest developments (NCBP 2011). Because offshore energy development is exceptionally risky—financially, environmentally, and in terms of safety—it is not an exaggeration to say that insurance mechanisms of one form or another were absolutely critical for the development of the offshore industry as we know it. Lloyd’s wrote the first explicit offshore 3. My thinking on this subject has been shaped by ongoing conversations with Bob Meister.

198  Leigh Johnson policies out of London in the 1960s, expressly for drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The challenges have since grown exponentially more difficult with the move into deeper waters farther from shore and the resulting dependence on subsea networks. By 2008, the Gulf of Mexico accounted for 35% of all upstream (i.e., exploration and extraction) energy premiums collected globally (Willis 2009, 14). Offshore energy policies now include damage from storms, well blowout, explosions/fires, redrilling, replacement costs, and containment costs for oil spills. When damages occur, they can yield huge losses quickly—particularly given the accelerating march into ultra-deepwater fields in the Gulf, where the new frontiers of exploration are now greater than ten thousand feet. As has been repeatedly noted in retrospect following the BP spill, the technological imperative driving production farther and deeper into the Gulf (Bridge 2008) brings risks that are exponentially higher. Equipment to withstand extreme temperatures and depths is far more expensive, repair by robotic submersibles more difficult, and safety risks both far greater and qualitatively different (NCBP 2011). The climatologically exceptional hurricane seasons of 2004, 2005, and 2008 drove the decoupling of risk management from the technology of insurance and its rearticulation through networks of short-term finance and petrocapital. The Gulf’s particular geographic position within the oil market’s “space-time parallax” (Labban 2010)—in which oil is always circulating as both physical commodity and financial title—drives this configuration. I  turn now to the historical conditions that created this dual character.

The Financialization of Oil and the “Option Form” of Capital The 1970s marked a profound turning point in the history of global finance and set the stage for its entwinement with the oil business in the following decades. Modern trading on futures contracts linked to underlying agricultural commodities was institutionalized on the Chicago Board of Trade over a century earlier (cf. Cronon  1991). At their most basic, futures are contracts in which two parties agree on a price at which titles to a commodity will be exchanged at a specified delivery date in the future. Although futures contracts were originally settled by “delivery” of the underlying commodity, the vast majority are now settled by monetary transactions to cover the difference between the current spot price and the futures price. In comparison with the historical development of futures markets for other commodities, the financialization of oil is a surprisingly recent phenomenon that gained momentum during periods of high price volatility

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   199 in global oil markets in the 1980s.4 Futures contracts on the benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude were first traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 1983, and futures on Brent crude from the North Sea launched in London in 1988. The 1986 collapse in oil prices catalyzed a major shift within both upstream (exploration/extraction) and downstream (refining/retailing) energy firms to hedge price risk through futures contracts, so-called paper barrels that circulate independently of physical production or trade (Moors 2011). Despite this late start, oil is now the most actively traded commodity in the world. The daily volume of West Texas Intermediate futures and options traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange alone is around ten times greater than the roughly eighty million barrels per day that are physically combusted around the globe (Yergin 2009), and the volume of contracts traded in London has recently outpaced New York. Since the trading of paper barrels does not require the physical exchange of a commodity, prices fluctuate rapidly and can move independently of material changes in physical supply or demand. Forecasts about future physical and economic conditions in the oil market have strong impacts on oil futures prices, which “overreact to such forecasts given high mobility not afforded in markets of physical deliverables” (Labban 2010, 547). One result of these highly liquid and public trading platforms is a temporal inversion in which futures prices typically “lead” spot prices, rather than vice versa. Building on futures, options contracts give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy (“call”) or sell (“put”) titles to an asset at a fixed price on or up to some date in the future. The option holder decides whether or not to exercise the option based on the unfolding market conditions and prices. Functionally, options allow traders to hedge the same risk of price fluctuations for a fraction of the cost of the futures contract. Historically, options trading aroused general suspicion from regulatory authorities, who considered options contracts little more than gambling wagers that encouraged market manipulation of underlying asset prices. What eventually came to be known as the Black-Scholes options pricing formula, published a month after the launch of the first public options exchange within the Chicago Board of Trade in 1973, lent mathematical credibility to options trading and distanced it from gambling (Mackenzie 2006). All other things being equal, the formula suggested that the value of an option is a function of the volatility of the underlying asset—that is, how much the returns on the underlying fluctuate (i.e., their standard deviation). The higher the volatility, the higher the price of the option should

4.  For more extensive accounts, see Labban 2010 and Moors 2011.

200  Leigh Johnson be (Black and Scholes 1973). Crucially, Fischer Black, Myron Scholes, and their collaborator Robert Merton demonstrated that it was possible for the owner of an asset to eliminate the risk of asset price changes completely by taking two offsetting option positions, reducing the rate of return to the risk-free rate on three-month U.S. treasury bills (Merton 1998). Likewise, the seller of an option who was not willing to take a bet on the underlying asset could theoretically also construct a whole portfolio of securities or derivatives that would generate returns exactly offsetting the value of the option—a perfect hedge—leaving the seller to recoup a fee for the service performed. The implications of understanding the world as a set of price spreads that can be hedged with the proper offsetting options are immense, as demonstrated by the provocative claim made by philosopher and trader Elie Ayache that “the only states of the world are prices . . . [and] different prices are the only thing that can suggest that the actual world could have been different” (Ayache 2010, 40). Recently, Robert Meister has suggested the crucial political importance of options pricing theory as “the way capitalism rethought itself in the late 20th century. If the kernel of capital was the option form rather than the commodity form, then there seemed to be no mystery of surplus value (you were simply in the money)—and no reason to think about long term tendencies except for the purpose of managing the shorter-term ‘uncertainties’ they create” (Meister, in Dimock 2011, 10; emphasis mine). In this volume’s spirit of unsettling the traditional narratives of oil talk, it is essential to both work through the effects of managing short-term uncertainties through the register of options theory and to insist on thinking about their “long-term tendencies” in relation to climate, ecological degradation, and energy transition.

Closer to Perfect Hedges? In spite of the damages the Gulf of Mexico oil complex has incurred since 2005, and despite the fact that traditional insurance markets are becoming less important players in risk transfer in the region, Gulf energy risks have not become strictly speaking “uninsurable.” Rather, energy companies are increasingly decoupling their risk management practices from commercial insurance capital for the simple reason that the equivalent to insurance can now be obtained via financial markets for a lower cost. Not coincidentally, the methods used to price catastrophe insurance and options both rely on Black-Scholes. Indeed, as the committee awarding the Nobel Prize in Economics to Scholes and Merton5 dryly noted, “one 5.  Fischer Black died in 1995.

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   201 can thus view insurance companies and the option market as competitors” (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 1997). In keeping with broader trends toward financial disintermediation, some of the oil majors rely on self-insurance through their own subsidiary “captive” insurance companies, typically domiciled in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda. For instance, the vast majority of BP’s losses from the Deepwater explosion were covered through its own captive insurer. The energy industry mutual insurer OIL also provides capped-value windstorm coverage for its shareholders, and “industry loss warranties” are privately traded reinsurance derivatives that pay out based on industry-wide losses. These examples alone point toward the modes of private risk management that are increasingly supplanting insurance pooling mechanisms. But beyond these tools, a host of financial instruments linked to the Gulf oil complex have allowed some firms to decrease their reliance on the traditional technologies of insurance altogether. The following sections discuss two families of instruments that have enabled energy firms’ decoupling from insurance capital: futures and spot markets on oil itself and hurricane derivatives. Each family of products operationalizes the prediction and performance of near futures differently, but both are significant for understanding the evolution of risk and volatility in the Gulf. Their tendency to become more valuable as volatility increases suggests that accelerating climate change impacts in the Gulf could bring these products ever nearer to the embodiment of “every ­hedger’s dream.”

Natural Hedges The most obvious strategy used by energy companies to hedge hurricane risks in the Gulf is based on the exchange value of oil itself. This can take a number of forms, but they all fundamentally depend on displacements in the spot or futures price of crude oil or gasoline that might be driven by a Gulf hurricane. The teleconnection between storm events and oil prices is one reason why the Gulf poses an “insoluble problem” for insurers: they are being elbowed out as oil firms trade their risks themselves or delegate their trading to so-called Wall Street refiners—energy desks at major investment banks. This notably differs from the causal structure of Beck’s uninsurability thesis, situating the explanation in terms of financial market competition rather than fundamental epistemological uncertainty. The high mobility and liquidity of paper barrels allows oil firms to use energy derivatives markets for the financial equivalent of insurance coverage for a fraction of the price charged by traditional insurers. For instance, a firm could purchase a call option giving it the right to buy oil futures at

202  Leigh Johnson the then-market price; in the event of a Gulf hurricane that damaged oil infrastructure and sent prices higher, the returns generated by the firm’s ability to “buy low and sell high” would give it access to liquid capital to cover any losses it sustained. But like most “imperfect” hedges with derivatives, such alternative methods of risk transfer expose firms to “basis risk”—the chance that the hedging market position taken will not entirely offset the actual losses incurred. Only insurance products that directly indemnify firms for damages can entirely eliminate basis risk, but the more archaic market strategy of physical storage provides a nonfinancial hedge and the occasional opportunity for extraordinary profits. This practice capitalizes on the particular geographies of the Gulf oil complex and the fungibility of physical oil. Since the price of oil in spot markets is hyper-responsive to hurricanes threatening the Gulf complex, these price movements provide a “natural hedge” for firms with storage capabilities, who often store crude oil or refined products, or both, in anticipation of selling later at higher prices. Such hedging through spot sales decreases the need for traditional business interruption or indemnity insurance to provide postloss capital, and generates cash flows more quickly than waiting for an insurance claim to be paid. The spatial and temporal relations that create such fertile conditions for short-term spot market profits are quite specific to the embedded infrastructures of the Gulf oil complex. Indeed, this space contravenes Mitchell’s portrayal of oil as a particularly distantiated form of energy whose sites of production and consumption have been strategically isolated from one another (2011, 44). Nowhere else in the world do we find such a highly networked and dense infrastructure for extracting, transporting, and refining oil that is spatially coterminous with major sites of domestic and industrial oil demand, and where proximity to high concentrations of population and property value summon incessant reporting and storm forecasting in the twenty-four-hour image world broadcast through cable television. We should take seriously the performative effects of such mediation on the spot market. Anxiety about storm threats and immediate demand for gasoline are literally performed, in an illocutionary sense, when officials mandate evacuations of coastal counties. Given the absence of meaningful long-distance public transportation infrastructure, compliance with evacuation orders demands fueling private automobiles. Even in the absence of evacuation orders, constantly recirculated images of ominous cones of potential storm paths and footage of long lines at gas pumps and bumper-to-bumper interstate traffic reproduce anxiety and demand. The impact on spot gasoline prices can be dramatic, as pictured in the top panel of figure 9.1, which charts the 70% price spike resulting from Hurricane Ike in September 2008. When officials in Texas issued mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders on September 10, the spot price per

Price per gallon (US$)

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   203 5

U. S. Gulf Coast conventional gasoline spot price

$4.87 $4.25

4 September 10: Texas orders evacuations




Price per barrel (US$)

140 $120.92



80 August 1

WTI crude spot price WTI futures 1 Average WTI futures 2-4 August 15


August 29

September 12

Septmber 26

Figure 9.1. Top panel: Daily spot price, U.S. Gulf Coast conventional gasoline, August–September 2008. Bottom panel: Daily spot and futures prices, West Texas Intermediate crude oil, August–September 2008. Data from U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration.

gallon jumped $1.17 in a single day (EIA 2012). The high of $4.87  per gallon, reached on September 12, remains the highest spot price for Gulf Coast gasoline on record. Calculating refiners with stored reserves were thus able to exploit a short-lived near future—a four-day window—to reap what could be literally called “windfalls.” Although the roughly 20% price dislocation in the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) spot and futures markets was relatively smaller, it was nonetheless noteworthy for prompting heavy trading and temporarily boosting prices that had been in steady decline following the historic peak at $146 a barrel in July of that year (see bottom panel of fig. 9.1). As of early 2014, West Texas Intermediate futures contracts had not since matched the high set in the wake of Ike on September 22, 2008, nearly $121 per barrel (EIA 2014). The gap between the Futures 1 contract price (for delivery in October 2008) and the average of the Futures 2, 3, and 4 contracts (for two to four months out) indicated the limited temporal horizon of the near future in which Ike’s impacts were anticipated to constitute a potential problem. The existence of this natural hedge for oil producers raises some troublesome questions for energy insurers. As a senior underwriter for a Lloyd’s syndicate complained to me in a 2009 interview: They’ve got a natural hedge anyway because every time the wind blows the oil price goes up and they sell it. . . . So if you have a [hurricane],

204  Leigh Johnson it knocks out production—but because you know it’s windstorm season you’ve filled up all your tanks with three months’ inventory, three months of selling at a high price, whilst you rebuild your rig . . . and replenish the inventory you’ve just sold at the highest price in the market. And we insure that?

His incredulity was in reference to one of the fundamental premises of insurance inculcated into underwriters—that the policyholder must have an insurable interest in the object or person that the cover indemnifies. An insurable interest exists if the purchaser of the policy would sustain meaningful economic losses if a particular event occurred. The standard was first developed in eighteenth-century Britain to legally differentiate legitimate life insurance contracts from pervasive gambling on the deaths of famous individuals (G. W. Clark 1999), and it is still a mainstay of insurance regulation and business practice. But as this underwriter implies, the fact that storms have such direct impacts on prices for both crude and gasoline means that integrated energy firms are often in a position to reap financial benefits from stormy weather forecasts, hurricane-related production shut-ins (in which production is curtailed and rig crews evacuate in anticipation of a storm), and off line refining capacity. In this sense, hurricanes themselves can provide a highly visible way of organizing scarcity and preventing abundance in energy markets. For instance, in addition to crippling production and refining capacity for weeks to months, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita led to the permanent loss of a significant percentage of the Gulf’s crude oil production because platforms were deemed too costly to repair (OEDER 2009, 19–21).6 Even if firms have stored inventory, there are many cases in which they may reap more damages than profits from a storm. Simple chance may leave some platforms listing while others carry through, some pipelines and risers broken and buried while others escape unscathed. Storage facilities holding inventory meant for selling in the high poststorm markets might themselves be inundated. So while abstract damages to the industry as a whole may be a boon for the profitable organization of scarcity, obviously every firm would like to escape the season relatively less scathed than their competitors. The question for risk managers is how to engineer such a differentiation for the lowest cost. This is the juncture at which meteorological forecasting is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity. In comparison with the cost of storm-hardening infrastructure or purchasing extensive 6.  Full offshore operating capacity in 2008 was 86% of 2005 levels. The OEDER report does not break down percentages lost from natural depletion versus hurricane damages, but suggests the latter are responsible for the majority of the decline.

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   205 indemnity insurance, contracting for privileged access to weather information is relatively inexpensive. Such forecasts are not only valuable for firms’ operational decision making; they are equally significant for the hedging and speculation opportunities they provide in energy and weather derivatives markets.

Meteorological Capabilities Specialized meteorological forecasting expertise holds tremendous potential for profitable arbitrage between and among near futures. This section develops another example from Hurricane Ike to demonstrate the extent to which proprietary forecasts are shaping this space. On Friday, September 5, 2008, Ike was still more than a thousand miles east of the Florida coastline. Early predictions from the National Hurricane Center had the storm making landfall around Miami early Wednesday morning. But at least one of the oil majors had reason to believe conditions were about to take a turn for the worse. This company had an exclusive contract with preeminent hurricane scientists from a major U.S. university who had started their own forecasting company through the university’s private venture incubator several years before.7 The forecasting group offered a proprietary seven-day forecast for which they claimed track accuracy within one hundred miles. The National Hurricane Center’s forecast, by comparison, only claimed one-hundred-mile track accuracy out to three days, beyond which the area in the “cone of uncertainty” increased dramatically. On the 5th of September, the swathe falling under the NHC’s “potential 4–5 day track area” stretched from the western tip of Cuba to the southern edge of Georgia. Given the magnitude of this uncertainty and its consequences for oil and gas operations in the Gulf complex, most energy firms and operators retain an in-house or private commercial forecasting service (Kaiser and Pulsipher 2007). This is facilitated by the long-standing directive of the National Weather Service to provide freely accessible weather data to encourage the development of commercial meteorological forecasting products (Randalls 2010). One of the scientists recounted the ensuing events to me: Hurricane Ike was forecast to go through Florida, but our forecast had it going right across the Gulf into Houston. . . . And so they had seven days’ notice to evacuate the whole area, to get ready for all of the 7. Identifiers are withheld due to confidentiality agreement between the author and informants.

206  Leigh Johnson problems, close down their oil refineries and so on—and also make a lot of money in energy futures because the prices would go sky high.

Ultimately, the forecasting team was correct. Ike did change course to dodge south of Florida, making landfall in Cuba and then again eventually at Galveston Island, Texas, on September 13. Although Ike was only a Category 2 storm at landfall, its 120-mile radius of hurricane-strength winds was larger than Katrina’s, and the storm moved slowly. These factors combined to produce a large area of coastal storm surge and an extended time period over which structures were wind- and wave-loaded. As a result, Ike wrought a tremendous amount of inland and offshore damage. Fully 100% of oil production was shut-in for days, fifty-four platforms were destroyed, and it took several weeks before even half of normal Gulf oil production and refining capacity was back on line (OEDER 2009). As Ike drove significant swings in oil futures and gasoline spot market prices, the company that contracted with the university forecasting team was quite obviously “in the money.” The team’s proprietary forecast had demonstrated a similar accuracy the year before, allowing the same energy company to make many millions in energy derivatives markets with their track forecast for Hurricane Dean. All of this took place without provoking any interest from meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center, or from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration more generally. The absence of U.S. government interest in and funding for alternate forecasts lies in sharp contrast to private sources. The growth of the weather and energy derivatives market has generated growing demand for commercial weather forecasts (Randalls 2010), and my research suggests that many academic scientists have followed similar patterns to the university forecasters discussed here, launching private entrepreneurial firms in connection with their academic research labs. Not only have such groups generated and marketed a host of new proprietary meteorological products including track forecasts, seasonal forecasts, and numerical wind field models; they are also the source of a steady stream of newly minted PhDs with experience producing “deliverables” for the private sector. This growth of expertise and private forecasting ability also finds its way into so-called live cat (live catastrophe) trading of hurricane derivatives, catastrophe bonds, and industry loss warranties on secondary markets. This shift must also be understood in relation to the reorganization of funding for academic research along the lines of private science, the unwillingness of agencies such as the National Science Foundation to fund applied research  by academics, and the proliferating scientific domains within which the oil industry figures as a pivotal producer and mediator of expert knowledge (see Wylie, Barry, and Sawyer chapters, this volume).

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   207 Hurricane Derivatives Exchange-traded hurricane derivatives are another conduit through which the Gulf’s near futures are imagined and traded. Although the use of weather derivatives to hedge energy sector risks is not specific to the oil and gas industry or to the Gulf in particular (Pryke 2007; Cooper 2010), formal hurricane derivatives were developed in the aftermath of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma explicitly to address the shortage and expense of insurance coverage in the “post-KRW” world. Due to the different spatiality and temporality of the target weather risk, derivatives for hurricanes are typically linked to the behavior of a storm system or season over a broad geographical area, rather than the measurement of a single meteorological indicator such as temperature or rainfall at a fixed site. Traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange since 2009, hurricane derivatives include futures and options on individual storms and seasons.8 CME Hurricane Index (CHI) contracts are now available for eight overlapping regions of the U.S. East and Gulf coasts stretching from Eastport, Maine, to Brownsville, Texas. Clients trade on contracts in which the “strike price” is a unitless index value that relativizes either a storm’s or a season’s maximum sustained wind speeds and radii of hurricane-force winds as storms make landfall or pass through a geographical area (CME Group 2010). If the index for the region reaches the contract’s strike value, the buyer collects a payment from the seller. The vulnerabilities of the Gulf oil complex generated demand for a regional contract to hedge hurricane risks well before storms make landfall, resulting in the playfully named “Cat-In-A-Box” CHI contract. The box’s geographical boundaries are drawn to enclose virtually the entire spatial footprint of offshore energy activities on the Outer Continental Shelf, covering the area bounded by 95°30'0"W on the west, 87°30'0"W on the east, 27°30'0"N on the south, and the coastline on the north. The Cat-In-A-Box product is a vivid illustration of the performative creation of an absolute space in which atmospheric events are always already abstracted financial products by virtue of their spatial proximity to the infrastructure of oil production. The senior Lloyd’s underwriter pointed out how this contract was used by some energy companies that had chosen to “go naked” (without traditional insurance) in 2008: “They could hedge with the CHI two hours, probably three hours before, no problem. When Ike was blowing

8. A  market in insurance futures contracts on industry-wide losses to hurricanes was abandoned in 2012 after several seasons of low trading volumes on the Chicago Climate Exchange. Although over-the-counter catastrophe bonds are another important pathway in the financialization of hurricane risk (see Johnson 2014), they have not yet been widely used to securitize offshore energy risks.

208  Leigh Johnson through, quite a few of them bought Index. So they don’t need insurance, they were topping up.”9 Of course, the extent to which such derivatives can truly function as replacements for traditional insurance coverage depends on the liquidity of such markets, and here the Cat-In-A-Box area contracts have a clear advantage over those that cover coastline perimeters outside the Gulf. Its geographical properties are virtually guaranteed to attract both buyers and sellers from energy markets, since within this doubled space, geophysical threats to oil production are “always already” financial events driving volatility. Hurricanes that enter into this space immediately become quasicommodities with tradable potential because their behavior sets conditions for the continued operation of the oil complex, whose future production is already circulating as paper barrels through derivatives markets. This financialization of hurricane risk thus assists oil in making what Marx (1967) called the salto mortale (perilous leap) from commodity to money (C-M'), while it also pivots on speculation about the (in) ability of oil-as-commodity to realize itself as pure exchange value (Labban 2010, 542). If we conceptualize insurance as traditionally providing financial security to energy companies in cases where the capital-intensive and lengthy process of realizing the value of oil was interrupted between M-C-M', then derivatives like the CHI Cat-In-A-Box promise to accomplish the same task for a smaller price while also providing a chance to make pure profit, M-M'-M": money from money.

Financially Instrumenting Volatility and Resilience The cases examined here suggest that near-term meteorological and climatic uncertainty—at the scale of days to several years—could generate environmentally sourced financial volatility that brings particular energy and weather derivatives closer to epitomizing “perfect hedges” for the Gulf oil complex. Guyer has noted the importance of “uncertainty [as an] emerging chronotope, honed into technologies that can deliberately unsettle and create arbitrage opportunities and gridlocks as well as logistical feats of extraordinary precision and power. This particular near future, unhitched ideologically from the present and the distant future, becomes a regime  .  .  . in its own right” (2007, 418). The post-2005 landscape of offshore energy in the Gulf embodies such a regime, populated with a vast pool of forecasts generated by technical experts. The cotemporality of hurricane risks and oil price volatility allows financial instruments to 9. Identifiers are withheld due to confidentiality agreement between the author and informants.

Near Futures and Perfect Hedges in the Gulf of Mexico   209 organize the financial resilience of the Gulf oil complex despite—and even precisely because of—deteriorating physical conditions. The growth of these markets demonstrates the limitations of Beck’s theorization of a Risk Society in which insurers are the ultimate arbiters of risk, and in which the pronouncement of uninsurability triggers political pressure to reorganize society’s relations with industrial production. In the cases examined here, traditional insurance itself appears as an increasingly archaic category, supplanted by the ability of petrocapital to capitalize on the possibilities for arbitrage and speculation between multiple near futures. If the oil industry can be described as “neoliberalizing risk at both ends” (Watts, chapter 10, this volume), then the logic of arbitrage that brought us the Deepwater Horizon is consonant with that which offers us the Chicago Hurricane Index “Cat-In-a-Box.” Of course, the contracts and forecasts examined here are only a small fraction of the possible—and contested—futures circulating in relation to the Gulf oil complex.10 Nevertheless they serve as a crucial reminder of how fundamental the mediations of oil have become to our collective mediations and understandings of the future. Judith Butler has insisted that studies of economic performativity—such as MacKenzie’s (2006) study of the options pricing formula—must ask “not merely, how are economic matters made?. . . But also, how do we think about the political value of certain economic effects?” (2010, 154). We can apply the same set of questions to think about the political value of forecasting and formatting the Gulf into a space where hurricane risks can circulate as always already financial products—and where, returning to Ayache, “different prices are the only thing that can suggest that the actual world could have been different” (2010, 40). The contradiction of environmental precarity and financial resilience both enables and requires a conceptual bracketing of intergenerational time, consonant with the oil industry’s perpetual deferral of its end times and energy transition (see Limbert and Knox, this volume). This raises the question of whether energy firms are institutionally capable of evaluating climate change risks in the Gulf of Mexico as anything other than a short-term opportunity for the oil and gas complex—and whether, by extension, “the political machinery that emerged to govern the age of fossil fuels, partly as a product of those forms of energy, may be incapable of addressing the events that will end it” (Mitchell 2011, 7). Further research must tease out the effects of the multiplication of near futures for Gulf energy firms’ exploration, development, and production decisions, and better characterize the role of proprietary meteorological 10.  See, for instance, the brilliant oil spill mapping project of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science:

210  Leigh Johnson knowledge in producing opportunities for arbitrage between competing representations of the future. Surely there is also a case to be made for a reexamination of forecasting practices at the National Hurricane Center that incentivize firms to secure exclusive access to proprietary storm forecasts that promise greater accuracy. Trading based on these proprietary near futures allows these firms the chance to net massive profits in energy markets while the public waits in the dreaded “cone of uncertainty.” Ultimately, as financial derivatives and privatized scientific expertise increasingly mediate and circumscribe the temporal experience of risk, they devalue any temporal politics that is not about the near future. It is precisely this brand of amplified discounting and foreshortening of time horizons that options pricing institutionalized and that Deepwater Horizon epitomized. The most critical task, then, is to develop ways of representing alternative Gulf futures that advance public deliberation about life with—and after—oil.

Chapter 10

Securing Oil Frontiers, Risk, and Spaces of Accumulated Insecurity Michael J. Watts, University of California, Berkeley The current discourse around energy security . . . signals the ultimate fulfillment of the enclosure movement. —Robert Marzec, “Energy Security”

Transocean is the largest deepwater driller in the world and accounts for nearly half of the rigs operating in deepwater in the Gulf of Mexico. One of its drilling rigs, Deepwater Horizon, was a superstar of a rig with a sterling reputation for safety and efficiency: it had set a new world record for the total depth of a well, sinking thirty-five thousand feet of casing into the Gulf. Higher than the Brooklyn Bridge and larger than a National Football League football field, Deepwater Horizon was, in April 2010, located almost fifty miles off the coast of southern Louisiana. Rented by the field operator BP at a daily rate of over half a million dollars, the company had paid the federal government $34 million in 2008 for the right to drill in a nine square mile parcel known as Mississippi Canyon Bloc 252. Deepwater Horizon was way behind schedule and the Macondo well was already $100 million over budget (drilling operations at that point were costing BP $2 million a day). Rushing to complete a well that Transocean workers dubbed “a well from hell,” BP was cutting corners and had changed its well design repeatedly. Having reached 18,360 feet into a complex, fractured, and difficult reservoir, they called it quits, fifteen hundred feet short of their original goal. Macondo was not abandoned but capped, to be converted, at some time in the future, into a production well. Halliburton was in charge of the final string casing and subsequent cementing of the well. On April 19 its mud engineers sent sixty barrels of cement down the well. All seemed

212   Michael J. Watts to be finally on course. The following day an executive team from BP’s office in Houston flew to the rig to celebrate. On April 20 at 9:49 p.m. a gas bubble raced up eighteen thousand feet of steel pipe through the risers linking the ocean floor to the rig. The “kick” exploded from a twenty-oneinch pipe; bolts sheared, valves were forced open, drilling mud spewed on the rig deck, and a cloud of gas enveloped the rig and burst into flame. The blowout preventer—designed to prevent such gas kicks—had failed to function. The Deepwater Horizon rig was, at the time, flying the colors of the Marshall Islands so that its proprietors could avoid paying U.S. taxes. It was the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day (see Lustgarten 2012; Archenbach 2011; Bergin 2011).1 Two days later the rig sank onto the ocean floor, coming to rest in five thousand feet of water. As the rig sank, it ruptured the risers, and a mixture of oil and gas, under extreme pressure, was released into the warm and rich waters of the Gulf. In the subsequent weeks almost eleven million gallons (rough 275,000 barrels) of heavy crude oil were released from the well, covering eleven thousand square miles of ocean.2 By mid-May 2010, the discharge was hemorrhaging at a rate of over two hundred thousand gallons per day (despite BP’s insistence that the discharge was much less). Surface oil—millions of barrels were of course injected into the water column and stayed below the surface—covered 3,850 square miles. When it was all over after eighty-seven days of leakage, almost five million barrels had been released—the equivalent of fifteen Exxon Valdez spills. Over one-third of the Gulf Coast was directly affected. Eleven people died on the rig. What was rarely noted in the wake of the blowout was the long history of spills in the Gulf, a grim record of what President Obama’s

1.  There is now a substantial literature on the Deepwater Horizon explosion including the President’s Commission report: see Konrad and Shroder 2011, Freudenberg and Gramling 2011, Steffy 2011, and Cavnar 2011. A report by the Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation and Enforcement, released on September 14, 2011, concluded that a central cause of the blowout was failure of a cement barrier in the production casing string, a high strength steel pipe set in a well to ensure well integrity and to allow future production. The Bureau concluded that the failure was likely due to either (1) swapping of cement and drilling mud (referred to as “fluid inversion”) in the shoe track (the section of casing near the bottom of the well); (2) contamination of the shoe track cement; or (3) pumping the cement past the target location in the well, leaving the shoe track with little or no cement (referred to as “over displacement”). The loss of life and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon. 2.  The total quantities released, and the rates of dispersion, capture, and cleanup remain deeply contested statistics.

Securing  Oil  213

Figure 10.1. Fires burn around the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Gulf of Mexico, June 20, 2010. Photo by Carolyn Cole. Copyright © 2010 Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with permission.

National Commission on the disaster called “systemic failures.”3 A  century of oil and gas development along the shifting oil frontier had utterly remade the Gulf landscape both onshore and off. Efforts to contain the spill—and the disaster response more generally— exposed not only the ineptitude of the corporate emergency and contingency response systems (BP’s system famously included resource persons who were in fact long deceased) but exposed how the deepwater industry was operating at the limits of its capacity to manage risk. The question of containment—improvised efforts to stem the oil flow—became a real-time 3.  As of January 2013, BP had spent over $14 billion in cleanup operations. To date, BP has paid over $10 billion to the federal government, state and local governments, and private parties for economic claims and other expenses, including response costs, related to the oil spill. In August 2010, multiple lawsuits, involving over one hundred thousand private claims against BP and the other defendants (e.g., Transocean and Halliburton), were consolidated before the United States District Court in New Orleans. On April 18, 2012, BP and many of the plaintiffs reached a settlement agreement to establish a court-supervised program to evaluate and award economic claims from individuals and businesses (it does not involve governments, shareholders, or claims related to the drilling moratorium). Except for a limit of $2.3 billion for seafood compensation, the settlement is not capped. BP estimates that the ultimate cost will reach approximately $7.8 billion in payments to private parties. BP and other responsible parties have agreed to civil and criminal settlements with the Department of Justice. Settlements with various parties (governmental and civil) to date, total almost $42 billon.

214   Michael J. Watts spectacle including constant video feed of oil spilling into the Gulf. BP’s public relations apparatus (“BP: We’re Bringing Oil to America’s Shores”) radically shaped and limited what the public (and indeed state regulatory agencies and independent researchers) could know about the dimensions and potential impact of the spill. Most of the numbers released on rates of discharge were meaningless, and in legal proceedings held in New Orleans in October 2013 it appears that the company lied and destroyed evidence. In this sense the disaster—like all crises—both exposed and unsettled the normal operations of an industry that was largely invisible to the oil-consuming public. Exposed, because much of what is entailed in deepwater production is literally invisible (underwater), but also because the normalized operations were in extremis laid bare: BP was, as it publicly confessed, totally unprepared for such an eventuality (Lawless 2010).4 The best that BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward could offer was a declaration that he was having a “bad day” and wanted his “life back.” And unsettled because the spill revealed the limits of existing knowledge and practice: witness the chaotic, improvised, and increasingly desperate strategies pursued after April 22 to stem the flow, which included containment domes, remotely operated vehicles, junk shots, top kills (an injection of heavy drilling fluid, followed by cement, into the leak) and, most ominously, the notion of detonating a nuclear device. Deepwater Horizon’s sinking, as David Bond argued, became an “immensely productive field for new forms of scientific inquiry and political responsibility” (2013, 707). The disaster was “productive” in multiple senses: it was an extreme expression of the everyday and yet instantiated new knowledge that had in turn to be normalized (see Wylie, this volume). The “new normal” was, in fact, quickly installed. The drilling moratorium imposed by Obama lasted only until March 2011. BP was again drilling in the Gulf by October 2011. In March 2014, just days after the United States lifted a ban on new oil and gas leases for BP, the company acquired twenty-four new blocks for about $42 million (Reed 2014). The Deepwater Horizon calamity affords an opportunity to explore not just the risks associated with the leading technologies of the global oil and gas value chain but also the instabilities, contradictions, and dynamics of what I have called the oil assemblage (Watts 2011a; Mitchell 2011; Barry, this volume). My focus here as a geographer is on the production of various sorts of oil spaces within this assemblage, spaces that are integrally related to volatility, turbulence, and the operations of the market. 4.  On May 13, 2010, Tony Hayward called the oil spill “relatively tiny” in comparison with the size of the “ocean.” On the same day, Transocean filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to limit its liability under the Limitation of Shipowner’s Liability Act to only its interest in the Deepwater Horizon, which it valued at $26,764,083.

Securing  Oil  215 There are of course multiple forms of territorialization operating at various scales, what Bridge (2011) calls “logics of territory”: oil enclaves, oil blocs, oil fields and reservoirs, oil host communities, infrastructural oil spaces. My focus is on one globalized spatial formation—arguably a foundational space—namely the oil frontier (see Martinez and Finer 2010; Vitalis 2006). Coastal onshore and offshore oil field developments in Louisiana are exemplary cases. Oil frontiers are here understood not so much as zones of pioneer settlement and crucibles of democratic values forged by the battle between wilderness and rugged individualism (the canonical view of frontiers derived from the famous historian of the U.S. West, Frederick Jackson Turner): after all the offshore landscape in the Gulf of Mexico is aquatic and without human settlement as such. Rather, these oil frontiers are dense sorts of spaces—at once political, economic, cultural, and social—in which the conditions for new (but not necessarily originary) rounds of extractive accumulation are put in place. The Deepwater Horizon spill was the product of a complex set of spatial practices along the deepwater oil frontier. In functional terms, frontiers, as I shall show, create the conditions of possibility required for the creation and capture of oil rents—that is to say, “first oil.” Yet they are simultaneously inexplicable outside of the operations of a larger oil assemblage increasingly driven by speculation, financialization, and extraeconomic forms of enclosure and dispossession in which the state plays a crucial role. To use the language of Henri Lefebvre (2009), the frontier is a product of social relations but is also producing social relations. But space, he says, always refers to something else, to essential and existential time. In other words, frontiers are, to use Doreen Massey’s (2005) language, forms of time-space constituted through and by the coexistence of multiple historical and spatial trajectories, and power-geometries; the oil frontier, as we shall see, contains its own specific configuration of time, space, and power. Frontiers, then, are time-spaces endowed with quite specific sorts of properties and qualities.5 Historically, frontiers have been associated with imperial or state-led commercial advance typically into geographical border zones in which populations are presumed (or constructed) to be scant or “primitive,” property rights absent or unformed, and resources (land, minerals, forests) uncommercialized—in short, a zone of contact between “barbarism” and “civilization.” But viewed more expansively, frontiers can be seen, as Markoff puts it, as “boundaries beyond the sphere of routine

5.  The work on frontiers is substantial: see McMichael 1984, Goodhand 2005, Barney 2009, Redclift 2006, Ferguson and Raffestin 1986, and Hogan 1985.

216   Michael J. Watts actions of centrally located violence producing enterprises” (2006,  36).6 Whatever the resource particularities of frontier dynamics (e.g., cattle frontiers in Amazonia, mining frontiers in Indonesia, oil frontiers in Angola) and whatever their particular racialized mixing of populations, economies, and cultures (e.g., the maritime and piratical frontiers of the Black Atlantic or the estancia culture of Brazil’s hinterlands), questions of law, order, rule, authority, profit, and property are all subject to intense forms of contestation and opposition.7 The much-vaunted “wildness” or “disorder” of the frontier is, in fact, an expression of forms of economic and social organization that create “classes specialized in expediency whose only commitment [is] to preserve the order that made possible the profitable utilization of such expediency” (Beretta and Markoff 2006, 51). Pillage and routinized plunder were one expression of this expediency—always site-specific in its cultural forms—and typically entailed political negotiation among an often raunchy mix of actors and agents: vagabonds, outcasts, rogue capitalists, shady state representatives, smugglers, and captains of economic violence. The frontier is, to invoke Lefebvre again, a particular sort of lived space, in the modern epoch the product of what he sees as the pulverization, parcellation, and fragmentation of space perpetrated by the state because it is a “political instrument of primary importance” (2009, 188). Not unexpectedly, the frontier is a space of primitive accumulation and of the violent contestation of the commons broadly construed. In this sense, if frontiers are shorn of commonplace sorts of historical association (e.g., the American frontier, the Chinese or British imperial frontier), then they are pervasive, recursive sorts of rough and tumble governable spaces (Watts 2005, 2007). They are types of institutional settings in which centralized political authority is in the making, where formal rules are often elastic, and where states typically exercise a mix of despotic and coercive rather than wholly infrastructural power.8 Frontiers are

6.  Frederic Lane (1966) described frontiers as places where no one has an enduring monopoly on violence. Stuart Banner’s (2005) powerful analysis of how American Indians lost their land on the frontier emphasizes the intersection of law and power. Whites acquired land within a legal framework of their own construction. Banner makes the point that this law was shaped, however, by radical splits between and within white communities on the frontier and back east, and by divisions among the Indians themselves over whether their land could be freely sold. The relations at the frontier between consent, coercion, and power were complex and shifting, even though, as he says, by the late nineteenth century land transactions were in no sense of the word voluntary even as they retained the form of negotiated treaties. 7.  One of the best-sustained accounts of frontier dynamics and pioneer settlement is Joe Foweraker’s (1981) magnificent treatise on law, bureaucracy, class struggle, and primitive accumulation along the Brazilian pioneer frontier from the 1930s to the 1970s. 8.  Ron (2003, 16–17) distinguishes frontiers from ghettos, which stand along a continuum of state violence and power. Ghettos are ethnic or national enclaves securely trapped within the dominant state (2003, 192) that may be oppressed and exploited but enjoy some protections and escape the massively destructive violence of the frontier.

Securing  Oil  217 distinctive and complex social spaces: territorialized but at the margins or outer reaches of particular social and political conventions. As modern spaces, frontiers are dynamic rather than immutable. Their life histories do not proceed unambiguously from opening to closure; they can emit clues about identity, difference, citizenship, and nation-building. Markoff finds such clues in Sri Lankan tea plantations and in U.S. prisons, and we might add on American or African oil fields. Here, he says, “we find oppositional definitions of groups, we find claims of order and claims of freedom, and we find definitions of violence as they create it” (2006, 81). If the frontier is constituted by multiple, overlapping, interpenetrated, and superimposed spaces (Lefebvre 1978), so too are its histories and temporalities of value creation. The frontier (the new, the unexplored) carries a clear historical charge: frontiers “open” or “close” at particular moments. But they too carry the marks of differing and prior histories of occupation, settlements, forms of integration, and relation to other spaces. As a time-space, the frontier is relational, the product of complex intersecting and articulated spatial and temporal trajectories; frontiers are continually shifting and being renegotiated (Barney 2009). But the range of trajectories are, as Massey says (2005, 179), controlled: some spatial and historical processes and not others account for the degrees of openness, closure, and limits, that is to say, the lines of power that hold the frontier together. Frontiers are quintessentially dialectical and contradictory spaces defined by their tense and fluid internal relations, and by forms of spiral development (Ollman 1972). As social spaces they are produced through forms of representational practice, forms of knowledge, and acts of imagination. The frontier is an intricate space of obligations, duties, entitlements, prohibitions, contracts, enemies, and compromises: it comprises, in short, a way of life. These complex spatial and social practices express geographies of power, the forms of power-geometry that Massey (2005) properly sees as the very stuff of globalized places. In the same way that she sees high-tech industrial parks as the “physical and social precipitates of particular intersections of a multiplicity of trajectories” (145), so might one see frontiers, and oil frontiers in particular, in the same way. Frontier life is characteristically volatile and turbulent, associated with forced commercialization and what I have elsewhere called, in referring to oil frontiers, economies of violence (Watts 2007). Frontiers are often explosive and unstable and speak directly to the themes in this section: they are one powerful crucible within which the creative destruction of resource extraction takes place. I will argue that the Deepwater Horizon disaster exposes the deadly intersection of the aggressive exploitation of a new and technologically risky resource frontier with the production of what one can call neoliberized risk, a lethal product of cutthroat corporate cost-cutting, the collapse of government oversight and regulatory

218   Michael J. Watts authority, and the deepening financialization and securitization of the oil market.

Oil Frontiers If we, rather broadly, see frontiers as regions at the limits of central power, then it seems likely that a great deal is happening there. . . . Frontiers . . . are places where authority—neither secure nor non-existent—is open to challenge and where polarities of order and chaos assume many guises. John Markoff, in States of Violence

What are the distinguishing marks of the resource frontier and of the oil frontier in particular? Control Risks, a global risk consultancy, believes East Africa to be the “new oil and gas frontier,” a vast swath of territory composed of relatively unexplored basins extending from Somalia to Mozambique. The much vaunted new scramble for African resources has no monopoly over oil frontiers, of course: the Falklands, Siberia, and especially the challenging waters of the Arctic and Brazil attract the interests of the oil majors, smaller independents, and wildcatters alike (Broder and Krauss 2012). Offshore reservoirs, in particular, are ripe for the plucking, harboring more than fourteen billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Geological Service.9 New deepwater frontiers (output from deepwater fields doubled between 2007 and 2012) are one index of the so-called revolution in “unconventionals.” There are other frontiers of discovery outside of deepwater: the Athabascan oil sands and Albertan bitumen in Canada, and of course the extraordinary shale and tight oil boom in the continental United States over the last five years, are two of the most significant (see both Zalik and Wylie, this volume). The Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania and New York, the Haynesville formation in Louisiana, and the Barnett and Eagle Ford plays in Texas—all triggered by two decades of federal support for horizontal, slick-water hydraulic fracturing of shale—have opened up new domestic frontiers from the mid-Atlantic states to Texas, while reopening the closed frontiers of earlier explorations in the West (North Dakota, Wyoming). Armies of drillers, oil and gas service companies, lawyers, and shady sales representatives have invaded rural communities promoting the putative benefits of “clean gas.” 9.  In late 2006, a consortium of oil companies discovered oil at a staggering depth 150 miles into the Gulf of Mexico: the test well, Jack-2, delved through seven thousand feet of water and thirty thousand feet of sea floor to tap oil in tertiary rock laid down sixty million years ago. One test well might cost over a quarter of a billion dollars.

Securing  Oil  219 Clearly the existence of an oil frontier does not always presume a new discovery as such: fields may be reopened and frontiers reinvigorated as a product of technological innovation (technologies that enhance rates of oil and gas recovery), elevated petroleum prices, and by corporate risk portfolios that prioritize the reopening of older reservoirs in politically safe supply zones rather than confront the potential downsides of operations in unstable and conflict-ridden regions such as Sudan, Chad, or the Caucasus. Oil frontiers have no simple, linear life cycle; they are dynamic and unstable, discovered and rediscovered, opened and reopened. There is no clear line of discovery, depletion, and closure. In the case of oil and gas it is as if there is a permanent extractive frontier.10 In the oil sector, the frontier has a specific set of connotations (Watts 2012; Barry 2013; Nolan and Thurber 2010). A geologic province—a large area often of several thousand square kilometers with a common geological history—becomes a petroleum province when a “working petroleum system” has been discovered. A commercial petroleum system (or “play”) consists of a number of constitutive features: a source rock with rich carbon content and a geological depth capable of converting organic carbon to petroleum; a sedimentary reservoir rock with sufficient pore space to hold significant volumes of petroleum and sufficient permeability to allow petroleum to flow to a well bore; a nonporous sedimentary rock constituting both an effective barrier to petroleum migration and a structural trapping mechanism to capture and retain petroleum; and, not least, fortuitous geological timing such that trap formation preceded the migration of petroleum. The discovery of a petroleum field—itself preceded by a technologically complex and often extended process of exploration—kick-starts a process of appraisal and development, and at this point the oil frontier takes on a life within the play. Drilling new wells confirms the extent and properties of the reservoirs and fluids and whether the configuration warrants a larger investment to develop the field (Nolan and Thurber 2010). Field development in a new province is replete with technical uncertainties that collectively shape the ultimate volume of oil that can be recovered. The properties of reservoir rock, the fluids it contains, and their dynamics—fluids vary in their composition, specific gravity, and viscosity11—determine the commercial prospects. Uncertainties around each of these field variables translate into hesitancy regarding the basic commercial and investment parameters for future commercial activity: that is to say, ultimate recovery volumes, peak production from the field, 10.  See Tyler Priest (2005) on what he, using the work of Stephen Bunker, calls “the permanent extractive frontier.” 11.  The pressure and temperature of the reservoir fluids are shaped by the depth of the reservoir itself, which can change as fluids reach the surface.

220   Michael J. Watts the life of the field, well flow rates, the density of wells required, required capacities of production, storage, and export systems, and when secondary and perhaps tertiary recovery might ultimately be appropriate. The development of the play assumes the qualities of what Barry (2006, 2009) calls a technological zone, a space within which differences between technical practices, procedures, or forms have been reduced, and in which there are common standards of metrological (measurement), infrastructural (connection) and qualificatory (assessment) governance.12 Across the life of a play, the multiple risk dynamics of the frontier—the changing risk profile—are clear. Each exploration well carries multiple uncertainties associated with the specific prospect being drilled and the unpredictability of the entire petroleum system. With the development of one or more commercial fields, a frontier assumes the mantle of “proven” reserves. At this point, the presence of hydrocarbons and what is known of their character changes the probability estimates of the fields. Further reductions in risk—predicated on the degrees of scientific confidence supplied by petro-geology—often induce an influx of new entrant companies (the major and smaller independents) that were deterred when entry barriers were high. Other frontiers emerge—a function of new technologies and aging reservoirs—as aging oil fields attract investments through tertiary recovery. The oil frontier, in other words, contains spatial, temporal, and of course vertical dynamics in which fields, within a province, are discovered, developed, and recovered over the life of the reservoir, from primary reserve creation to tertiary recovery from existing “mature” reservoirs.13 Frontier formation is in this sense recursive and involutionary. In some circumstances, the oil frontier marks the shift from the exploration and development of onshore sedimentary basins through shallow offshore basins into deep and the ultra-deepwater basins seen, for example, in the Gulfs of Mexico and Guinea. The circumference of an oil frontier extends beyond the technical relations of resource exploitation (this is how the industry understands frontiers). But equally one cannot draw simple parallels with the Latin American cattle frontier (the Gulf of Mexico, after all, is a largely unpopulated aquatic, marine landscape). Rather, the oil frontier is a globalized time-space that marks the instantiation of a new space of accumulation

12.  Shafiee (2012) pursues a similar line of reasoning in her analysis of Iran in the first half of the twentieth century. She explores the calculative work of “three formulas” associated with oil profits, labor rates, and production routines. 13.  Royrvik (2011) explores this process through the “investment project” in his excellent study of the Norwegian firm Hydro.

Securing  Oil  221 and its own cultural formation and ways of life (see Huber 2013; Campbell 2005; and McGuire and Austin 2013 on the Gulf of Mexico); it establishes the conditions of existence for the site-specific operations of what I term the oil assemblage.14 Oil frontiers have their own temporalities and spatialities, but like nonoil frontiers elsewhere, questions of access to and control of property and rents as a prerequisite for accumulation—shaped naturally by technological considerations peculiar to oil—are integral to its operations and character. Economists who have explored the “frontier expansion hypothesis” (see Barbier 2011) emphasize a crucial part of the accumulation frontier, what is termed disequilibrium abnormal rents. Since frontier expansion takes time and resources (some of which may be scarce, like labor), there are disequilibrium periods in which abnormal rents stimulate further investment. The conditions of possibility for such rents typically arise from institutional forms of coerced labor that “repress the returns to free labor” (Barbier 2011, 23), from discoveries of resources and windfall gains from speculative activity, and from institutions and technologies that are developed to “accommodate heterogeneous frontier conditions” (21). Oil frontiers customarily exemplify some configuration of all of these qualities (see Vitalis 2006; Mitchell 2011; and chapters by Appel, Gelber, and Yesssenova, this volume). If barbed wire, the labor-repressive ranch, and violent land speculations created the rents at the cattle frontier, on the oil patch it is the militarized oil concession, the corporate joint venture, racialized labor forces, and the infrastructure of wells, pipelines, and flow stations: it is a particular sort of networked space (Law 2004). The propulsive character of the oil frontier is, as Massimo De Angelis notes, a quintessential spatial form in the functioning of global capitalism: “capital’s identification of a frontier implies the identification of a space of social life that is still relatively uncolonised by capitalist relations of production and modes of activity” (De Angelis 2004, 72). Anna Tsing (2005, 28) provides an instructive account of resource extraction in the interior of Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo), a zone characterized by “out of control, interstitial capitalist expansion,” violent dispossession, spectacularized accumulation, boom and bust cycles, and massive ecological

14.  By oil assemblage I  refer to the vast institutional fields of oil and gas operations: typically this refers to transnational and national oil companies (both of which are granted precious little agency) and government (the corrupt petro-state). However, key actors in the complex include construction and banking corporations, private and other security forces, local chiefs and forms of customary rule, NGOs and transparency organizations, cultural and social organizations (such as youth groups), multilateral development agencies, and increasingly the organized local social groups and “enterprises” (e.g., insurgents, armed militias, organized crime) that seize opportunities to acquire oil rents. See Watts 2011b, Barry 2006.

222   Michael J. Watts harms. Customary and other property regimes are transformed in complex ways by both legal and extralegal means that resemble much that is distinctive about the oil frontier, whether in the Niger Delta or in western Pennsylvania (see both Golden Timsar and Wylie, this volume). Perhaps there is no more compelling figure of the oil frontier than the oil camp and the oil town. Vitalis (2006), in his brilliant portrayal of the export of the Jim Crow system to the Middle East in the operations of Aramco—which is paradigmatic of oil companies’ approach to labor in general—offers a compelling vision of how the Saudi oil frontier actually functioned as a space of exclusion and mythmaking (see Damluji, this volume). The operating frontier resembles an astonishing spatial patchwork, a quilt of multiple, overlapping, and intersecting spaces of territorial concessions, blocs, pipelines, risers, rigs, flow stations, export terminals, and the like. Spatial technologies and spatial representations are foundational to the oil industry, such as seismic devices to map the contours of reservoirs and geographic information systems to monitor and meter the flows of products within pipelines. Hard rock geology is a science of the vertical, but when harnessed to the marketplace and profitability it is the map that becomes the instrument of surveillance, control, and rule. The oil and gas industry is a cartographer’s dream-space: a landscape of lines, axes, hubs, spokes, nodes, points, blocks, and flows. As a space of flows and connectivity, these spatial oil networks are unevenly visible (subsurface, virtual) in their operations. From the infrastructural vantage point of the oil rig, for example, one can profitably view the frontier as a networked space. Deepwater Horizon is a striking example of the “immutable mobile” (Latour 1990): it moves through and partly defines the Cartesian (absolute) space of the oil frontier. Yet it holds its form functionally through the immutability of a larger network, which would embrace in Latourian terms the ocean, other oil infrastructure, forms of knowledge, ships, engineers, seismic, and other technologies—what Law (2004) calls a regional networked space (and what geographers call relative or relational space). These multiple and overlapping spaces are linked together by the rentier logic of the frontier, producing an “isolated and self-perpetuating enclave with no linkages to the rest of the economy” (Barbier 2011, 39).15 Frontier formations carry their own forms of temporality. In one regard, since oil is finite, the oil frontier will face an inevitable closure, and the petrolic landscape—as Edward Burtynsky’s (2011) marvelous images show—will become fossilized and residual (see Limbert, this volume). But changing technologies for the recovery of oil and gas deposits not only

15.  As the frontier becomes enclavized it begins to resemble what Ron (2003) calls the ghetto.

Securing  Oil  223 prolong the life of the reservoir but reanimate the frontiers. Fluctuations in the oil markets superimpose other temporalities: for example, a boom and bust cycle, periodic rounds of speculative activity (in land especially but in other resources too as labor market and construction markets exhibit considerable volatility). The process of field development has its own temporality; the time to first oil (from exploration to field development to the actual production of oil) may be measured in decades. The time horizon for investment compared to other industries is exceptionally long; oil markets function less through spot markets than through long- and short-term contracts; and even the very act of expanding output (opening capped wells and enhancing recovery rates) is rarely, in temporal terms, like turning on the spigot. And all oil frontiers operate in world time, whether in the epoch of neoliberalism, the era of Third World nationalism, the time of the war on terror, or the longue durée of colonial rule. Geography, of course, matters, too, offering its own inflection to the frontier. On- and offshore oil frontiers are in one sense a study in contrasts, but they have affinities too and are made of the same spatial and social practices and power-geometries: coercion and conflict, the elasticity of the law, forms of often brutal dispossession under circumstances of radical class inequality, powerful alliances between state and capital, the securitization of the market. These oil frontiers are textbook cases of what Lefebvre calls the “hyper-complexity” of global space in which social space fissions and fragments, producing multiple, overlapping, and intertwined subnational spaces with their own complex boundaries and frontiers (Lefebvre 1978; Goswami 2004). What is it about the oil frontier, then, that seems to capture the peculiar volatility, turbulence, and market dynamism of the world of Big Oil? How can it be at once an industry so concerned with security and risk and yet have as its defining characteristic a sort of durable volatility? How do we explain the simultaneous hedging and production of increasingly unmanageable risks? I argue that the oil frontier is a useful starting point to explore these questions because it is a space of recursive primitive accumulation and dispossession, an emergent property, as De Angelis observes, of capital’s drive to continuous expansion and to the appropriation and privatization of the commons (De Angelis 2004, 72).16 The question then is what is distinctive about oil and gas in particular places at particular times? What difference does oil make?

16.  Enclosure is typically associated with the commons (see Linebaugh 2014). The Gulf of Mexico, insofar as it is a federal territory, represents a public space, not a commons as usually understood. Prior to its federal annexation it was, certainly for coastal communities, a commons. Public spaces can of course be privatized as part of waves of marketization and in this way state property is enclosed (Retort 2005).

224   Michael J. Watts America’s Petro-State: Dispossession and Accumulated Insecurity in Louisiana The dynamic morphology of the frontier resembles an incessant sea dotted with multiplying archipelagoes of externally alienated and internally homogenous enclaves. . . . [It is] a unique territorial ecosystem (in which) various other zones—political piracy, barbaric violence,  .  .  . of weak citizenship—exist adjacent to, within or over each other. Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land

Much could be said about the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in April 2010, but one should begin with the question of why BP was drilling in five thousand feet of water fifty miles offshore in the first place. The short answer is that, like other supermajors, the company (and it is not alone among the majors) was trading off technical against political risk. Deepwater oil close to the U.S. market, which offers a regulatory framework that can be best characterized as a cozy relationship with the now renamed Minerals Management Service (MMS), produced a much better risk audit than dealing with the Russians in Siberia or the Angolans in the Gulf of Guinea. The downside was the technical challenge (and derivatively the huge cost): well-drilling that might run to $250 million for a single well (with of course no guarantee of success), massively expensive upfront costs associated with exploration and ultra-deepwater technologies, the risks and costs of major hurricane damage and dislocation, and highly challenging reservoirs at historically unprecedented depths. The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest U.S. oil-producing region. Not unexpectedly, the Gulf’s oil complex is massive by any accounting. The total fixed capital in the Gulf oil complex is now valued at an estimated $2  trillion. With over four thousand currently operating wells, the Gulf accounts for one-third of U.S. crude oil production and over 40% of U.S. refining capacity. Over the past century, companies have drilled over fifty thousand wells in the Gulf (twenty-seven thousand have been plugged), almost four thousand of them in deepwater (more than a thousand feet). In the last fifteen years more than sixty wells have been drilled in the ultra-deepwater zones—in more than five thousand feet of water—deploying dynamic positioning systems that use computers and satellites to keep rigs and supply vessels steady in rough seas and high winds. By 2001 deepwater oil production surpassed shallow-water shelf extraction. There are 3,020 platforms currently operating, but they represent only a small part of the Gulf’s oil and gas infrastructure, which includes thirty-three thousand miles of pipeline on- and offshore that is connected with a network of terminals, plus a huge capital investment in refineries, storage facilities, shipyards, and construction facilities along

Securing  Oil  225 the Gulf Coast from Mississippi to Texas. All told, it is a massive industrial cluster directly employing more than four hundred thousand people in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi, generating $70 billion annually in economic value, and $20 billion annually in tax revenue and royalty payments to local, state, and federal government. Louisiana’s section of the Gulf, which contains many of the nation’s largest oil fields, holds more than nine-tenths of the crude-oil reserves in that region. As of 2011 Louisiana was the fifth largest producer of crude oil and the fourth largest producer of natural gas in the United States. More than 228,000 wells have been drilled in searching for oil and gas in the state since the first commercial oil well was drilled in 1901 in Jennings. The Louisiana OCS oil and gas production is greater than any other federally regulated offshore area in the United States.17 Since the first onshore well was drilled in the state, much of the subsequent developments were in shallow water along the Louisiana coast. In the period since 1938 the state’s inner and outer continental shelf has driven the development of deep and ultra-deepwater oil and gas production. Louisiana is America’s own petro-state, a living testimony to the deadly combination of petro-populism and oil-based human and ecological development failures that are typically associated with the resource curse of oil-producing states in the global South (Goldberg et al. 2008). Petro-corruption and the shady politics of oil development were there from the beginning as the oil industry emerged on the backs of an extractive economy (timber, sulfur, rice, salt, furs). With little regard for the law, local businessmen snapped up land and threw themselves into a chaotic land grab backed by Texas drillers and operators. Wildcatting sprung up with no regulation; leases, especially along the coastal wetlands, were allocated behind closed doors. Huey P. Long famously launched his career with an attack on Standard Oil and then proceeded to build his own subterranean oil empire (Sindler 1956; Fairclough 1999). While Senator Long and his political cronies established the Win or Lose Corporation, they acquired cut-rate mineral leases through the government and resold them at a healthy profit. At the same time Long used oil severance taxes to begin a populist program of public service provision, which integrated the white working class into a program of economic modernization (Banta 2001; Heleniak 2001). By the 1920s and 1930s the wetlands leases opened up a new frontier as companies built a sprawling network of roads, canals, platforms, and wells, 17.  Including federal reserves, Louisiana has nearly one-fifth of total U.S. oil reserves, one-tenth of natural-gas reserves, and historically has produced about 88% of the 17.9 billion barrels of oil and 80 percent of the 170 trillion cubic feet of natural gas extracted from all federal OCS territories.

226   Michael J. Watts all of which left an indelible mark on local coastal ecology. Within forty years oil was providing almost half of state revenues, and Louisiana ranked at the very bottom of the heap in terms of basic development indicators. According to the Measure of America Report on Louisiana (Burd-Sharp, Lewis, and Martins 2009), the state currently ranks forty-ninth (only Mississippi and West Virginia are lower) in terms of human development indices. It is marked by massive inequalities between white and black populations along all measures of human well-being; infant mortality and homicide rates are comparable to parts of Central America and sub-Saharan Africa. In some coastal oil parishes, well-being is roughly at the average level of the United States in 1950. Eighty percent of wetland losses in the United States over the last century have been in Louisiana. Tulane law professor Oliver Houck put it this way: “What oil and gas did is replace the agricultural plantation culture with an oil and gas plantation culture” (quoted in Mufson 2010). The history of the oil industry reads as a textbook case of frontier dispossession and frontier accumulation running far in advance of state oversight and effective regulation (Austin et al. 2001; Gramling 1996). Offshore drilling technology was in effect born and nurtured in Louisiana with an assist from Venezuela—the former along the shallow coastal waters, the latter on Lake Maracaibo. Technology quickly developed from oil derricks on piers to stationary, mobile, and, by the 1930s, submersible drilling barges. All of this was propelled by new seismic technologies, which uncovered numerous salt domes across the coast and offshore region. Between 1937 and 1977 almost twenty-seven thousand wells were drilled in the coastal parishes including shallow offshore. It was the first wave of leases and backroom petro-populism that unleashed a torrent of canal construction, dredging, and pipeline corridor construction—as well as the emerging petrochemical complex in what became known as Cancer Alley—permitting large-scale salt intrusion and rapid coastal degradation. Offshore development was born in 1905 in Louisiana but began in earnest in 1938 with a Brown and Root–constructed, freestanding structure 1.5 miles from shore in fourteen feet of water, the so-called Creole Field. In 1945 Louisiana offered the first lease sale and one year later a platform was built five miles out in shallow water. In a move repeated many times over, the platform drew on the local fishing industry to assist in the construction and in ferrying workers to the “floating hotels.” By 1947 Kerr-McGee had drilled the first well “out of sight of land” using war surplus barges and other equipment to house drilling equipment and workers, thereby reducing the size and cost of the self-contained drilling and production platform (Priest 2007). These first and tentative developments precipitated a titanic seven-year struggle over jurisdiction over the outer continental shelf in which the oil companies supported states’ rights over

Securing  Oil  227 federal claims, in order to continue the lax, or rather nonexistent, regulation. It was finally resolved in 1953 through two key pieces of legislation, the Submerged Lands Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, under which the secretary of the interior was authorized to offer leases for competitive bidding beyond the three-mile limit. By 1957 there were 446 platforms in federal and state waters and the rush was on (Cavnar 2010). A local commons, in short, became a state space. The moving offshore frontier was transformed through four giant waves of frontier development—a quartet of temporalities that reconstituted frontier space through land grabs and dispossession. The first was almost wholly unregulated during the late 1940s and 1950s prior to and immediately after the resolution of the state jurisdiction question. A second occurred in the wake of the oil import quotas of 1959, which unleashed another round of major leasing; two  million acres were leased in 1962, more than all previous sales combined, in water at depths up to 125 feet. Oil production almost tripled between 1962 and 1968 and deepwater operations had by this time reached three hundred feet. The first subsea well was drilled in 1966. As the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling noted (2011, 28), this period was associated with massive hurricane damage, and serial accidents including blowouts, injuries, and helicopter crashes. A 1973 National Science Foundation report noted what was clear to everyone, namely, widespread collusion between industry and government and very light government oversight. The U.S. Geological Service freely granted waivers from complying with the limited regulations and inspection demands while the regulatory agencies were hopelessly underfunded and understaffed (twelve people in the lease management office oversaw fifteen hundred platforms). The Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 represented a major roadblock to this phase of frontier development. OCS development nationally was radically stymied but the Gulf of Mexico proved to be a striking exception to the larger national trend. Exploration proceeded apace with the first deepwater play made by Shell in 1975 in the Mississippi Canyon. The landmark 1978 National Energy Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments in the same year fundamentally transformed offshore leasing by vesting expanded power in the hands of the secretary of the interior and creating an exploration and production planning process that expressly required the secretary to demand environmental and safety studies—a requirement that could be overridden if “incremental costs” were deemed to be high (National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2011, 62). In short, the good news was that finally—three decades after the beginning of the offshore boom—there was something like an effort to provide serious government regulatory oversight (though

228   Michael J. Watts the Oil Pollution Act was not passed until 1990). The bad news was that the Gulf of Mexico was granted an exemption from all of the review and oversight legislation. The 1978 Lands Act Amendments expressly identifies the Gulf of Mexico “for less rigorous environmental oversight under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]” (National Commission 2011, 80). The election of Ronald Reagan in 1981 marked the third phase—a new round of leasing, an assault on the reforms approved under President Jimmy Carter, and a fully fledged neoliberalization of the Gulf deploying the now expanded powers of the Department of Interior. Under the leadership of Secretary of the Interior James Watt, the department promised to open up the OCS to area-wide leasing and placed 1 billion acres on the auction block. Watt began by establishing a new agency in 1982—the Minerals Management Service (MMS)—which created eighteen large planning areas rather than the traditional three-square-mile blocks. Even though Watt subsequently resigned amid controversy and congressional opposition to OCS development on the East and West coasts, the Gulf was exempt, and the result was a land rush and massive exploration and production. This constituted the third deepwater frontier wave (the record lease sale prior to 1982 was 2.8 million acres; the first area-wide lease produced sales of 37 million acres). Seven sales between 1983 and 1985 leased more acreage than all previous leases combined since 1962; 25% were located in deepwater, and the lion’s share was captured by Shell, the leading innovator and player in offshore technology and production. At the same time the reforms provided for radically reduced royalties and federal bonus bids with the consequence that companies paid 30% less despite a sixfold acreage expansion (average lease prices per acre fell from $2,224 to $263). In 1987 the MMS reduced the minimum bid for deepwater tracts from $900,000 to $150,000, enabling a few companies to lock-up entire basins for ten years for almost nothing. The fruits of this frontier expansion were visible a decade later. Between 1982 and 1992 deepwater wells grew from 4% to over 45% of all Gulf production (Lehner 2010, 88). The 1990s proved to be nothing short of a “stampede” (National Commission 2011, 39). Seismic innovations, a new generation of drilling vessels (tension-leg, SPAR, and semisubmersible platforms) capable of drilling in ten thousand feet of water and through thirty thousand feet of sediments, and new drilling techniques (“downhole steerable motors”) pushed the deepwater frontier to the so-called sub-salt plays. Ten years later, the Republican takeover of Congress (by the Gingrich revolution named after Representative Newt Gingrich) ushered in another reform that laid the basis for another round of accumulation by dispossession. The Outer Continental Shelf Deep Water Royalty Relief Act of 1995 suspended all royalties to be paid by the companies for five years. In turn this produced another land grab in which 2,840 leases were sold in three years. By 2000

Securing  Oil  229 deepwater production topped shallow water output for the first time. At the same time an ascendant BP was increasingly displacing Shell’s hegemony in the Gulf. By using new 3-D seismic technologies they had made a series of remarkable discoveries; by 2002, BP was the largest acreage holder in deepwater (accounting for over one-third of all deepwater reserves). The MMS budget reached its nadir precisely during this boom (a record number of wells were drilled in 1997). The Houston Chronicle reported that over the 1990s there was an 81% increase in offshore fires, explosions, and blowouts. In the following decade they increased fourfold. The final crashing wave of frontier accumulation was triggered by the election of George W. Bush in 2001 and the events of September 11th. On May 18, two days after the Energy Task Force report overseen by Vice President Richard Cheney was delivered, Bush issued Executive Order 13212, entitled Actions to Expedite Energy related projects, whose purpose was to “expedite [the] review of permits or other actions necessary to complete the completion of such projects” (Cavnar 2010, 156). The language was, as a number of commentators pointed out, almost identical to that of a memorandum on the “streamlining” of development in the OCS submitted by the American Gas Association to the Energy Task Force. The MMS was already laboring under a congressionally mandated rule to limit permit review to an impossibly confining thirty days, but the new order pushed things much further: in its wake four hundred waivers were granted every year for offshore development. As offshore exploration and production stepped into historically unprecedented ultra-deepwater, the permitting process and enforcement were laughable. Oversight deteriorated to the point where the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was publicly accusing MMS of purposefully understating the likelihood and consequences of major offshore spills and blowouts. Shell announced the birth of a new “neoliberal frontier” in 2009. The Perdido platform, located two hundred miles offshore in water two miles deep, is nearly as tall as the Empire State Building, drawing in oil from thirty-five wells in three fields over twenty-seven square miles of ocean (Lehner 2010, 92) and sitting atop an “elephant field” rumored to contain as much as six hundred  billion gallons of oil. BP pushed forward on a hugely ambitious program to develop multiple fields in the most demanding and unforgiving of environments, pushing deeper into old Paleogene and Lower Tertiary strata. The likes of Thunder Horse—BP’s massive semisubmersible production facility almost destroyed by Hurricane Dennis in 2005—located in the Mississippi Canyon 252 Lease and the Macondo Well (forty miles distant) represented, as the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Oil Drilling put it, “formidable tests.” Perdido and Macondo represented the culmination of a long history of accumulated insecurity and risk taking along the shifting

230   Michael J. Watts frontier of offshore accumulation in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe was overdetermined by this vast accumulation of insecurity and risk (Feldman, Geisler, and Menon 2011); it was less an accident than a social product of the manufacture, on a larger historical landscape of reckless frontier development, of catastrophic risks rooted in the “systemic failures” of neoliberal capitalism.

Deepwater Horizon and Oil Vega There is a perfect storm developing in the energy sector and it’s going to be a nasty one. Kent Moors, The Vega Factor

From the vantage point of the cataclysmic financial events of late 2008 when Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and other investment banks failed, the Deepwater Horizon blowout suggests more than a family resemblance. Nowhere are these links clearer than in the 2011 report by the Deepwater Horizon Study Group (DHSG 2011)—results confirmed in the subsequent analyses by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling; the Joint Investigation of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement; and the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Research Council (see Ramseur and Hagerty 2013). In their devastating assessment of the blowout, DHSG (see 2011, 5–10) show that the catastrophe resulted from multiple violations of the laws of public resource development and proper regulatory oversight. The failures to contain, control, mitigate, plan, and cleanup were deeply rooted in a multidecade history of organizational malfunction and shortsightedness. When given the opportunity to save time and money—and make money—trade-offs were made for the certainty of production, because there were perceived to be no downsides associated with the uncertainty of failure caused by the lack of sufficient protection. BP’s corporate culture remained embedded in risk-taking and cost-cutting, but there were systemic failures in what DHSG called the histories and cultures of the offshore oil and gas industry and the governance provided by the associated public regulatory agencies. The Deepwater Horizon Study Group makes the crucial point that risk—and the risks associated with new operating conditions—was not effectively assessed. To answer the question why one must turn not just to what DHSG calls the international industry but to two closely related processes. The first is the neoliberalization of the oil frontier in the Gulf, as I described previously. It was the Reagan revolution, care of Interior Secretary Watt, which ushered in the so-called area wide leasing system and

Securing  Oil  231 lower royalties and tax incentives for the companies, opening up a sort of free-for-all. Dick Cheney was the architect of the gutting of the regulatory authority, the MMS, which was not only toothless, underfunded, and staffed by the sorts of oil men it was designed to regulate but, according to a 2008 Inspector General’s report, also a hothouse culture of substance abuse and promiscuity (oil’s version of The Wolf of Wall Street). To round out the story, in June 2008 George W. Bush removed the executive ban, passed in 1981, on offshore drilling in the United States. In short, this looks suspiciously like the gutting of the Glass-Steagall Act and the steadfast refusal to regulate derivatives and over-the-counter financial instruments. Indeed, the two crises not only bear the same marks but are the product of a shared historical moment (market utopia) and a shared affinity with the powers of capital. The structural similarities to the financial collapse raise the second key process. At the time of the disaster BP was one of the largest traders in the emerging oil futures and securitization markets. At the heart of this financialization is the shift to oil as an asset class.18 Oil prices have not always depended on the futures markets. In the 1970s and 1980s, before the advent of active crude oil futures trading in the New York and London markets, most of the oil produced was traded via long-term contracts. Crude oil exports came mainly from the OPEC countries and the spot market played only a limited role. After the collapse of the OPEC price system in 1985, a more transparent, comprehensible, flexible, and representative pricing system was sought. A market-linked price system was adopted in which the exchange-traded oil varieties Brent Blend and West Texas Intermediate were chosen as benchmarks. From that time onward the producers set their prices according to reference prices, and price negotiations revolved exclusively around premiums and discounts relative to the corresponding benchmark variety. Designed to establish uniform pricing for more than 160 different crudes around the world, the new system was sufficiently transparent and flexible to react swiftly to short- and medium-term changes in the supply and demand situation. Higher volatility and acute vulnerability to short-term “perturbations” in the market allowed oil to exert a greater influence on the financial markets. This was precisely what transpired in the run up of oil prices in 2008 when speculation rather than market fundamentals seemed to be driving the system in irrational ways—what has been dubbed “petromania.” Behind this newfound volatility and the speculative bubble was the fact that “innovations in the financial industry made it possible for paper oil to be a financial asset in a very complete way. Once that was accomplished, a

18.  This issue is dealt with at length in Moors 2011, O’Sullivan 2009, and Goodman 2011.

232   Michael J. Watts speculative bubble became possible. Oil is no different from equities or housing in this regard” (Parsons 2010, 82). The volume of unregulated over-the-counter commodity transactions had grown enormously since 2000, a development made possible largely by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of December  2000, often dubbed the “Enron Loophole.” This act sped up over-the-counter and electronic commodity derivative trades by financial institutions and traders and at the same time put them out of sight of the regulatory authorities. The volume of over the counter (OTC) trades exceeds the already large volume of trades on the commodity futures markets many times over (in a typical day paper oil trades exceed wet oil trades by 15–20 times). These OTC transactions are largely unregulated and nontransparent. According to information from the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, the nominal value of these OTC transactions in commodities (excluding gold) rose by a factor of nearly thirty between 2000 and 2008. In sum, the total-return concept for commodity investments and the introduction of commodities as a separate asset class similar to equities and bonds gave the commodities market a massive boost. Coinciding with the accelerating industrialization of China and the accelerated demand for oil, the new conditions could only be construed as a structural breach. As a result, it was not so much small-scale or rogue speculators as large institutional investors who sought exposure to the commodities market. They regarded commodities as an alternative investment category in their portfolio allocations and invested a significant proportion of their assets accordingly. The new actors in the oil trade have produced a situation in which, according to Moors (2011, 98), 60% of the oil futures market is coming from speculators. Oil has become a source or store of liquidity sometimes preferable to the dollar because the oil market allows a better hedge against the loss in dollar value in foreign exchange. The movement into crude oil and oil product futures contracts, which is a barely a decade old, has had decisive implications for oil volatility. Against a wider backdrop of instabilities within the oil assemblage, the financialization of oil promises more and more dangerous turbulence (Royrvik 2011). This is the heart of the so-called oil vega problem: the increasing inability to determine the genuine value of crude oil based on its market price.19 The inability to plan, 19.  “Vega” refers to the measurement of an option's sensitivity to changes in the volatility of the underlying asset. Vega represents the amount that an option contract's price changes in reaction to a 1% change in the volatility of the underlying asset. Volatility measures the amount and speed at which price moves up and down and is often based on changes in recent, historical prices in a trading instrument. Vega changes when there are large price movements (increased volatility) in the underlying asset, and it falls as the option approaches expiration.

Securing  Oil  233 predict, and compensate indicates a developing market (dis)order—a pervasive and endemic disequilibrium masquerading as the “new order” in the oil market (Moors 2011, 6). In sum, oil companies are involved in both the physical production of oil and its related products and in its financialization through active trading and project finance. But paper oil and related OTC activity is a parallel market over which Big Oil has little control. In the same way, traders can speculate on weather products (even while companies assume catastrophic weather insurance), which in turn drives speculation in the oil market (Johnson, this volume). All of this produces volatility and turbulence on which the derivatives and other instruments actually depend. Options, for example, permit speculation on the volatility of the market. Much of the volume of financial trading in oil-related activities and products is independent of physical trading but shapes the actual dynamics of the industry in ways that the oil majors cannot in any sense control. Fictitious capital, as Labban (2010) says, locates the origin of crises of resource flows more deeply in financial flows, in the tensions between futures and physical markets. Security and risk along the oil frontier stand at the intersection of two new realities. First, oil is simultaneously a commodity with use value and a financial asset. Second, the financialization/securitization of oil throughout the global value chain has produced an actuarial world in which the combination of neoliberalization and high-risk technologies operate like a forcing house for new contingencies and volatilities that undermine the very foundations of capitalist calculability (this is the “oil vega”). Dollarization, securitization, the availability of liquidity, and the collapse of confidence—that is to say, the use of synthetic debt and securitized paper through options, swaps, and futures (see Labban 2010)—manufactures “an increasing inability to determine the genuine value of crude oil based on market price” (Moors 2011, 5). The dynamics within the oil assemblage seem to produce a radical contingency that compromises the very idea of being able to underwrite security. With the huge inflation in costs associated with deepwater technology, the production side of oil is subject to a panoply of forms of synthetic credit and new financial instruments, just as the oil market (contracts, options, swaps) is subject to the same logic of securitization. Hurricane threats and climatic turbulence have in turn produced yet another layer of financialization as weather derivatives and catastrophe bonds become the instruments of the (re)insurance industries and by definition other sources of financial capital for whom betting against the weather is another source of liquidity (see Cooper 2010; Johnson, this volume, and 2012). The 2005 hurricane season crippled the Gulf energy sector and left $120 billion in losses. Of course, this is what the insurance and reinsurance industries

234   Michael J. Watts are in theory in the business of protecting against. But the 2005 season consumed the entirety of the global premiums that insurers had collected from energy underwriting (Johnson, this volume). The Gulf “wind market” is a big question mark, because major underwriters already have high rates and have capped coverage. The Gulf oil frontier seems to combine the worst of Wall Street, the worst of corporate rapaciousness, and the worst of technological hubris, all running headlong into the global climate crisis and creating a perfect storm of catastrophic risk.

Energy Security, Risk, and the Actuarial Imaginary The motto of liberalism is: Live dangerously. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics

The energy sector is replete with the language of security. What other sector has its own security moniker, “national energy security policy”? (Hildyard, Lohman, and Sexton 2012). Energy security is in practice a massively vague term (of what, for whom?). Customarily its meaning turns, of course, on questions of price (cheap oil), reliability of supply (oil dependency), Malthusian scarcity (peak oil), and infrastructural vulnerability (choke points and the war on terrorism). But what if risk and security are placed on the landscape not of terror or scarcity but on the ground of neoliberalism? If, as Foucault suggests, neoliberalism is “a whole way of being and thinking,” a “grid of economic and sociological analysis,” then the current financialization and deregulation of capitalism has transformed risk from a management device to a universal system of account, an entire order of governance. It is what Berlant (2007) calls an “actuarial imaginary.” One part of this story is well understood. O’Malley (2000, 2004, 2006) shows how risk calculation and uncertainty in the nineteenth century represented not simply something ultimately incalculable but a dispositf de sécurité focused on foresight, contract, prudence, and enterprise. In our time, says Dillion (2008, 2007), risk operationalizes the biopolitics of emergent life through the commodification of contingency, which is taken to be constitutive of what it means to be a living, emergent, transactional being. It is the hegemonic practice governing the conduct of conduct—from individuals to civil society to government to multilateral regulatory organizations. Risk has become an ontology, a form of being, a worldview, and a way of life. There are those who insure against it, those who identify and measure it, and those who make it and commodify it—and there are those who carry its costs. Risks multiply and circulate; they are monetized and securitized in a veritable avalanche of forms and norms (Lentzos and Rose 2009). But the ontology of risk is itself a risk, potentially producing its own

Securing  Oil  235 negation (Deepwater Horizon is a case in point). Risk technologies are in the business of underwriting exposure to contingency, and are central mechanisms to self-governing. Risk is, or has become, an assemblage of universal account, as Dillon puts it. In my account of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the oil frontier in the Gulf of Mexico, I  have tried to explore how it is both a particular sort of socially produced space (multiple, overlapping, nested) with its own forms of rough-and-tumble frontier politics and, to return to Eyal Weizman (2007), it is a territorial ecosystem in which “political piracy,” violence of many sorts, and weak citizenship exist adjacent to, within, or over each other. The Gulf oil frontier, moving from onshore to off-shore, became a particular sort of state-managed (and in regulatory terms, abandoned) space of deregulation and economic violence. The Gulf of Mexico oil frontier may not be, as Markoff’s (2006) definition suggests, at the limits of central power; nevertheless it is a social space where authority—neither fully ordered and rationalized, nor non-existent—is framed by the polarities of order and chaos. The dynamics of the Louisiana oil offshore frontier were profoundly shaped through the forms of American neoliberalism and the ways in which oil as a commodity has been subject to not only the evisceration of anything like regulatory oversight, but also to the dual forces of financialization/securitization and to increasingly reckless and costly corporate competitive behavior of firms operating at the limits of both state oversight and safety. “Money manager capitalism” (Wray 2010) is the current form of American neoliberal capitalism dominated by highly leveraged funds seeking maximum returns in an environment that systematically underprices risk. With little regulation or supervision of financial institutions, money managers have concocted esoteric instruments that ramify globally and are cascading through the oil assemblage. Participants are rewarded with high returns because highly leveraged funding drives up the prices of the underlying assets. Since each subsequent bust only wipes out a portion of the managed money, a new boom inevitably rises. The oil industry is part and parcel of money manager capitalism: it has come to underprice risk and at the same time is in the business of producing and accumulating risks of its own making. The oil industry is neoliberalizing risk at both ends, as it were: both the supply and production side (exploration and production) and at the point of exchange and sale (speculation and financialization). This turns precisely on the fact that oil is both an extracted resource and an asset class operating in conditions that produce a set of circumstances in which insecurity rather than security is procured. The oil vega—oil in parallax is how Labban (2010) nicely puts it—is the existential condition of the latter (asset class) while Deepwater Horizon is the existential condition of the former (extraction). Both constitute a field of

236   Michael J. Watts insecurity and risk marked by hypervolatility, turbulence, and occasionally by catastrophic disasters. Foucault (2008a, 65) asks the question: What is the principle of calculation for the manufacture of liberal freedom? The principle, he says, is called security. Oil has its own forms of freedom putatively operating in the marketplace. In the Gulf of Mexico the oil assemblage is awash in forms of underwriting and risk management: options, swaps, synthetic credit, weather derivatives, CAT bonds (Johnson, this volume). But this actuarial imaginary can stumble and falter. It is a frontier assemblage that generates massive new systemic risks. Here the actuarial imaginary seems to consume the very calculative rationality of capitalism itself. It is as if the oil and gas industry along its new frontiers is simultaneously in the business of deploying technologies of risk to secure investments and profitability in a setting in which it produces risks much faster than its ability to manage them (Szeman 2007). Deepwater Horizon suggests that BP can bear the costs of these risks (the civil and federal payout currently stands at over $40 billion) and can purchase, through various legal mechanisms, a sort of consent. After all, by October 2011, BP had resumed drilling in the Gulf, and in March 2014 BP acquired new leases to expand its deepwater operations. Perhaps the blowout and its aftermath point to the extraordinary powers of normalization within the oil assemblage and a durability, an ability to continue profit-taking and meeting shareholder value, amid quite remarkable volatility, conflict, turbulence, and risk. The capacity of the oil assemblage to absorb disorder—the deepwater frontier is its avatar—and at the same time accumulate and produce systemic risk is a hallmark of hydrocarbon capitalism.

Chapter 11

Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion Price Fluctuations in Two West African Oil-Producing Economies Jane I. Guyer, Johns Hopkins University In the historical context of an expanding modern, including manufacturing and market-based systems of livelihood generation, energy becomes the lifeblood of economies, thereby in a systemic sense upstaging the food and shelter that were the baseline conditions of the labor-based economy of the past. Indeed, “disposable energy” has been suggested as a better metric than the Gross Domestic Product of national economic health relative to the foundational American aspiration of “happiness.” GDP, which implicitly measures standard of living, simply aggregates all monetized transactions of whatever kind.1 If so, the dangers of energy price fluctuation may then recapitulate the dangers anticipated in the early modern period, when food was first submitted to the full brunt of market price fluctuation (see Thompson’s [1971] classic article on moral economy). At least food is varied, so components of a livable diet are substitutable. Not so for oil, so even small shifts in market dynamics can be threatening, not only in their overall structure with respect to disparities in resource allocation but also in their mundane rhythmic and arrhythmic flows through the capillaries of social and economic life. This chapter draws attention to the importance of studying price fluctuation within contexts where the future is envisaged and planned for: at the national level but particularly at the consumer level in popular economies, 1.  The entry on Disposable Energy was added to Wikipedia from Creative Commons in 2012. There is no author. The definition is “disposable energy is estimated by dividing the average family disposable income by the price of gasoline then normalizing relative to 1986.”

238   Jane I. Guyer and especially the ways in which interpretations are configured. The landmark social scientific literature on money and prices in oil economies— especially in newly developed oil and other extractive economies— has understandably focused on large structural phenomena such as rent-seeking, Dutch disease, shocks to government revenues due to world market conditions, and entrenched national policies that favor particular participants (see Terry Lynn Karl’s trailblazing book, The Paradox of Plenty [1997]). The new oil states are disproportionately dependent on oil, but not primarily to supply their own populations, as Mitchell (2011) gives central place to in his analysis of the long construction of oil systems in the West. Fernando Coronil’s classic work illustrates the resolution of large-producer/small-consumer interests for Venezuela, where the OPEC states’ search for revenues after 1960 “entailed an increase in oil prices” (1997, 54), which would necessarily feed back into the relatively poor popular economy with respect to consumer prices. Under President Hugo Chávez, the country instituted among the highest subsidies and lowest consumer prices in the world. People wrote of gasoline as effectively “free.” The extent of variability from the consumer’s position is captured in the Bloomberg Report’s ranking of current prices, from a high of $9.89 in Turkey (#1) to a low of $0.06 in Venezuela (#60), although all sixty ranked countries presumably participate in the same global market.2 By country, the report ranks price per gallon (high to low) and “pain at the pump” (“which measures the percentage of average daily income needed to buy a gallon of fuel,” also high to low). The overall ranking shows wide variations, internal patterns, and some puzzling incongruities. Norway ranks second in price but fifty-first in “pain,” and Nigeria is almost exactly the inverse at fifty-fourth (low) in price, and up at fourth in pain (a little better than Pakistan, India, and the Philippines). This makes some intuitive sense, but then the United States ranks low in both price and pain: fifty-first in price and fifty-sixth in pain. The introduction to this book evokes exactly this kind of puzzling complexity, the “variety of actors, agents, infrastructures, processes, and imaginaries—what we call the oil assemblage—that give shape to our contemporary iteration of hydrocarbon capitalism” and to the “intellectual vertigo” of addressing all of them within a single framework. This is a major insight and analytical challenge, since an assemblage cannot be analyzed as a model or as a tight causative nexus. Even where there are relatively fixed institutions, the components of specific complexes may have very different temporal horizons: to their own existence and in their variably


Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion   239 ephemeral conjunctures with each other. Nevertheless, models of mutually entailed elements within the assemblage, such as specific contractual schema, quantitative projections, and cultural reference points, do form, come into play, focus attention, and also, I argue here, produce confusion through internal illogicalities and mutual incompatibilities that emerge particularly sharply when they are set in motion under new conditions. The temporal factor is crucial here, as Johnson’s chapter (this volume) on climate change and new insurance techniques examines, for historical shifts in how annual patterns are seen. The dense nexus of contracts that make up the platform of institutions (see Yessenova, this volume) exists in intricately dated time. The size and nature of an oil field is projected quantitatively toward a certain time horizon in relation to reservoir estimates and technologies for extraction and transportation. The spigots into the monetized income streams—through royalties, taxes, dividends, profits, and so on—are projected on a pluri-annual basis for planning purposes, from extrapolations of market trends in world prices. They are paid, of course, from the actual spot conditions of the market price. For consumers, the concern is daily access to petroleum products at manageable prices in relation to the magnitude and regularity of cash income, usually coming in through the weekly wages or the intermittent revenues of the self-employed. Given the magnitude of this topic, and the vastness of the relevant literatures, my chapter  simply draws the temporality of assemblages into sharper focus in contexts where they have struck me, while doing other work on state and popular economies, as distinct from having the ambition to encompass large dynamics comprehensively through a research  agenda. Although I  address the national level and the grand ­political-economic dynamics briefly in the beginning, my main thrust is to bring into focus a topic raised by Friedrich von Hayek that has inspired me before (Guyer and Denzer 2009). Hayek (1944) argued that the “craving for intelligibility” was dangerous, since it led to attempts to control free markets, to which we ought to submit. The term “submit” itself implies a certain faith in a future that is out of one’s own control. But surely faith itself, and its symbolic registers and meaningful discursive terms, is a form of intelligibility. And in no market can the stakes be so high, at all levels, for participants to accept making do without sufficient “intelligibility” to imagine a future. Yet in no other market is the assemblage so intricate, multimodular, and so subject to temporal dislocations in the price dynamics as in oil. What then can “intelligibility” be, especially for the retail consumers, when the fluctuations of “the market” come into direct confrontation with the dated-time of contracts and political-administrative practices, and into intersection with aspirational futures—both pragmatic and imagined—in lives for which oil is now a lifeblood?

240   Jane I. Guyer I start with a brief review of American, and recent comparative, history, which shows how relatively buffered the Western economies have made themselves to short-term forces in the oil market. They have done so largely through a multitude of interventions presented to the public as market “custom” and through a collectively endorsed symbolic maximum price. I  argue that this is a cultural model of particular microconfigurations, within which a thin claim to “custom” still offers a sense of intelligibility wrested from exactly what the volume’s introduction refers to as an assemblage, while being able to maintain a rhetoric of “the market.” I then turn to specific events in Nigeria and Chad, as oil prices have fluctuated within assemblages whose dynamics are far less—and differently—composed and finessed with respect to “intelligibility,” and where the local-national assemblages and the operative models diverge, even though all participate in the same encompassing global commodity “market.” Where the price temporalities move into incoherence, it is the eventual terms whereby confusion is recognized and intelligibility sought that focus my attention, rather than the complicated political- and economic-historical dynamics that produced the incoherence in the first place. The former better befits an anthropological approach.

Price Shifts and Buffering Dynamics In U.S. history, the absolute price of gasoline per gallon at the pump remained remarkably stable from the moment of growth after World War I until after World War II,3 which parallels the stability—measured in dollars—in the world crude oil price. According to Mitchell (2013), this reflects the fact that the oil market was ruled by treaty and by political power. As the international market grew and began to privatize in the 1950s, some fluctuations set in, in both the real and nominal consumer price. But then various complex practices, such as the deployment of oil reserves and many small control and buffer measures, have gradually been put in place, especially after the political confrontations with OPEC in the 1970s. These seem to maintain market-price fluctuations within politically manageable limits. Between 1984 and 1999, prices fluctuated both on the world market for crude oil and the domestic gasoline market, but not as widely in the latter. Then, since the rapid price rises on the world market after 1999, domestic American prices have only partially reflected the trends in the international price of crude oil. The prices reported by the U.S. Energy Information Service (“petroleum and other liquids” 3.  For a detailed graph of nominal and inflation-adjusted prices in the United States, 1918 to 2012, see

Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion   241 data) show a pump price of $1.18 in 1999 and $3.57 in 2011 (multiplied by a factor of three), with one spike and drop, whereas the world price went from $15 per barrel in 1999 to $110 per barrel in 2011 (multiplied by a factor of seven), with more radical moments of fluctuation along the steep rise. Even over a single year, the ratio of crude to pump prices can be inconsistent, but it favors relative stability in the pump price. In 2013, a ratio of $2.30 (crude) to $3.70 (pump) went to $2.55:$3.55 in midyear, and ended the year at $2.40:$3.30 (margins of 61%, 39%, and 38%), as the pump price stayed within a 14% range, and safely under the signal price for public alarm in the American market of $4 a gallon.4 Understanding the ways in which American prices have been protected from the full amplitude of fluctuation would require detailed, focused studies. Specific events, however, can throw the elements of an assemblage into sharp relief, such as a cultural image of stability (of some sort). The sudden gasoline price rise of April 2006 showed that the petroleum industry could explain to the American public that the composite nature of the retail price continued to reflect “a customary level” to the proportional shares in the price received by traditional market participants: producers, the government, the processors (refineries), and the retailers (Guyer 2009, 208). The shares were represented as a dollar bill cut into pieces, and as a pump figured as a tower with stories. The overall rise was then attributed to market forces, but largely in the market for crude oil, which accounted for 53% of the final price (in 2005). The pricing model therefore reverted largely to the operation of “markets” according to “custom” (thus implicitly moral in some sense), projected as the product of several established, and continuing, processes and practices. On closer examination, this representation concealed two other components. Profit was eliminated altogether from the image of “traditional proportions,” and there was silence on the possible effect of financial dynamics with respect to the feedback between price projections and assets on futures markets. In 2012, when the price threatened to rise above $4 per gallon, public discourse brought back into view the idea that this was somehow an upper limit to the acceptable consumer price in the United States, as constituted by the customary market assemblage depicted a few years previously. Explanations again shifted attention back to the producers, in this case identified more closely as the OPEC countries, and especially the Saudis, who were said to be distorting the operation of straightforward supply and demand on the world market.5 The illustration for the online National 4.  = index.asp. 5. For one example, among many, see 02/149684373/the-real-reason-gas-costs-4-a-gallon.

242   Jane I. Guyer Public Radio coverage of the issue was a photograph of several Saudis, in full kaffiyehs, thereby locating elsewhere, culturally and politically, this specific threat to our custom of purchasing gasoline for under $4 a gallon. The point here is not to deny the argument outright, but rather to recognize that selective assemblages can be composed, and presented as customary forms, for continuing popular recognition in a domain where “lifeblood” is put into the inevitable price fluctuations that “markets” produce. A comparable imperative for predictable oil prices, this time for heating energy in Russia in winter, has been seen to be at the basis of management by comprehensively centralized power over the oil industry and of the development of petro-barter deals that circumvent money pricing and market dynamics altogether (Rogers forthcoming). In Nigeria, both the price rise and the moments of rapid change are more marked over the past years than in the United States.6 The retail price at the pump went from twenty naira in 1999 to sixty-five naira by 2007 (the same magnitude of increase as in the United States), but it was protected from the much higher world price rise by subsidy policy. And then there was the sudden crisis of January 2012 when changes in the subsidy policy produced a price of 138 naira (and higher for other grades), which matched the shifts in the world market price. If retail subsidy is the main buffering device, rather than a tradition of intricate adjustments or draconian controls, as in the industrial economies, then the retail price becomes dramatically politicized. For example, in 2012 the state governors in Nigeria argued that the minimum wage for public employees should be explicitly linked to the petrol subsidy (Guyer and Denzer 2013; Africa Confidential 2012). This high-profile link that has been forged between livelihood and the petrol price at the pump implicates the imperatives of three different budgets: the household budget of employees, the public budget of the states (much of which derives from the Federation Account), and the federal management of the national oil economy. By contrast, in the United States, gasoline enters the public budget considerations at the federal level through major issues such as pipeline permits and government reserves and intricate issues such as its weight in the consumer price index, leaving all other aspects to different arenas, largely presented as customary market practices of negotiation and management. This introductory juxtaposition of cases points to the importance of examining the dynamics of price fluctuation in context. Because of their specificity, they may well become incoherent with each other when the conditions shift in unanticipated ways. I think of this less in terms of turbulence or chaos, in the sense that mathematicians and scientists have recently 6. For more information, see Fuel_Prices_and_Trends.

Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion   243 developed into a kind of model-building, than in terms of confusion. Confusion evokes a certain emergent incoherence within and among the existing conditions, provisions, and models, and their forms of representation, and also between several models or forms that may be vying with one another in the same arena, emanating from the political-social conjuncture of the time. The result cannot be resolved mathematically, as if by nature, because of the human factor of reactive imagination and political action. For those working either within a “market tradition,” which has consolidated into a platform of constantly mediated practices, or with a central dominating power, such confusion probably hardly arises. “Intellectual vertigo,” as the introduction to this volume depicts it, is somehow tolerated or navigated in those contexts, probably through means that would be analyzed by political theorists as successfully hegemonic. But in many situations outside of these powerful, and generally somehow rendered coherent-in-the-event, assemblages within the nexus of consumer prices, the “assemblage” of components in some oil economies may be more like a thing of shreds and patches that fails to make sense to the participants and causes general dislocation for the populations at risk. As Michael Watts points out here, under a neoliberal philosophy of entrepreneurship technologies for distributing and devolving risk devolve the buffering to sophisticated financial instruments. These buffers barely exist, if at all, for many of the participants in the oil assemblages that have neither central power nor distributed institutional buffers. At a truly microcosmic level, chapter  6 in my book Marginal Gains (2004) describes the pressures around the petrol price and conditions in a tiny microarena: the supply at a single petrol station under conditions of disruption during a shortage in a rural town in Nigeria. Resolution involved implicit recourse to very localized “custom,” which kept the moral threat at bay. Customers were served in a logical order according to status, at varying “real” prices (including dashes above the controlled market price), in rationed quantities, over a calibrated and publicly visible wait schedule, by vehicle type (and therefore occupation, such as motorcycle taxi driver), and with some transparency about the margin being made by the seller. The limit on profit was infused with concepts of moral judgment and spiritual danger. Do comparable models of some kind develop at the state-society level, or are the global oil economy and the financial nexus simply too powerful and complex to afford the space for original accommodations to emerge and gain longevity within the spaces of the shreds and patches of particular assemblages? Since many processes happen below the radar screen of accessibility to research, it may be that the initial approach to the dynamics of price fluctuation in these economies should involve sketching the overall market price movements, and then focusing on specific events when the actors and the implications did declare themselves fairly explicitly.

244   Jane I. Guyer The incidents I describe are those that have come up during my work on other, or broader, topics. I draw on sources from a newspaper archive collected and analyzed by LaRay Denzer and myself on the Nigerian economy under structural adjustment and military rule, and from the papers we wrote from its sources (Guyer and Denzer 2009 and 2013). For the other, I use knowledge gained as a member of the International Advisory Group for the World Bank on the Chad-Cameroon Oil Development and Pipeline Project, 2001–09. All the material I  mobilize is already in the public domain, so not proprietary or embargoed in any way. My own contribution is to bring it out, place it together, and suggest an argument.

Price Fluctuations and Confrontations As indicated earlier, the amplitudes of crude oil price fluctuations became wider in the first decade of the twenty-first century, and were produced by enormously complex causes that can only be indicated, but not unraveled, in a short paper. The demand from China and India is often cited. The collaborations among larger and smaller, national and private organizations in the market, and the different qualities of crude, mainly according to the proportion of sulfur, from light sweet to heavy sour, make single numbers indicative only with respect to specific places. Price indices can be quoted according to type, with Brent (a North Sea oil) as a benchmark, Bonny Light and West Texas Intermediate at the light-sweet end of the spectrum, and others at the heavy-sour end. The cost and availability of refineries for each quality affects not only the crude price level but, especially in the short run, the precise shape of the fluctuations, so particular countries’ crude oil may follow their own patterns of fluctuation. All this, in Africa, follows the international financial institutions’ interventions of structural adjustment in the 1980s to open up prices and exchange rates to “market forces.” I start with the positive price jolt that hit Chad at the early stage of its oil development: at the moment when the contractual and quantitative models were still clear and in the public domain, due to the project with the World Bank, but well before there were clearly operative models to anticipate and mediate the assemblage’s potential for incoherence. I then turn to downstream confrontations in Nigeria, which reflect a much longer history of intermittent struggle.

Chad, 2003 to 2008 Chad became an oil-producing country in 2004, as a result of a plan among a consortium of oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Petronas), the

Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion   245 governments of Chad and Cameroon, and the Word Bank. There was one oil field planned in the south of the country, near Doba, and a thousand kilometer pipeline to the coast of Cameroon and an offshore loading vessel. In this case, the price at the pump is not the main way in which the people’s economy was affected by oil price change, even after “first oil” in 2004. There are few roads in Chad, which has a much less active “niche economy” (Guyer 1997) of artisans, small industries, and so on than in Nigeria. Hence the effects of price fluctuation were not felt directly at the level of the people, but on the national level they were dramatic, as revenues vastly exceeded projections due to world price rises in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Since the whole project was a public-private collaboration, certain main elements of the plan were in the public domain. In order to project the future capacities of this major initiative in what was defined as one of the world’s poorest countries, the production and revenue from royalties and taxes were modeled. The quantitative projections of all components were used to underwrite legal contracts and policy commitments. These plans were drawn up soon after 1999, so they were based on the world crude price of the time, which was the lowest it had been, or would be again, in Table 11.1. Projection for Chad revenues in the Project Appraisal Document of 2000, and actual revenue


Projected (million $)

Actual (million $) a

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014

 0  31  80  88  96 100 125 110  87  65  54 119 (projected first year of company tax)

– 146.5 279.7 (actual first year of company tax) 749.6 1,194.3 1,800.0 (Not followed after this date) – – – – –

Sources: Sources on Chad are from the semiannual reports of the International Advisory Group to the President of the World Bank and the Governments of Chad and Cameroon on the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project, 2001–2009, WEB/0__CO-36.HTM. a

A composite of royalties and taxes.

246   Jane I. Guyer many years. The project was estimated at $15.25 per barrel Brent (World Bank Project Appraisal Document), with the volume of production estimated annually. Because of the low price projection, company taxes on profit were estimated to come into play only in 2014, when the consortium of companies would have covered investment costs and be registering a profit. In the event, oil prices rose so dramatically and unexpectedly that profits came in much earlier, in 2005, so Chad was then able to earn not only royalties but also company taxes. The following table summarizes projected and actual revenues. By 2008, thanks to the price rise, the government of Chad was earning eighteen times the expected revenue, most of it in taxes. Taxes as a source of revenue had not been covered by the revenue-spending plan of the World Bank project for these early years, which had been based on the spending of royalties. The gradual fall in projected revenue after 2009 was based on estimations of the reservoir. This, also, turned out to be discrepant with the original projections. The oil itself was of slightly lower quality than anticipated: there was more water mixed with it, and the reservoir was geologically fractionated in unanticipated ways. Much more capital was invested in order to “densify” the wells in the producing region (that is, to double their number). Meanwhile, revenues built up due to the price rise. And the institutions for revenue allocation, which included a constitutionally mandated 5% of natural resource royalties for the producing region, moved into implementation before all the frameworks were in place. To take an example, the “5% Fund” required (a) a definition of “the oil-producing region,” (b) the designation of a body to represent its population, when the projected local elections to establish the “democratically elected” representatives had not yet been held, and (c) the completion of a Regional Development Plan to provide guidelines for expenditures. Areas for policy discretion opened up in several places, while the facts of the project had to move ahead, largely exacerbated by the suddenness and magnitude of the crude price rise. The logics of the models and the forces of the actual assemblage became discrepant. They were on different temporalities and of different magnitudes. Of course, budget allocations by the state were also at issue in a politically turbulent era, with the Darfur crisis on the border still unresolved. The budget for 2006 could not be implemented quickly, partly due to difficulties of preparedness in the ministries and partly to the negotiation of new terms offered by Chad to the World Bank to commit to spending 70% of all revenues on “poverty reduction.” The ripple implications for reinterpreting the spirit and fine print of the agreements were considerable. What exactly could qualify under a “poverty reduction” model had to be mediated, and this in a country where “infrastructure” was very limited in the first place and open to potentially different interpretations

Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion   247 by the parties: a football stadium, for example? The World Bank project was terminated in 2009, on the grounds that the government’s response breached the commitments of the project. Use of the oil income to pay off the country’s debt to the World Bank then allowed Chad to reassert full sovereignty. Reexamining the publicly available reports from the years between the price hike and project termination re-creates the sense of multiple models all working out in their own ways, coordinated with difficulty. The working out of the full sovereignty mode has not been followed in the same detail, but it may be worth noting that exactly the most-feared element in the revenue management projections, namely that oil income would be used to build up the military infrastructure, has moved into higher profile again as the Chadian army has been deployed, to some recognition in the U.S. press, in the violent conditions in Mali and the Central African Republic in 2014. My point here is that unforeseen price fluctuation threw into relief the sutures and gaps in the assemblage put together from the outset, the periods of delay and continual reorganization as a result, and the rising prominence of the concept of “infrastructure” in the rhetorical and political arenas: by implication, this meant “something permanent,” which to the Chadian leadership appears to have included a geopolitical space between Niger, Mali, Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. The spaces to develop this could probably not have emerged without the fissures opened up by sudden rises in oil price from 2005.

Nigeria: Fluctuations and Confrontations In Nigeria, the national budget depends crucially on income from the oil sector. Most sources quote 80% of government revenue and 95% of foreign exchange as deriving from oil, and so budget planning depends profoundly on predictability. The translation into the domestic economy also depends on the exchange rate for the naira, which has fallen, and fluctuated, over the time period covered. The following table shows the magnitudes of the changes and fluctuations over the period from 1985 to 2012. At no time is the domestic price moving in tandem with the world price, so fluctuation in the domestic price can emerge as uniquely politically motivated. Over the same period, the exchange rate for the naira on the currency market changed such that there were some periods of several years when it stayed stable, followed by sudden lurches, generally downward. Unique events played their part. In 1991, world crude prices rose while the Nigerian consumer price and exchange rate remained stable. The price rise was the effect of the Gulf War. What happened in Nigeria was

Table 11.2. Oil and petrol prices, Nigeria 1985–2003

Year 1982 1986 1988 1989 1991, March 1993 1994, October 1998, December 1999, January 2003 2004 2007 2012

Petrol price per liter

International crude/barrel ($)

20 kobo 20–39.5 kobo 42 kobo 60 kobo 70 kobo N3.25 N11 N25 N20 N42 N65 N75 N138

40 20 17 20 30 20 17 15 12–15 30 40 140 110

Source: Notes: 1 Naira (N) = 100 kobo. US$-Naira exchange rates changed radically from 1980 (N0.55 per US$) to 2000 (N85 per US$) to 2012 (N155 per US$).

Table 11.3. The exchange rate: Naira to the dollar


Official rate

Parallel rate (in the market)

1985 1987 1988 1989 1991 1993 1994–99 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

0.9 4.0 4.5 7.4 8.0 17.3 22, approx. 120 130 136 132 125 120 171 155 165 160 155–160

1.7 5.9 6.7 10.7 9.3 21.9 57–85 140 137–144

Sources: and, accessed August 17, 2011.

Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion   249 quite specific. The price rise was in their favor, as a producing nation. The World Bank noted, however, that the $3 billion windfall that Nigeria gained could not be accounted for. It also had not—apparently—affected other parameters of the economy, one way or the other (Agbese 2005, 59). The official report of its actual deployment was suppressed. In the 1990s, when global price fluctuations were relatively narrow, intense debates over the national budget focused on incoherence. The following is from an earlier paper, first of all quoting the press: “Nobody knows exactly how much was realized from oil last year. The CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) put it at $10.35 billion. The 1996 budget says it was $7,957 billion. Nobody knows how much the country spent on oil imports last year. While Prof. Aluko (economic advisor) put it at $800 million, independent sources said it was as high as $1,924 billion” (Gahia 1996, 17). Into the midst of this confusion, Finance Minister Anthony Ani threw out the news that the budget was now definitely in surplus, only to be contradicted by the Central Bank itself. In fact, it would be possible to show a budget surplus just by failing to fulfill budget provisions; we “need much more information if the budget surplus announced is to make sense.”7 Finally, “Nigerians cannot reconcile a monetary surplus with their present state of penury”.8 In this case, then, the world price effect has been buffered, but in ways whereby three decades of experience have placed the effects firmly, and negatively, into the political domain. During the first years of the twenty-first century, when prices rose and also fluctuated less predictably, much more official rhetorical emphasis for national and consumer difficulties has been placed on theft and bunkering, on the one hand (see Gelber, this volume), and on political interventions in the consumer subsidy, on the other hand, which is a theme coming forward from the 1980s. According to Bloomberg News, in 2011 “Nigeria’s oil exports rose 46% to 9.15 trillion naira ($59 billion) last year as prices increased and companies raised output on improved security in the Niger River delta, the National Bureau of Statistics said,”9 whereas by 2014 “revenue earned by Nigeria this year may be as much as $12 billion short of budget estimates as theft of crude and output disruptions persist in the oil-rich Niger River delta, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said.”10 Between the two statements, in 2012,

 7. Guardian, August 21, 1996, 17.  8. Djebah, Guardian, August 21, 1996.  9.–04–14/nigeria-s-oil-revenue-rose-46-to-59billion-in-2010-on-improved-security.html. 10.–10–31/nigeria-finance-ministry-says-reve nue-gap-may-reach-12-billion.html.

250   Jane I. Guyer a report was published by the Berne Declaration, a Swiss NGO, locating the “looting” of revenue at the end of the chain, including by Swiss oil dealers.11 If we put all the components of this assemblage together, how do the consumer price and its own fluctuations emerge, both in terms of political economy and of the moral and technical terms of understanding? The article on oil-revenue looting by Peregrino-Brimah (see note 9) is illustrated by a popular demonstration slogan, written onto a torn cardboard box, a slogan that now circulates more widely: “One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich” (shades of the “lifeblood” imagery). For several decades, Nigerian public engagement with the petrol price at the pump focused on subsidies and the margin between world and national prices. However, one senses the price comparison moving in some new directions in the recent confrontations. The concept of an “oil mafia” has emerged strongly in the Nigerian confrontations over the removal of the oil subsidy in 2012, coming forward from an earlier series of observations, for example about the (deliberate?) failure to repair the national oil refineries over decades and in spite of budget allocations for that purpose (see Gabriel, cited in Guyer and Denzer 2013, 70). The oil mafia become representative of “the rich” of the slogan. And from people’s experience of severe shortages, the black market prices that emerged, and—one must imagine, extrapolating from the important work of Paul Ugor (2013) on artisanal refining in the Delta—other informal price mechanisms, people have created intricately local comparative price histories of the kind I happened on in Ibarapa in the 1990s and that anthropologists and historians have studied for many phases of African commodity trade histories (see Barrett-Gaines 2004 on “niche economies”). In fact, Ugor does offer glimpses into price conditions in this particular region of the Delta, where artisanal production “is the main oxygen that sustains local transportation in the area” (shades of the “lifeblood” imagery again). He cites “an almost insatiable local demand,” extending north into the Sahelian regions of the country and responding to seasonal fluctuations, at a price per drum equivalent to eighty naira per liter for diesel, which compares to 110 naira reported for the official price of diesel in 2010.12 The dynamics of demand and price would be fascinating to explore in detail, probably including preferred networks, barter in kind, and other micromarkets. Thus, the “intelligibility factor” in Nigeria now covers global contingencies, unpredictable subsidy policies, and highly localized conditions, 11. For more information, see llions-oil-revenue-looted-dr-peregrino-brimah. 12.

Oil Assemblages and the Production of Confusion   251 which are all moving at once, sometimes in different directions, all increasingly represented by nonparticipants under the rubric of “mafias.” Mafias are not always depicted as illegal; indeed, in the larger arenas, they are identified as legal actors—private and public, national and foreign—working together to create deviant pathways around the gaps and fissures, temporal and institutional, in the assemblage of the oil economy. My argument is simply that the study of price dynamics should not be left to economics, or even to political economy. Price experience is deeply socialized and figured: in the public sphere, in resistance locations, and in ordinary experience and projection. My invocation of particular price lurches and configurations in Chad and Nigeria points to the importance of detailed research into the events through which livability and think-ability are created, often out of confusions generated among the elements of the assemblage that are at play. The sheer complexity of the oil assemblage, and its absolute centrality to the economy of the twenty-first century, make the production of its prices in many local arenas a crucial topic for attentive research. What are petrol price series in people’s imaginations? How is life planned with these experiences, extrapolations, and cultural imagery in mind? From my brief discussion of the two powerful “solutions” that have moderated predictability—a diffusely powerful “customary” “market” process and centralization—one can look at how they operate elsewhere in shreds and patches, creating incoherence in the relationships among the factors and enormous indeterminacies in their intersections with other historical events. There has always been a “black box” of repositioning among the powerful parties, and confusions of massive proportions in the public sphere. Very powerful new elements, such as petro-barter, are brought forward into the assemblage of the postcommunist market. Events throw rhetorical resolutions into profile, while research can follow through on the intimate locations of calculative and projective meaning in the price movements. World oil price fluctuations have only intensified in the twenty-first century. They no longer seem to follow the short lurches consonant with the “market” model of the 1980s and 1990s. The amplitudes, the stakes, the margins, and the gaps seem all to have enlarged, while ordinary livelihoods, the world over, increasingly need the supply of “modern energy” to be regular and predictable. Hayek’s (1944) invocation of “craving for intelligibility” demands empirical research. In our own century, when both markets and states are under public skepticism, information and imagery circulate through other media. How do energy prices figure in those global conversational networks, which often surge into operation precisely

252   Jane I. Guyer in moments of sudden change (even short of “crisis”)? There can be no escaping the likelihood that at least one theme of these conversations in the future will be the search for enough intelligibility in the energy supply, as the lifeblood to economies in a mobile social world, for projections of futures to become possible.

Chapter 12

Offshore Work Infrastructure and Hydrocarbon Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea Hannah Appel, University of California, Los Angeles

The morning of March 1, 2008, dawned warm in Bata, Equatorial Guinea’s second city. At 6:00 a.m., I stood outside the headquarters of a large U.S.-based oil company with a small group of others—a Spanish woman, a man from Louisiana, and two Equatoguinean men—waiting to “go offshore” by helicopter. We stood quietly and not quite together, separated by the early hour and by uncertainty about one another’s purpose for being there. Eventually, an Equatoguinean driver pulled up in a company bus. As we boarded, he requested our identification passes, to electronically register each of our exits from the company compound, and then he drove us to the company’s private wing at the airport. After an airport worker searched our bags, we sat in a small room to watch a safety video on the importance of in-flight protective equipment and what to do if our helicopter were to catch fire in midair. At liftoff, the helicopter rose effortlessly, and the city of Bata spread out beneath us. Farther from shore, behind us, the Ntem River marked the edge of the continent. After a while, the scenery faded into the calm of the open ocean seen from above, a stillness muted further by the gentle vibration of the helicopter through noise-cancelling headphones. Eventually, a bright flame appeared in the distance, attached to a still-indistinct industrial atoll—an oil rig. Just as the rig came into view, the helicopter banked left, and we landed briefly on what looked like an aircraft carrier, leaving the Spanish woman on what was in fact a floating production, storage, and offloading vessel (FPSO). With the production rig visible some hundreds of yards away, the FPSO was illuminated by its own large flare, burning the crude’s stranded gas. This vast, self-propelling, shiplike structure floated above an oil field producing 100,000 barrels per day. Every ten days, a tanker would pull alongside

258  Hannah Appel the FPSO and leave with one million barrels. From subsea hydrocarbon deposit to the rig to the FPSO to the tanker to market, the production chain of Equatorial Guinea’s oil was clearest to me by helicopter, far off the country’s shores. Nigel Thrift (2005) offers four methodological rules through which we might come to know capitalism. Number four reads, “Always look for the routine, even boring, as well as the sexy. It is all too easy to depict capitalism as a kind of big dipper [roller coaster ride], all thrills and spills. But capitalism can be performative only because of the many means of producing stable repetition which are now available to it and constitute its routine base” (2005, 3). This chapter argues that infrastructure is chief among these means of producing the more and less stable performance of capitalism. More specifically, I suggest that the mobile, licit offshore infrastructures of the global oil and gas industry, and their attendant forms of labor, expertise, and corporate imaginaries, are central to the increasingly contested project of hydrocarbon modernity. While Thrift does not use the term infrastructure specifically, he seems to urge our attention to it—toward what he calls “the apparatus of installation, maintenance, and repair,” on the one hand, and “the apparatus of order and delivery,” on the other. “For some reason,” Thrift writes, “perhaps to do with their extreme everydayness, these apparatuses are constantly ignored in the literature, and yet it could be argued that they constitute the bedrock of modern capitalism” (2005, 3). Given the radical differences between oil and gas supply sites around the world and ever-increasing technological and political challenges, how is hydrocarbon reliably transformed from subsea and subsoil deposits into one of the world’s most profitable commodities? Given the profound political, environmental, economic, and social entanglements in each and every supply site, how does the oil and gas industry routinely evade consequential responsibility for local outcomes? Reframing and adding to ethnographic work I have published elsewhere (Appel 2012a), this chapter suggests that attention to the daily life of drilling rigs and the workers and managers who animate them off the coast of Equatorial Guinea reveals the effects of particular kinds of infrastructural forms (offshore, technically complex, historically dangerous) in smoothing the passage of oil to market, one the one hand, while seeming to disentangle the industry from local responsibility, on the other.1 If, as Larkin (2013) has it, infrastructure is matter that enables the movement of other matter, offshore oil infrastructure enables 1.  Much of this material appeared in my article “Offshore Work: Oil, Modularity, and the How of Capitalism in Equatorial Guinea,” American Ethnologist 39(4) (November 2012). I thank the American Ethnologist for permitting its use here.

Offshore  Work  259 both the movement of crude oil and the movement, literally the mobility, of certain forms of politics—corporate abdication of liability, racism, and the disempowerment of workers, among others. In what ways do offshore infrastructures become the conduits of conduct? What kinds of social and political worlds are made when oil is drawn out of the earth from a depth of thirty-five thousand feet? This chapter begins by offering an ethnographic sketch of the oil and gas industry’s pervasive entanglements in Equatorial Guinea’s onshore life, to render starker the infrastructural work required to frame the industry as “offshore.” Bringing the focus back to the rig, I introduce modularity as a central project in the industry’s work toward disentanglement—the use of mobile, compliant, and self-contained infrastructures, labor setups, forms of expertise, and legal guidelines to enable offshore work in Equatorial Guinea to function “ just like” offshore work in Ghana, Brazil, or the North Sea. I then turn to the evocative promises of offshore infrastructure for those in industry management, many of whom imagined offshore oil operations to share with offshore financial setups the idea that there are spaces where the production of profit can evade or minimize contestation. But their fantasies remained disturbed by environmental and community overflows that have long haunted the industry’s work.

Entanglements The distancing view from the helicopter window belies the extent to which the oil and gas industry seeps into every corner of Equatoguinean daily life. Since the discovery of commercially viable hydrocarbon deposits in the mid-1990s, Equatorial Guinea has received over $50 billion in capital deployment from U.S. oil and gas companies alone. Among Africa’s most important new oil producers, the long-impoverished microstate is at the center of the petroleum industry’s “new Persian Gulf,” from which upwards of 17% of U.S. net petroleum imports now come (U.S. Energy Information Administration 2010). Production-sharing contracts worth billions annually to companies and the state alike require protracted negotiation and complicity between President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s unopposed authoritarian regime, now the oldest in Africa, and U.S.based oil and gas companies. Before oil, Obiang’s rule was crippled by debt and threatened by an opposition coalition. Today, these contracts have been an unparalleled state-making project; Obiang is not only still in power but he even headed the African Union. And yet, in exchange for this newfound sovereignty, the Equatoguinean state must negotiate with oil companies to modify local environmental, labor, and taxation

260  Hannah Appel laws and regulations that might affect the companies’ profit margins (see Yessenova, this volume).2 Oil and gas development subtends not only a transformed political landscape in Equatorial Guinea but a new physical landscape as well, which transmogrifies at an alarming pace. Offshore gas flares blaze against nighttime skies in an uninterrupted string that, from a plane window, seems to stretch south all the way from Nigeria. “La Planta” screams into view as planes land in Malabo’s airport. Dazzlingly bright, the natural gas and methanol plant is a tangled, illuminated kingdom of pipes, some small and some big enough to fit a car inside, connecting metal vats and silos and containers and wires and more pipes and conveyor devices and cranes, weaving in and out of one another and reaching up until it seems the plane will scrape its metal belly on the highest reaches of the plant. The small capital city in the distance is dim and receding. Yet, around it, oil revenue and contractual clauses have built new cities as if overnight (Appel 2012b). Malabo II sprouts beside colonial Malabo, and filaments of asphalt busy with Chinese and Egyptian construction workers extend in all directions. Stadiums, palaces, skyscrapers, and vast housing and apartment complexes rise from red dirt exposed beneath equatorial green, it seems, only days before. The small country’s private property regime has been entirely remade as the president publicly expropriates his own substantial private holdings “in the name of development” while oil and gas companies rent what is still widely considered “his” land. Los de a pie (the masses; lit. those on foot) are expected to equate their own dispossession with the president’s hollow act. Gated residential and corporate enclaves for expatriate industry personnel spring up in these spaces, serviced by their own septic, electricity, telecommunications, and food procurement systems (Appel 2012b; Ferguson 2006). In 2008, hydrocarbons accounted for 99.3% of the nation’s exports and 98% of government revenues (IMF 2010; Kraus 2010; Munif 2010). The industry is the only large employer other than public administration, and work in and around it newly schedules people’s lives, sending them to offshore platforms for weeks at a time or putting them in security guard

2.  Production-sharing contracts between the Equatoguinean state and operating companies contain sweeping fiscal stability clauses, which stipulate that the legal and fiscal regimes in place in the supply site at the time the contract is signed—environmental law, labor law, tax codes—will not change over the life of the contract. If those fiscal and legal regimes do change, and if those changes reduce a company’s profit margins, the state is contractually obligated to indemnify the corporation. Fiscal stability clauses limit the normal scope of any legislature, including the freedom to enact environmental law, labor law, or other forms of regulation. Although public policy in a variety of countries can trump the practice of fiscal stability (also known as “regulatory takings”), this is certainly not the case in Equatorial Guinea.

Offshore  Work  261 or maid uniforms. The booming industry enables some to return with degrees earned abroad to work as government liaisons or accountants, and it consigns others to sex work and window washing. Corporate social responsibility programs subcontracted to international development firms fan out across the country’s cities and towns touting education reform and malaria control or proffering hospital equipment and neighborhood drinking wells. From keeping a regime in power to the ways in which law and regulation evolve, from staggeringly vast infrastructural projects and reconfigured modes of property adjudication to new forms of employment and the education of children, the oil and gas industry is everywhere enmeshed in Equatorial Guinea’s onshore life. And yet the industry creates and inhabits an eerie distance from its supply site. Boundary-making projects, including mobile offshore infrastructure and labor regimes, enclaved residential and corporate spaces, and profitable relationships built on the attenuated liability of contractual obligation, allow companies to bemoan poverty, pollution, and kleptocracy “out there,” as if they have nothing to do with it, while they work furiously to disentangle their operations, residential footprints, corporate practices, legal presence, shareholder value, and moral identity from life “outside their walls.” Looking at Equatorial Guinea as if from afar, expatriate industry personnel routinely talked to me about how locals should really learn to stop burning their small piles of garbage, even as industry flares blazed constantly around us; they remarked earnestly that Equatoguineans should diversify their economy, learn to “live off the land.” Or they would pass me literature on an economic theory known as the “resource curse” (Auty 1993; P. Collier 2007; Humphreys, Sachs, and Stiglitz 2007), lamenting that, unless the government got its act together, the litany of pathologies posited by that body of scholarship—corruption, inflation, armed conflict, antidemocratic tendencies—were sure to follow, as if their presence had nothing to do with that potentiality. How are these aporias made? Let me turn to the daily infrastructural practices that enable this habitation of distance. But before returning to the rig, I highlight the ways in which the industry’s entanglements, described above, and the relative ease with which those ties are attenuated, described below, are shaped in and by Equatorial Guinea’s specific history. After gaining independence from Spain in 1968, Equatoguineans suffered a brutal dictatorship under Macías Nguema, in which roughly one-third of the population was killed or fled into exile. The man who eventually took power in a 1979 coup—Obiang Nguema Mbasogo—was chief of security in the previous murderous regime and was intimately implicated in its brutalities. Obiang remains president to this day. Though the climate of outright violence has changed considerably in Obiang’s more than thirty-year rule, “la triste

262  Hannah Appel memoria” (the sad memory), as locals refer to the period of mass violence, is still present. Memories of indiscriminate violence also serve to threaten the population, and the vast majority of Equatoguineans today continue to talk about politics only in hushed tones and fear public political mobilization of any kind. In addition, Equatorial Guinea’s postcolonial legal inheritance has been particularly consequential for the coming of the oil industry. During his tenure, Macías annulled Spanish law, producing what one Equatoguinean Supreme Court judge described to me as “a legal vacuum” that lasted until 1980. After his 1979 coup, Obiang reinstated Spanish law and began to legislate regularly, but, the judge lamented, “now there is confusion. . . . The principal problem is that no one knew what law was extant in Equatorial Guinea. Then along comes oil. What law applies?” The absent presence of la triste memoria, coupled with ongoing political repression and legal confusion, has left Equatorial Guinea a small place thick with fear, suspicion, and public silence. The peculiarities of Equatorial Guinea—a Lilliputian state with a mere seven hundred thousand inhabitants living in a paranoid and claustrophobic dictatorship, a citizenry barely out from under the pall of recent mass violence, economic collapse in the late 1960s so total that there was no paper in the country (Artucio 1968)—allow certain aspects of the industry’s work toward disentanglement and self-containment to pop into visibility. Open contestation in other oil-producing places, often hard won over years of exploitation, as in Nigeria or Ecuador, has buried the industry’s fantasies of frictionlessness in decades of political negotiation. But the mid-1990s in Equatorial Guinea were a moment in which an authoritarian regime already long in power, but facing increasing opposition, was happy to oblige nearly every demand of the industry, allowing everything from mobile labor regimes comprised almost exclusively of foreign workers to exploitative contracts to proceed uncontested. These historical contingencies highlight the peculiarity and intensive work required of an industrial approach that treats Equatorial Guinea as if oil and gas production could proceed as it does in Houston, Ecuador, or Nigeria. I turn now to that work.

Modularity and the Making of the Offshore The helicopter touched gingerly down on the rig, and João, the rig’s safety coordinator, immediately whisked me to the radio room for a safety-training minicourse on video. After an exam that tested my comprehension, João had me sign a liability waiver and then put me in my required personal protection equipment of hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, earplugs, coveralls, and steel-toe boots. I was to take off all rings, earrings,

Offshore  Work  263 necklaces, the hair band around my wrist, and anything else that could snag or catch. None of these items was allowed on the rig. While walking on the rig, where a railing was available, I was to hold it at all times, especially on stairs, which, depending on their pitch, might have to be descended backward. Every action and every movement seemed to be an extended participation in an embodied and ornamental safety ritual: from what João gave me to wear to what he told me to take off, from the ways he trained me to walk and climb and descend stairs to the safety videos, manuals, and waivers he required me to study and sign. From the moment I set foot on the rig, it was a heavily choreographed exercise in the performance of safety. The offshore’s saturation with practices, performances, media, and bureaucracies of risk avoidance and safety—many of them written on and enacted through the body in dress and modes of walking—gave it the immediate feeling of an immersive, hermetic environment. João was a gregarious Brazilian capoeirista and vegetarian in his late forties who had been in the offshore oil and gas business for twenty-eight years. He had been on the FIPCO 330 rig through a series of contracts that took him from the Irish Sea to Turkey, then Angola, the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, and now Equatorial Guinea. Built in 1973 in a Texas shipyard, owned by offshore drilling contractor SeaTrekker, the FIPCO, and many of the men on board, moved around the world from contract to contract under the Liberian flag—a mobile technosocial assemblage at work today in Equatorial Guinea’s offshore waters as it had been in Turkey’s, as it would be in Ghana’s. Operating companies—the ExxonMobils, Chevrons, and British Petroleums of the world—contract with offshore drilling contractors, including SeaTrekker, for rigs like the FIPCO, paying up to $1  million  per day for their offshore rental. With workers like João already on board, contracted rigs move into position to begin the grueling twenty-four-hour workdays that will eventually bring crude oil to the surface. On the day of my visit, the FIPCO was inhabited by a rainbow coalition of 115 workers from twenty different nations: Australia, Brazil, Britain, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Equatorial Guinea, France, India, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Romania, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Ukraine, the United States, and Venezuela. Of the workers on board, only four worked directly for the operating company, which I will call “Smith,” and only twenty-five worked directly for SeaTrekker. The remaining eighty-six men were hired from fifteen different subcontracting companies, which provided everything from directional drilling experts to onboard cooks, radio operators, and mud engineers. In total, seventeen different companies were at work on the rig. Within this multinational, multicompany crew, there were unambiguous working hierarchies: the offshore installation manager was at the top, with three supervisors under

264  Hannah Appel him, four “leads” under them, and then a series of workers organized by “levels,” two through five, with five being the lowest. On the FIPCO, as well as the other rigs I studied, Americans or Canadians of European descent held top positions almost without exception, with nationalities diversifying through the middle levels, and Equatoguinean workers at the bottom, a few of them in level three. Men were assigned sleeping quarters on the rig according to their level, with those at the top in private rooms and those at the bottom in cramped bunks that held four or more people. Nationality is central to this form of labor organization. Subcontracting companies calculate a worker’s pay and rotation schedule according to his nation of origin, using cost-of-living indices from the international ratings agency Standard & Poor’s. According to this system of differentiation, American and British laborers work a “28/28,” twenty-eight days on in Equatorial Guinea and twenty-eight days off at home, considered the best schedule. Filipino workers have the least desirable schedule: eleven weeks on and three weeks off (an “11/3”). Firms, including those in my research, have long argued that wage, schedule, and facilities segregation is not a question of racism but of skill level (Vitalis 2007). Certainly, increasingly specialized methods of oil extraction (offshore, oil sands, shale oil) require increasingly specialized labor. These specializations then map onto geographic inequalities in the production and dissemination of technical knowledge and expertise—without electricity in the country’s sole university, Equatoguineans do not have PhDs in geology. And yet, in my work with locals who did occupy semitechnical positions—radio or crane operator—they complained repeatedly to me that even after years of work, they were kept indefinitely at the level of “trainee” and paid accordingly. “When they bring a [white] South African . . . I have to guide him but I’m the ‘trainee,’ ” one worker explained. “I  spend six months showing him the work, and once these six months are finished he becomes my boss, and I’m still the ‘trainee.’ ” In other words, unequal opportunities for training and education aside, even when two workers do the same job they are often still paid and scheduled according to their nationality, a categorization that often maps too neatly onto race. Dividing labor by race, of course, has been a strategy to inhibit worker solidarity and organizing far beyond the world’s mineral frontiers. On offshore rigs, platforms, and FPSOs that strategy is given new lived empirics: work comes in short, intense bursts of mere weeks at a time; workers never know with whom they will be working on any given rotation or what language he will speak; and workers are only ever together under the watchful eye of management, quite literally in a claustrophobic floating metal atoll. You cannot steal away to a bar, join one another for a home-cooked meal, much less hold an organizing meeting at a local church in your off-hours if some of you are in the Philippines, others in Venezuela, and

Offshore  Work  265 still others in Equatorial Guinea. Equatoguineans, in theory, could meet one another for labor organizing over dinner, and indeed many rig workers with whom I worked were friends or family, and socialized in their time off. But beneath the enduring pall of la triste memoria, discussed above, and a dictatorial regime strengthened by oil money, Equatoguineans did not feel they could meet openly with one another to discuss anything remotely political. This pervasive fear reproduced the already-industrious relationship between Equatorial Guinea’s authoritarian state and the U.S. oil firms. Offshore infrastructure in Equatorial Guinea does not enable a novel configuration of racist labor practices. Rather, it facilitates the continuity of practices that are increasingly untenable onshore, but that go back over one hundred years across the world’s oil frontiers. As Vitalis (2007) writes, “Texaco, Chevron, Exxon, and Mobil accumulated decades of experience in dozens of locales: Beaumont, Bakersfield, Coalinga, Maracaibo, Oilville, and Tampico. And they laid out each field and camp everywhere the same way, decade after decade, with the labor force divided, segregated, and paid different wages according to race. . . . The incontrovertible fact is that it was a purposeful strategy deployed consistently and unaltered across most of a century . . . one of the great, usually unheralded feats of social engineering by transnational oil companies” (2007, 22). In extraction’s offshore age the kinds of social worlds produced on mobile rigs and platforms enable these practices of segregation to continue, facilitated by the seeming disappearance of the infrastructure on which they take place. While on the rig, the workers’ three- to six-week hitches were characterized by grueling twenty-four-hour workdays in which shifts lasted twelve hours. Given that the rig ran constantly, however, everyone was on call at all times. The twenty-four-hour intensity of their workdays was shaped both by the material requirements of the drilling process and by the exorbitant daily rental rates on rigs. In deepwater drilling—the work being done on the FIPCO—specific stages of the process must be executed without pause. Formation collapse, for instance, is a material risk in the drilling process that demands twenty-four-hour attention. Once you have drilled to a certain depth, you have to “case off” the hole, installing large iron tubes to stop the hole from collapsing. If the borehole is not cased off in time, the drill bit and all the “ jewelry”—an industry term for the valuable technical components used in the drilling process—will be buried in the formation collapse. Twenty-four-hour work is also required to provide protection against overpressurized formations and sudden releases of gas. These biophysical requirements for constant work, coupled with daily losses in the millions of dollars if drilling cannot proceed, give a sense of the forms of sociotechnical pressure (Anand 2011) simultaneously at work on the rig.

266  Hannah Appel Because uninterrupted work was required, each employee had his “back to back”: when one man left the rig to spend his twenty-eight days off, another man with the same job description came to take over the constant work during his twenty-eight days on. As they flew on and off the FIPCO, most of the foreign workers barely set foot on Equatoguinean soil. Though incoming workers would fly into the Malabo or Bata airport, they often then flew immediately out to a platform via helicopter or spent one night in private company compounds before leaving for the rig the next morning. As one Filipino rig worker put it to me, “I live here like I did in Angola: from the airport to the rig.” He voiced a common refrain, echoed again by a U.S. drilling manager who worked both on rigs and in his company’s private compound in Bata: “I rarely if ever go out in public. From the rig to the office. I’ve rotated into Equatorial Guinea for six years and I’ve maybe gone out for dinner twelve times. One of my [Guinean employees] says he’s disappointed I’ve never come to his house for dinner.” Mobile technologies and mobile labor forces organized by contracts and subcontracts moved the technosocial assemblage that is the FIPCO 330 from Turkey to Equatorial Guinea to Ghana, all under the Liberian flag. Indeed, when I wrote João to request a follow-up stay on the rig, he responded with the following e-mail: “Surprise! We no longer work with SMITH but with another client named Regal Energy.  .  .  . You have to rush as we will soon leave to Congo, around the beginning of August.” In the three months between March and June 2008, the rig had not only switched operating companies (and, consequently, locations at sea) but had also gotten sailing orders for the Congo, with João and others in tow. The FIPCO’s circulation through the world’s oil-rich waters and the men flying to the mobile rig from Australia, Venezuela, and nearly everywhere in between to inhabit an immersive world of embodied safety rituals and rigid working hierarchies at least partially allow extraction, production, transport, and marketization of subsea hydrocarbon deposits to proceed in Equatorial Guinea as in the Congo and in Angola. These are the day-today sociomaterial practices that make the aporia of the offshore, that allow Equatorial Guinea to recede into the distance from the helicopter window. The assemblage is hardly seamless. “The offshore” requires tremendous logistical coordination and financial investment not only to contract and translocate some of the largest mobile infrastructure in the world but also to bring in the necessary labor—in the case of the FIPCO rig alone, 115 men and their labor twins from twenty different nations and seventeen different companies. Nevertheless, that the FIPCO 330 is still able to simply move on to the Congo, where the offshore installation manager will have to find a French translator for the new local crew, shows how this assemblage facilitates consequential forms of disentanglement from

Offshore  Work  267 the specificities of place. The daily working lives of these men allow them quite reasonably to inhabit a world that seems fundamentally separate from the industry’s deep ties with Equatorial Guinea’s political, environmental, and social life. As an object within the oil assemblage, the operations of FIPCO suggest that the transnational oil and gas industry in Equatorial Guinea is a modular capitalist project: a bundled and repeating set of technological, social, political, and economic practices aimed at profit-making that the industry works to build wherever companies find commercially viable hydrocarbon deposits. Whereas extraction sites around the world—from the North Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, from Equatorial Guinea to Malaysia—vary radically, the people, technology, contractual regimes, and infrastructure the oil industry brings to them do not (Barry 2006). The contents of this bundle change as technologies and regulations change over time, as the relationship between companies and local power holders evolves, and in response to previous—often negative—experiences, so that the module’s instantiation in Equatorial Guinea (beginning in the 1990s) looks quite different than its instantiation in Nigeria or Angola (beginning in the 1960s). Most important, the making of modularity requires a tremendous amount of work, which is intended to navigate the specificity of each extraction site within the oil market’s legal, fiscal, and regulatory conditions of possibility. In this work-intensive quest for frictionless profit, messy engagement with difference is the assumed starting point; the hoped-for framing requires massive logistical and infrastructural investment; and the intended distancing from local conditions is compromised at its core, as the industry can only animate the repeating extraction, production, and marketing processes widely accepted as standardized by seeping into every crevice of Equatorial Guinea’s daily life. Mobile, flexible, and licit, the architecture of modular infrastructures, labor, and contracting regimes tends not toward external standardization, as so many anxious accounts of globalization feared, but, rather, internal self-containment (see also Riles 2011). Modular or prefabricated structures do not require changing the zoning code but, instead, come with an anticipatory relationship to place and time—legally compliant, mobile, without foundation, impermanent, and disposable or reusable elsewhere. So too with offshore oil platforms, contracts and subcontracts, and mobile labor forces. These are work-intensive efforts to create juridical and even geographic spaces in which companies can abide by their own rules, bring their own technologies, infrastructures, evidentiary and legal regimes, and people—laborers, lawyers, technicians, consulting firms, specialists, and managers. Anna Tsing has written of global capitalism that “the closer we look at the commodity chain, the more every step—even transportation—can

268  Hannah Appel be seen as an arena of cultural production . . . yet the commodity must emerge as if untouched by this friction” (2005, 51). Indeed, the technology, labor, contracts, and imaginaries that move hydrocarbons from subsea to futures market are full of the messy frictions of cultural production, not only in their entanglements with Equatorial Guinea’s political and infrastructural landscapes but also with the temporalities of rotating workers and the mobility of certain forms of hierarchy and discrimination. And yet the commodity does emerge “as if untouched” by this friction. How? Modularity draws our attention to infrastructure’s productive, though ever-incomplete, work in the name of frictionlessness and disentanglement. At issue here is the oil industry’s intentional disengagement from sociopolitical membership in Equatorial Guinea. For profit to emerge “as if untouched” by the sites of production, here the rig must seem to be as far away as possible from the deep contractual complicity between the operating companies and the Equatoguinean state, as far away as possible from communities that might make claims on companies for environmental degradation or gainful employment. This is the haunted fantasy of the offshore.

Frictionless Profit? Like offshore financial setups, offshore oil operations are predicated on the idea that there are spaces where the production of profit can evade or minimize contestation (Zalik 2009; Reed 2009). Industry advocates frame offshore infrastructure as removed from political entanglements, community entitlements, discernable forms of pollution in inhabited areas, or militant attacks and bunkering focused on accessible pipelines (see Gelber, this volume). That the entire commodity chain, from exploration to processing to export, can take place in the middle of the ocean, without ever touching land, seems to at least partially remove oil and gas companies from the most visible and most controversial consequences of their industry. For the expatriate managers and Equatoguinean government appointees with whom I worked, this was the fantasy of the offshore. And, indeed, it is an infrastructural fantasy in the industry that predates offshore extraction. Timothy Mitchell (2011) and Daniel Yergin (1991) before him have both argued that “oil pipelines were invented as a means of reducing the ability of humans to interrupt the flow of energy” (Mitchell 2011, 36; Makholm 2012). The fluidity of oil, Mitchell points out, allows for its travel in pipelines, and pipelines are less vulnerable to disruption than the railroad cars that carry coal. Moreover, because oil is largely an export commodity moving by ship, companies can take advantage of the regulatory arbitrage

Offshore  Work  269 allowed by flags of convenience practices in transoceanic shipping, thus the fact, as stated above, that the FIPCO moved under the Liberian flag, and hence the workers on it under Liberian labor law. Infrastructure, in other words, is envisioned, built, and operated to solve political problems simultaneously with and even paramount to its material capacities—politics by other means. If, as Larkin (2013, 329) has it, infrastructure’s peculiar ontology is as a thing and as the relationship between things, then oil infrastructure has long been envisioned as a mediator between the materiality of a resource and the smooth functioning of capitalist exchange. Part of infrastructure’s affective power (to which Larkin also draws our attention) emanates from the enfolding of political projects into concrete, steel, copper wire, or asphalt. That infrastructures enfold political projects into their materialities should not be taken as an insight of contemporary critical theory, somehow a radical rejoinder to naturalized assumptions about infrastructure. During my time in Equatorial Guinea, industry managers with whom I worked discussed infrastructure openly as a conduit of conduct. To illustrate: liquid hydrocarbons seep to the surface on both the continental and island landmasses of Equatorial Guinea. Locals note the seeps. Expatriate geologists working for American companies know about them as well. And yet there is no onshore exploration in Equatorial Guinea. Why? Because the industry’s cost-benefit analyses of prospective infrastructure projects weigh not only the quality of crude, the distance to market, and the anticipated cost of extraction but also, centrally, perceived risk. According to one expatriate geologist, whose own iterative career had taken him from Guatemala to Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, Houston, Algeria, Angola, and, finally, Equatorial Guinea, “an onshore well in Algeria costs three million dollars. Offshore here wells are from fifteen to eighty  million [dollars]. If you do find a large onshore reservoir it’s very economic, but there are associated political risks. If this country were to go through a civil war our structures out in the water are safe. But look at Nigeria; nothing’s to stop people from coming onto your facility, stopping production, blowing up the facility.” This geologist helps us to see that the choice to go offshore is not merely a response to ecological constraints (an exhaustion of onshore resources) or dominant technological developments in the field that make subsea extraction increasingly viable. Rather, the offshore becomes a space of capitalist desire—a space where “associated political risks” seem to be avoided. Because onshore reserves are generally smaller than offshore discoveries, the infrastructure required for their extraction is cheap, comparatively small, and easy to construct. Onshore infrastructures require fewer personnel, simpler logistics, and far less money. Offshore wells, by contrast, can cost over one million dollars per day, depending on depth and ocean conditions, and require vast infrastructure in the middle of

270  Hannah Appel the ocean. Offshore platforms can have up to thirty wellheads, with directional drilling allowing subsea reservoirs to be accessed at different depths and remote positions up to five miles away. Significantly riskier technologically, mechanically, and economically, the offshore setup is one in which things can and do go wrong, as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe so ferociously showed. At ten times the price and double the personnel of onshore drilling, disentanglement can hardly be said to inhere in the model. But the distance from Equatoguinean “politics” provided by the helicopter ride is considered well worth the additional investment. American managers in Equatorial Guinea also characterized the offshore in this way—not as an operations question (simply where one finds the resource) but as a political question. Three different managers (two Americans and one Brit) offered remarkably consonant offshore aspirations: Offshore makes it easier. Reduces investment risk.  .  .  . You’re not exposed—you’re shielded from the masses. You can control the interaction and contain the asset. It’s a clean containment. If a boat drifts in our area we call the navy. There’s a lot less opportunity for negative interaction and distraction. In Nigeria people steal oil. We don’t have that. It’s clean. Less leakage, shrinkage. Controls are tight. It’s expensive offshore but it’s clean. No laying pipelines through jungles, uprooting villages. There’s nobody out there. We lay pipelines in the seabed and it doesn’t bother anyone. Offshore has made it easier. You’re on an island, if you know what I’m saying. Diamond mines in Angola are an absolute nightmare. Armies get to you. Pirates get to you. [You have to] have massive South African war vets to secure the places. When you’re out there on an oil rig you’ve got a huge moat around you. That has made it easier. It’s more expensive to get the oil out of the ground but you don’t have to worry about onshore issues, which are massive expenses.

For these managers, the offshore offered the possibility of control and containment of potentially volatile sociopolitical situations (note the comparisons with Nigerian oil and Angolan diamond mining) and of profit margins (less “leakage” and “shrinkage”). In their narratives, the offshore setup at least forestalled the risks of visible spills and attack by armies, by oil bunkerers, or by the militant insurgent group in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which was often rumored to be planning an attack on Equatoguinean installations.

Offshore  Work  271 Avoided too in the offshore setup, as these managers narrate it, is the unpleasant task of relocating entire villages and negotiating the attendant set of community claims for employment, for reparations, for development projects, and the subsequent security problems for which “massive South African war vets” have been hired in the past to secure onshore installations. The idealized industrial offshore in these managers’ descriptions coincides with the evocative promises of the financial offshore, sites “of disinterested and placeless economic interaction” (Cameron and Palan 2004, 105). In avoiding the risks people bring, these managers envisioned the offshore setup as reducing contestation, even if it could not be evaded completely. The extent to which the accessibility of infrastructure in other places and times across hydrocarbon history haunts these descriptions of the offshore in Equatorial Guinea is particularly telling. Nigeria floats to the surface in the geologist’s description, South Africa and Angola in the managers’ descriptions. Histories of uprooting villages, laying pipelines through inhabited jungles, and resistance to those actions cut across the industry’s collective memory. From Saudi Arabia to Mexico, early oil work was typified by foreign companies bringing in massive onshore infrastructures, what William Reno (2000, 11) refers to as BYOI or Bring Your Own Infrastructure for extraction, production, and export. Local labor in these sites, brought in initially as construction workers, cooks, or technical trainees, lived in tents, cheek by jowl with American and European workers in the most comfortable enclaved conditions. Robert Vitalis (2007) and novelist Abdelrahman Munif (1987), among others, have chronicled how this intimate segregation of domestic infrastructures led to worker organizing, strikes, and eventually nationalization across the twentieth century. But offshore infrastructure changed the course of that trend, and Equatorial Guinea came onstream just at the historical moment when—largely in response to the unmitigated disaster of Nigeria—the industry decided that the offshore was a useful organizing principle not only for industrial operations but also as a guiding metaphor for its relationship to production sites more broadly. And yet, it is important to resist the temptation to think of offshore infrastructure as a clean break, a technical change that somehow enabled radically different forms of work, profit-making, or corporate relationships to place. Rather, we might better understand offshore infrastructure as enabling certain forms of continuity: practices that had been met with increasing resistance onshore—paying workers according to race, providing separate and strikingly unequal housing facilities, lack of meaningful training or technology transfer opportunities—can be newly naturalized in offshore work, ostensibly explained by the novel technosocial

272  Hannah Appel configuration of the open ocean, the geophysical demands of subsea hydrocarbon, and the forms of infrastructure necessary to respond to those conditions.

If oil appears to affect the producer states largely after its transformation into flows of money, that appearance reflects the building of pipelines, the placing of refineries, the negotiation of royalties, and other arrangements. . . . The transformation of oil into large and unaccountable government incomes is . . . the outcome of particular ways of engineering political relations out of flows of energy. —Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil

Following the FIPCO and the people who animate it, I have explored the work required to make the view from the helicopter possible: the daily practices that allow the specificities of Equatorial Guinea to recede into the distance as the oil and gas industry profits spectacularly from the country’s subsea resources. Offshore infrastructure, as a work-intensive and always-unfinished project of frictionless profit making, contributes to this effect of disentanglement. As Mitchell and others have suggested, this distancing work can be found in specific projects that engineer “political relations out of flows of energy” (2011, 5; see also Barry 2006 and 2013). Here, the intentional removal of infrastructure from land partially abets the smooth flow of capitalist exchange by enabling the continuity of certain relationships between capital, labor, and technology that had lost their legitimacy elsewhere. The transnational oil industry makes choices based on infrastructure’s potential to control risk, and thus politics are enfolded into its materialities. Today’s rigs and platforms aim to anticipate the forms of politics by which earlier infrastructures were once destabilized. As Larkin (2013) insists, infrastructure here carries far more than the crude, seawater, or liquid natural gas for which it is, at least in part, designed. Infrastructure is “matter that enables the movement of other matter” (Larkin 2013, 329); it is also matter that enables the movement, literally the mobility, of certain forms of politics—inequality, racism, the disempowerment of workers. This allows us to expand Larkin’s point about affect: it is not only awe and fascination with infrastructure from afar that stimulates political effects, but as infrastructure comes to intimately shape people’s daily lives, the rhythms of their labor, their relationships to one another, it begins to occupy a central role in what Mazzarella (2010) has called the “professional coordination of affect” or affect management (2010, 298). Infrastructure has a synesthetic effect wherein race becomes sensuous, tactile—who you sleep with, and in how big a room; how long

Offshore  Work  273 you can rest at home, and how long your hitches on the rig last; the relative heft of an S&P-calculated paycheck reflecting the fungibility of Filipinos and Colombians, Brits and Nigerians offshore. As Brian Massumi writes, “the ability of affect to produce an economic effect more swiftly and surely than economics itself means that affect is itself a real condition . . . as infrastructural as a factory” (1995, 106). Mobile technologies, infrastructures, and workforces in the middle of the ocean frame the industry’s work as self-contained, separate from the local conditions in which they are, in fact, so deeply implicated and on which they rely. I have referred to these mobile, licit practices in the transnational oil and gas industry as a modular capitalist project, in which intentional disentanglement from and thinning of liability for local conditions is intentional, always incomplete, and, in fact, requires sticky entanglements with local people and environments. And yet the unrelenting political disentanglement, legal compliance, and spectacular profit the oil industry produces in Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere attest to modularity’s effects in the world and, in turn, to our obligation to account for those effects. For the oil industry, Equatorial Guinea is, in consequential ways, just like Kazakhstan. Rather than explain this resemblance as symptomatic of the global systematicity of capitalism or try to refute it through ethnographic specificity, I  have traced the practices that make this precarious and work-intensive accomplishment possible. Taking a cue from Nigel Thrift (2005), following infrastructure as one of the many means of “producing stable repetition” (3) that are now available to hydrocarbon capitalism helps us to understand the how of certain transnational capitalist projects. Where critical theorists often dwell on the shortcomings of misrepresentation—that nation-states can be conflated, that capitalism is the same everywhere—this project follows the U.S. oil companies that are profitably at work in the world these “mis” representations help to organize (Ferguson 2006; Latour 2005; Mitchell 2002). If Tsing (2009, 172) urges attention to humanitarian and environmental scandals that riddle supply chains as crucial openings for criticism and oppositional mobilization, infrastructure draws our attention, in addition, to the opposite: the licit techniques and technologies that make these contingent practices that operate on the edge of legitimacy formally legitimate, legal, felicitous, and productive of extraordinary profit.

Chapter 13

Black Oil Business Rogue Pipelines, Hydrocarbon Dealers, and the “Economics” of Oil Theft Elizabeth Gelber, Columbia University

A set of signboards addressed to “Pipeline Vandals” is posted along a bundle of green and white pipelines at the back of the National Refinery in Warri, Nigeria. One reads: “What will you do at your old age if you cannot stop stealing now that you have the strength to do legitimate work?” Another: “What will you bequest to your family and children who are watching you steal?” Sponsored by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, both signs have imprinted a final order in the bottom right corner: “Vandalism is bad to the national economy, shun it!” The signboards, glowing white with a fresh coat of paint, paradoxically try to set moral parameters for the practice of “illegal bunkering,” branded the scourge of Nigeria’s oil industry. In technical terms, illegal bunkering involves breaching the thick steel pipelines that pump and circulate the nation’s oil. Bunkerers weld their own illicit taps to the infrastructure in order to divert oil to wooden boats and rusty barges. The crude is sold either to an international black market syndicate or, more often, to a burgeoning “local refinery” outfit wherein cheap illicit diesel is produced in boilers set inside the mangrove forest. With production losses to illegal bunkering estimated at 20% of daily output, these activities are often rendered under rubrics of illegitimate accumulation—as theft. And yet, the implicit messages of the signboards suggest slippages taking place within this rendering: Why is stealing equated with an act of vandalism, a term that denotes defacement and damage of property? How can a potential threat to national prosperity and social reproduction be raised as a matter of technical and personal integrity? Moreover, to whom are

Black Oil Business   275 the signboards addressed? To the Niger Delta residents living around the pipelines, whose communities have become hosts for the illicit hydrocarbon trade? To the oil or refinery workers, who have a sideline selling key information about which line to tap? Or to the naval guards stationed at the security checkpoint adjacent to the signboards who collect payments from illegal shipments of oil? In this chapter I examine how illegal bunkering, while posed as a threat to the Nigerian oil industry and economy, at the same time is intimately entwined within the technical production apparatuses and its nodes of regulation and control. I show how illegal bunkering is part and parcel of shifting subcontracting practices, regulatory and security agendas, and is, therefore, a critical aspect of the social and political worlds taking shape around oil. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research  conducted with Nigerian oil workers and transnational managers as well as residents from oil host communities involved with the illegal oil trade, I suggest that illegal bunkering activities have not only become entangled with legal oil business, but have become essential to them. Rather than reading bunkering as a vandalization of Nigeria’s national oil economy, I argue that extractive practice and economic rationalities are given coherence in and through the machinations of the bunkerer. Since the mid-1990s, Nigeria has become the boogeyman of the oil industry, a warning tale in which a cast of monolithic actors—the state, the transnational corporation, and indigenous communities—are locked in an often violent contest to control profits and proceeds from extraction. This chapter  works to complicate this view on two levels. First, inspired by recent calls to examine the way oil is “extracted, processed, shipped and consumed” (Mitchell 2011, 2), I wish to trouble assumptions that the seizure of oil is simply about the seizure of oil rents. This perspective relies on set narratives about oil’s association with resource predation (Karl 1997; Ross 1999) and the looting of national coffers. It fails to note that the infrastructures and institutions producing the oil, far from being monadic, are an active and dynamic part of power and politics in oil producing states (Ferguson 2006; Watts 2004a). By following how bunkered oil is diverted and sold, this chapter performs a kind of vivisection of infrastructural systems disciplining Nigeria’s hydrocarbons, approaching them as concrete sites where multiple actors, histories, and institutions converge. Second, while depictions of Nigeria’s petro-complex (Watts, 2005) tend to emphasize its volatile nature, I present an ethnographic account of the intimacies and practical relationships (of which bunkering is a part) that have developed alongside tensions in the oil fields. Political struggle and repressive state violence in the Niger Delta often cycle with cease-fires and periods of rehabilitation. Here I draw focus toward the material and social logics undergirding these shifts.

276  Elizabeth Gelber The general guiding principle to this chapter is that bunkering cannot be approached as a single thing. Part menace, part pastiche of the oil economy writ large, it engages a range of actors, instruments, and practices and is taken up within varying discourses. Each section follows the way in which bunkering becomes part of a particular constellation. I begin by examining how designations of illegal and legal activities connected to bunkering have become a way of resignifying extraction activities. The figure of the oil thief, I argue, develops largely as an instrument to render certain effects legible and others illegible. Taking up the concept of black oil business, the term used by oil-producing communities, I then consider how the production infrastructure acts as a porous border, complicating the ways through which social and political stakes are registered and expressed. Finally, looking at how industrial corporations seeking to secure their operations have responded to threats, I suggest that black oil business has become an instrument for managing risk itself.

Naming the Thief In 2010, ten miles downriver from the Warri Refinery and the signboards, in the oil-producing communities around the Escravos River, bunkering and local refining were on the rise. The morning sky was streaked with black plumes of smoke from sets of jerry-rigged iron basins—improvised fractional distillation units—heating crude deep in the mangrove forest to produce diesel, gasoline, and kerosene. Tankers waiting for shipments of illicit products to take to neighboring countries and ports would double in the night. The whir of pumps filling cargo hulls hummed in the darkness. Yet the local refining industry was hardly hidden. During the day massive wooden boats loaded with five-thousand-liter plastic tanks (known as GeePee tanks) of locally refined products plied the river ways nonchalantly. Worn and discarded rubber hoses used to transfer crude littered the riverbanks like the entrails of some wounded hydrocarbon beast. Local refiners often hitched their load of contraband to a jetty in a community referred to as “Back-of-fence,” quite literally, a village situated just behind a razor-wired fence sealing off a tank farm and a new gas installation being constructed by a large transnational company, Vero.1 Inside Vero’s production site, oil and gas harvested from wellheads across the western Delta were being stored, processed, and prepared for scheduled offloading. Since Shell first struck “black gold” in 1956, Nigeria’s oil extraction operations have grown to become one of the world’s 1.  In order to protect the anonymity of particular informants I use pseudonyms for all names, companies, and infrastructural projects.

Black Oil Business   277 most extensive onshore infrastructures, with 159 oil fields and 1,481 wellheads scattered across thousands of kilometers of dense, riverine mangrove forest. Over seven thousand kilometers of pipeline provide the connective tissue between fields and the six export terminals from which oil is shipped to refineries around the world (Garuba 2013). The fence around Vero’s operations tries to establish a division between two separate spheres of production. On one side, steel pumps and manifolds that discipline the oil are managed and regulated by highly trained logistics experts, project managers, and safety officers. Flowing from ground to market, Nigerian oil, given the name Bonny Light, is traded and sold to feed the energy needs of global cosmopolitan centers, including the United States, which purchases 40% of all Nigerian exports (U.S. Energy Information Administration 2011). On the other side, hydrocarbons in plastic basins are squeezed precariously into wooden boats, leaving a murky residue on the water as they disappear into the mangrove forest. The former requires the building and streamlining of infrastructural connections by licensed practitioners while the latter works by breaking and destroying connections, a messy and criminal venture. However, while there appears a natural division, a quick glance at the history of illegal bunkering points to the ways the practice has in fact become an essential instrument for framing legitimate and illegitimate circulations in the Nigerian oil fields. Large-scale illegal bunkering was first organized by high-level military officers and industry insiders in the early 1990s. However, in 2002, militia groups from oil-producing areas began to sabotage key infrastructural sites and to sell bunkered oil themselves. As proceeds were used to fund an armed social movement against the government and its transnational partners, the practice quickly achieved notoriety. Playing on the technical term for legally loading oil into a vessel, “bunkering,” the illegal double has since become so pervasive in media and industry reports on Nigeria that it is often simply referred to as “bunkering” itself, having overgrown its referent. By 2008 groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had shut-in about a quarter of the nation’s daily output, meaning that production was deferred. In mid-2009 the government launched a full-scale attack on the insurgency, reducing communities hosting militants to rubble. After a cease-fire and amnesty agreement was signed between militant groups and the government in late 2009 it was assumed that production numbers would quickly rebound. However, in the following two years pipeline breaches rose astronomically, by 224% in 2011 over the previous year, from 860 to a total of 2,787 detected breaks (NNPC 2011). Despite the fact that these activities could no longer be directly linked to particular insurgent groups, the inflating numbers were

278  Elizabeth Gelber matched by inflationary rhetoric. Transnational operators threatened to invoke force majeure, placing interruptions to lines on a par with natural disasters and warfare, allowing them to suspend their production contracts without penalty. Meanwhile, government officials voiced concerns that oil thieves, much like the militants, were embroiling the country in a crisis that threatened not merely its fiscal solvency but also its sovereign authority. Sounding the alarm over what he termed “oil pipeline marauders,” the managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company warned that “we may as well wake up to discover that they [oil thieves] have taken over the entire country” (Adeoye and Onwuemenyi 2012). Since 2010, the government has launched multiple campaigns to destroy local refineries and repair busted pipelines. Despite these measures, bunkering continues to resurface in the Niger Delta creeks with renewed vigor. Accounting for 80% of federal government revenue (Energy Economist 2009) oil in Nigeria has long been symbolically identified as the “lifeblood” of the nation, producing large windfalls of rents, whose power, as oil money, underwrites sovereign control (Apter 2005; Coronil 1997). The illegal siphoning of oil is thus often equated with the draining of government coffers into the private pockets of state elites and with the rising indices of corruption within state modes of accumulation and distribution. Kenneth Omeje has written that bunkering simply reproduces the logics of a wider national political field marked by “clientalistic desperation” and the acquisition of “quick and enormous surplus value” (Omeje 2006). The pipeline, like the national coffers, is represented as a site of extraction itself, as the continuation of “high-stake accumulation” in a different field (Omeje 2006, 20). This view is premised on the fact that the state, which retains legal ownership of production and of all mineral resources, has consistently slashed returns to oil-producing areas whose minority communities bear the brunt of numerous industrial spills and hazardous gas flaring.2 During the militant period (2003–09), activities such as interrupting production were accompanied by demands for compensation, environmental rehabilitation, greater resource control, and political recognition from the state, combining sabotage and bunkering with an explicit political agenda (Watts 2005; Ifeka 2006; Frynas 1997). Thus, bunkering was read as a symptom of a wider state neglect and as part of a struggle to recuperate losses by those marginalized by larger hegemonic powers. Yet since the 2009 amnesty, bunkering is often mistaken—to rather strategic ends—as a causal agent 2.  Through a federal allocation system oil revenues—obtained from only nine oilproducing states—are directed to the center and distributed to Nigeria’s thirty-six states. Although new constitutional arrangements increased revenue sharing from 1.5% to 13% in 1999, the amount was still far below desired sharing agreements.

Black Oil Business   279 of violence itself., an industry-sponsored website that has created an archive of hundreds of news clippings and academic papers to define, track, and treat the rash of theft, explains in its mission statement that “theft of oil costs oil companies, governments (and the communities they serve) hundreds of millions of dollars each year in Nigeria alone. In addition to loss of revenue, oil theft fuels violence and insecurity, feeds corruption, finances the purchase of weapons, corrupts youth, escalates youth unemployment, causes environmental pollution and destabilizes communal life.”3 Like the proverbial dominoes, oil theft activates a cascading row of losses, to corporate and state revenue streams and to the safety and security of small fishing villages. These losses are figured as part of a causal chain where oil-producing communities are merely the pawns in a larger criminal enterprise. As Anna Zalik has observed, such statements work to ensure “that ‘abusive’ relations of extraction—those that cause pollution, contribute to corruption, and eruptions of violence—come to be associated with bunkering activities, rather than the (state sanctioned) operations of multinational oil companies” (Zalik 2011, 263).4 A series of videos posted to YouTube by Shell one year after the amnesty underscores this notion. In one scene we meet a Nigerian oil worker in bright orange coveralls walking through a black oil spill explaining to viewers: “It’s fair to say that [oil theft] is being run by highly organized criminal gangs. . . . I  feel very sad, not just because of the economic sabotage but because of the environment, because of the fact that some unscrupulous person decided to get rich destroying our environment which we should be leaving for our future children.”5 Echoing the signboards above, social and environmental dissolution is again linked to “economic sabotage.” Even though legal oil operators have spilled between five hundred thousand and two  billion barrels of oil,6 the implicit suggestion is that ending oil theft is key to rehabilitating the Nigerian environment, economy, and future—returning it to a state of verdant reproductivity. The figure  of “theft” therefore provides the vehicle against which a future tied to economic tenets of transparency and accountability must be safeguarded, “a metaphysics of order” wherein the state as legitimate owner guaranteed by transnational capital can be projected as a moral endeavor (Comaroff and Comaroff 2006, 279). 3. 4.  As the United Nations Environment Programme launched an investigation into the corporation’s liability for decades of pollution in Ogoniland, these arguments were more pervasive. Bunkering has become a common defense in multiple ongoing legal cases, wherein corporations claim that oil theft is responsible for the majority of environmental destruction. 5.  See 6.  Estimates of spills range depending on the source.

280  Elizabeth Gelber And yet, in shaping the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate oil infrastructures and accumulations, the thief remains a mysterious figure, one that feels intentionally vague and unnamed. The explicit political claims made by militants using bunkering as an instrument of protest are also conspicuously absent. Instead, the actual beneficiaries of bunkering are now masked as “criminal gangs,” “corrupt elements,” and untraceable and apolitical actors like “pipeline marauders.” Yet, the missing agent here not only works to displace liability but, in vanishing, allows a simplified view of relations in the oil patch, assumed to be primarily about accessing oil wealth, to operate. Thus, emphasis is placed on where proceeds are directed rather than how social, technical, and institutional arrangements render diversions of oil possible.7 In other words, it does not, to adjust Timothy Mitchell’s (2011) insight for my purpose, account for how “illegal” oil is made. At Back-of-fence, for instance, bunkering and local refining appear very much part of licit industry. Those involved with the trade navigate the same volatile pathways as the oil companies and draw from similar resources. Construction trenches dug through thick brush by transnational operators become byways for those tapping pipelines. Bunkerers rely on a robust industry of boat and barge rentals that has flourished over the years as production infrastructures are built and repaired to transport their wares. The low sulfur content of Nigerian oil, which makes it cheap and easy to refine for industrial marketers, also makes it possible to boil in a pared-down local refinery operation. Part of the history of violence and peacemaking, building and breakdowns, and parsing of legal and illegal practices, bunkering must be considered as co-constitutive instead of merely opposed with industrial practices.

Black Oil Business: When a Pipeline Is Not Just a Pipeline Rather than “theft,” the common moniker given by residents in the Escravos area to trade in contraband oil is “black oil business.” As an empirical category, “black oil business” refers to the enterprise of selling hydrocarbon products on the black market. Although used interchangeably with “bunkering” or “bunkering business,” and sometimes with a negative connotation, the term is not associated with acts of theft and seizure but with a network of relations in which the line between the licit and illicit is often 7. Oil smuggling rings and black markets for energy have emerged alongside oilproducing networks in fields as vast and distinct as those in Mexico, Colombia, Iraq, and even the United States. Despite this, illicit oil rings are most often analyzed as local or national particularities; standard industry practices are not questioned.

Black Oil Business   281 blurred. While residents in oil producing communities tap pipelines and run refineries, it is local politicians or state elites that organize customers for their products. Military officers tasked with securing the national oil infrastructure also accept payment to ensure black oil shipments move unmolested. Technical and informational assistance on when and how to tap into certain lines is provided by national and transnational oil workers. Framed as black oil business, rather than oil theft, Vero’s fence acts as a porous boundary, across which both technical and social connections are made and unmade, reassembled, and repurposed. As the many essays in this volume attest, oil infrastructures are part of larger oil assemblages. They are made of pipelines and flow lines, shipping routes, and distribution centers. They engage an array of international knowledge and practices and are enmeshed in multiple institutional arrangements. The oil itself is disciplined through processes of translation and commensuration and a range of calculative instruments generating recognizable channels and common standards (Barry 2007). In the Niger Delta, the pipelines and wellheads running across the backyards of small fishing villages are also part of everyday experience, marking and mediating particular events (Larkin, 2008; Mrazek 2002). Black oil business, understanding oil infrastructures as part of local social worlds as well as part of wider state and transnational powers and processes, works to expand the oil assemblage from within. Yet it does so by circumventing its metrical tools and by marking out its aporias and disjunctions. As kilometers of pipelines and wellheads built across the riverine forest often go unwatched, it is easy for bunkering to go on undetected. Rather than tracking pressure levels and viscosity, local refining measurements are organized around the “native boat,” a large wooden vessel, and the “GeePee tank.”8 More critically, however, black oil business exploits gaps within nodes of control in the oil fields, particularly those that have been dislocated by successive policies and reforms to industrial practice. The majority of extraction sites in Nigeria are built and operated through joint ventures between the Nigerian National Petroleum Company and transnational corporations organized in a set of oft-obscured production-sharing agreements (see Yessenova, this volume). Although the government formally commands the joint ventures with its ownership equity, the foreign oil companies control the day-to-day operations of the installations. Moreover, building, repair, and maintenance work is often contracted out to large oil-servicing companies such as Julius Berger and Halliburton, which further subcontract to third-party national and indigenous

8.  At the time of my research, the going rate was four million naira ($US27,000) for a native boat with a full load of diesel.

282  Elizabeth Gelber companies. For example, a consortium of three international contractors subcontracted work to over 350 Nigerian companies during the construction of Vero’s new gas installation site. The proliferation of subcontracting in Nigeria has to do in part with industry-wide trends for offsetting expenses, cost, and liability by outsourcing to small, independent companies (see Appel, this volume). In Nigeria, nine out of every ten workers (regardless of skill) in the oil sector work as temporary or casual labor. They are hired by subcontractors who bid for jobs at the lowest possible cost—with workers wages and benefits shrinking as a result (Solidarity Center Report 2010). However, generalized reliance on subcontract work is both further entrenched and complicated by corporate social responsibility programs in the Niger Delta. Initially labeled “partnership development,” companies conducting work and erecting infrastructure in oil-producing towns and villages would provide funds for development projects and reserve spots for community workers. These were noncontractual, but they nevertheless became obligatory “gifting” practices as the corporations faced increasing criticism. Oil-producing communities likewise began to rely on corporate-sponsored programs, as they received ever shrinking revenues or support from government.9 Its latest iteration, a signed Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) promising a more “sustainable” approach to development, includes an agreement to provide communities with production supply contracts for fuel, equipment, and foodstuffs, producing what could be called a wave of sub-subcontractors. These programs, acting as mechanisms of consent in which compensation, development, and employment are blurred (Zalik 2004), are renegotiated every time a new project starts, resulting in labyrinthine bureaucratic orders. Each new construction, repair, or maintenance job, regardless of whether it is run by transnational or national companies, is subject to terms set down in Global Memorandums of Understanding. However, many subcontractors rarely have the time to meet community demands. When their work is complete, they leave, often without fulfilling the terms of the arrangement, moving on to a new contract in a new community. As production work is broken into smaller and shorter temporal agreements, the arrangements established to govern and delineate bodies and spaces around extraction actually render such spaces increasingly ungovernable. A frustrated accounting and finance manager for Vero’s main contractor went so far as to suggest that the threat he felt for his life during a previous posting in Iraq paled in comparison to the anxiety he experienced trying 9.  In other words, trying to placate communities was cheaper than implementing expensive safety mechanisms. See Zalik (2004) for a history of host community systems and social responsibility programs.

Black Oil Business   283 to set budgets for projects in Nigeria. Here, he lamented, “you never know where to pay the money so you can never feel sure of anything.” It is common for companies to blame the suspension of agreements with community on outbreaks of fighting or protest actions that interrupt work schedules. However, this view fails to take into account that unmet obligations and promises on the part of both the state and corporations have exacerbated the conditions that led to unrest in the first place (Courson 2009). Delta communities are littered with hollow concrete blocks, electrical poles without wires, water tanks without water, schools without desks, and hospitals without roofs situated next to rust-eaten signs announcing a never-to-rise development. The sudden influxes of cash that are pumped and dumped with various contracts into remote communities are hardly a case for sustainable development. A  leaked internal report on Shell’s own community policies in the Niger Delta explicitly names “short-term production targets [that] supersede long-term perspectives” as a contributing factor to community restiveness and notes that 70% of conflicts in the oil fields relate to contract work for which Shell, even while providing the contracts, is not legally liable (Shell Company in Nigeria Leaked Report 2004, 13). The fractioning of production contracts and the detritus amassing around oil infrastructure exacerbate precarious conditions by displacing risk onto oil-producing communities. However, new networks have developed in anticipation of such practices seeking to remake relationships to the business of extracting oil. Many who participate in black oil business, even as grunt labor, consider it just this, not employment but “business.” Samuel is a boat driver who had been employed by a subcontract company building a pipeline in his community. He described his employment there as “work.” When the company’s work stalled because of funding troubles a few months later he shifted job markets and became a ferryman for a local refinery ring. He referred to this as his “business.” When I asked him the difference, he explained: “Before, I was a just a worker for the company, not even staff. I moved people from here to there. They’d just yell at me, ‘go to this place, pick that person.’ This one is business, a real black oil business. Now, I am like a cable, like the pipeline. If you want something, I am the one to connect you to it.” Although his duties were very similar—he merely exchanged carrying people for carrying hydrocarbons, and he was still under the orders of a “bossman,” who referred to Samuel as his employee—black oil business is imagined here as not simply an exchange of work for remuneration but as an opportunity to build and engage strategic relationships that exceed and reconfigure those that are proscribed. In black oil business, as Samuel explains, the government soldiers, the oil worker looking for pay to supplement his slim wages, the politician trying to line his pockets, must

284  Elizabeth Gelber connect to you. Rather than being an employee, one’s personal benefit is tied up in the entire operation itself. Each successful shipment of black oil could give Samuel between 200,000 ($US1,300) and 300,000 naira, rather than the 40,000 ($US260) he earned as a boat driver for the subcontractor. Local refinery work is risky: it offers few safety measures, and fatal explosions and fires are not uncommon. However, black oil business has the advantage of large potential returns, enough to send his children to a secondary school in Warri. Moreover, it places Samuel at the center of an industry that appears no less subject to uncertainty than his job with the subcontractor who he explains packed up and vanished in the middle of the work, not knowing when Vero would approve their next round of funding. What might be thought of as forms of hedging and entrepreneurship required in the black oil business are also informed by the way everyday life has increasingly organized around oil infrastructures. A  number of informal circuits—foreign, national, and local—have developed to blunt the boom and bust of construction and repair cycles. Traders at Back-offence purchase leftover, imported food items from kitchen workers at Vero’s tank farm and vend the items, whose expiration dates have often passed, in nearby villages. Fisherwomen buy and resell gasoline toppings allotted to company boat drivers moving workers and equipment through the rivers. As pollution from oil spills depletes fish stocks, fishing camps, once central trading outposts for riverine communities, are transformed into recycling bazaars that showcase the sundries skimmed off company production inventories. Here, dwindling daily catches are displayed alongside discarded cuts of beef, a box of tinned milk from Vero’s canteen, and jerry cans of fuel pinched from a fuel subcontractor. In the Escravos area, black oil business has also attracted new vendors, fortune seekers, and capital for rebuilding communities that were destroyed during fighting. Whereas militant groups controlled bunkering during the fighting period, since the 2009 amnesty the size and scope of black oil business has grown enormously. Young men like Samuel, no longer tied to a tightly coordinated militant structure and free to move about the region, began looking for opportunities for work. They forged their own connections to politicians, nationally based petroleum distributors, and smugglers. Communities dependent on payments from contract and subcontract workers now also relied on money coming from black oil deals. Market women and bush bar owners would allow bunkerers and local refiners to run up large tabs in hopeful anticipation of earning more business if their shipments were successful. Although appearing to be a practice with its own set of rules, black oil business also shares key dynamics and power relations with hegemonic forms of order (Meagher 2010; Roitman 2006). Much like the sphere of

Black Oil Business   285 licit business, black oil monetizes a diffuse network of relations, both social and material, generating a kaleidoscopic field of participation. Local refineries have even been described as acting just like “self-created companies” (Ugor 2013). Under the larger purview of a political sponsor, bunkerers and local refiners operate as small mobile groups working within a discrete zone of the pipeline, seeking fast windfalls of profit. However, although certainly tied to political wrangling over control of the oil fields, black oil activities are not part of a contest to control revenues nor are they simply mimetic of state or corporate modes of accumulation. Rather, black oil business is about fastening connections to the production infrastructures around which forms of life and livelihood are organized and recognized. As Samuel points out, black oil business does not just insert itself into infrastructural pathways, but becomes a critical passage point itself. Black oil dealers thrive within the increasing disjuncture of institutional, industrial, and political bodies that govern extractive activity: the receding protection for oil workers, the deteriorating infrastructure, and the lack of materializing development schemes. But they do so by further exploiting the slippages between state, corporate, and local governing structures that are increasingly difficult to identify and regulate.

Too Big to Fail: The Economics of Oil Theft As its activities become interwoven with the fables and fabric of the Nigerian oil industry itself, black oil business is not in direct opposition to licit production. Indeed, I am suggesting that it is deeply entwined within it and as such is also a part of instruments producing knowledge and representations of the Nigerian oil industry and economy itself. Late in 2010, I met with Ebi, a resident of one of Vero’s oil-producing villages, a licensed boat operator, and a former self-proclaimed “foot soldier” with MEND. Since his faction signed the amnesty agreements in 2009, he was hired as part of a pipeline security surveillance team run by ex-militants contracted to a multinational corporation. Ebi described the work as monitoring pipelines in order to identify and report incidents of theft or vandalism to a military joint task force. Yet Ebi was simultaneously organizing a bunkering operation for a wealthy patron. Although the arrangement struck me as strange, given that amnesty had disbanded militant groups, when I expressed my confusion to Ebi he let out a long, deep laugh and exclaimed, “There is no amnesty for the pipeline.” The practitioners of black oil business, he claimed, were being allowed a one-year grace period by the president himself to continue their activities. This was not the first time I had heard this rumor. A number of residents at Escravos had quoted to me a similar declaration. But it was the

286  Elizabeth Gelber first time a black oil practitioner, whose security and livelihood depended on anticipating the shifting oil security policies, had qualified it in this way. Ebi explained that “bunkering costs money. Big, big money. You will pay for someone to crack the line, pay for the pump, the barge, and the boat. You will give the community boys something for protection and these military men something to smooth your passage.” Tallied together it comes to around six million naira ($US40,000) for twenty-five hundred tons of crude, which includes the million naira he expects to receive for himself. “It’s not just anyone that can have this kind of money,” he continues. “It is these big ogas [bosses] in government who can go to the bank and take a loan.” According to Ebi, many such ventures were already active, customers had been arranged, the interest was mounting, and participants like him had set out expenses for the job. If the government were to stamp out bunkering, he explained, not only would black oil dealers lose their investments but the elite class of debtors would default on their loans, and would, according to Ebi, “crash the Nigerian economy.” This seemed a rather exaggerated conclusion, suggesting that bunkering is, to apply the well-worn aphorism of America’s financial crisis, “too big to fail.” Despite a few cases and reports, it is, at this time, impossible to verify the extent to which the Nigerian central or commercial banks are financing bunkering. And certainly the president made no public declaration of amnesty for thefts from the pipeline. Yet, in Ebi’s vision of an oil-fueled national economy overleveraged to black oil business he maps out a set of engagements with venture capitalists, banks, officers of the state, and contracted bodies to provide labor and security that recalls the modalities of the oil industry itself. Not dissimilar to Samuel’s assessment, black oil businessmen are imagined here as neither parasitic on national modes of accumulation nor a perversion of global economic market logics, but in fact essential circulators of oil and finance. In other words, black oil business itself is read as a means for averting economic collapse. Although Ebi’s claims might not be externally verifiable, they indicate a practical topography where black oil business has, like the term bunkering, overgrown its place at the margins of the Nigerian oil industry. To begin with, black oil manifests in recognizable material and symbolic forms for the Nigerian public. Although a major crude producer, Nigeria struggles with constant fuel shortages and a faulty national electrical grid. The country is one of the world’s largest generator markets and citizens and businesses depend heavily on personal fuel supplies. The national refineries, like the one in Warri where the signboards admonishing oil thieves are posted, operate at reduced capacity, their equipment failing and outdated, reliant on a cabal of middlemen importing fuel funded by government subsidy payments. Locally refined diesel, gasoline, and kerosene are distributed both within the creeks and through roadside vendors

Black Oil Business   287 and licensed commercial petrol stations across Nigeria. Sold at a third of the posted price, wholesale distributors, transport companies, and small businesses purchase black oil in bulk to gauge prices and ensure steady fuel supplies.10 In addition to securing a domestic fuel supply, black oil business is also, paradoxically, bound up with programs to secure the infrastructure and ensure operational safety. In the Niger Delta, government soldiers (often at the behest of transnational operators) are stationed around the perimeters of production sites to safeguard the oil infrastructure.11 Michael Watts has called the joint security forces mobilized to repress social unrest “petro-violence” (Peluso and Watts 2001). At the same time, oil companies made “security” payments to unemployed youth they identify as potential drivers behind local restiveness, dubbing them pipeline guardians (Ikelegbe 2005). These arrangements rarely came with any specified work requirements. Much like corporate social responsibility programs, they were part of a larger architecture that provides a veneer of inclusion. Security payments quickly devolved into protection rackets, connecting youth to state political powers and exacerbating existing ethnonational struggles (Watts 2008a). They have only increased incentives for breaking lines, as each new break requires a new contract to fix it and therefore new rounds of security payments (Shell Company In Nigeria Leaked Report 2004).12 Despite the fact that such practices failed to prevent unprecedented attacks on oil infrastructure from bunkering and sabotage, after the amnesty agreements the promotion of localized forms of security contracting once again emerged as a central tenet in Vero’s and other transnationals’ “new” approaches to oil communities. This time around, according to an American project manager at Vero, the provisioning of community subcontracts and security work would uphold a strict policy of “no work, no pay.” Government amnesty programs were likewise trying to reframe political concerns and demands voiced by militant groups as a problem of employment and employability. They sent ex-militant leaders to business

10.  Black oil is often mixed with commercially refined fuels, since their chemical chains are unstable, and thus many end users are not aware that they are purchasing local product. But there remains widespread suspicion that mixing takes place. In the long petrol queues in Warri, waiting customers sometimes swap tips on where to get the best, by which they mean the least adulterated, fuel. 11.  See Golden Timsar’s essay in this volume for a detailed account of how such violence altered the life worlds of Deltan Ijaw communities. 12.  It is worth noting that political militancy in many ways tried to subvert this cycle. Militants united multiple communities. Their demands, starkly political, raised critical questions about redistribution, political violence, and exploitation. However, after being pummeled by government gunfire and corralled into amnesty agreements, these larger resonances disappeared as new labels like “repentant militants” emerged to describe former “freedom fighters.”

288  Elizabeth Gelber management and business ethics courses in South Africa and Scotland (Eze 2012). Those who had fought under them received training as welders and divers after attending a required nonviolent training program at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration camps. Venerating leaders of peaceful movements, like Martin Luther King Jr., these workshops promoted nonconfrontational engagement and a sense of collective responsibility to “re-orient the members of the community toward the activation of civil behavior and dialogue” (FEHN 2014). Similarly, the promotional literature put out by Vero draws attention to plans for fostering an environment of mutual care between the companies and the communities. “We are sharing the pains and sharing the gains,” explains Vero’s gas project manager on a glossy page. And yet on returning from training, the main positions on offer for ex-militants in the Escravos area were to take part in a large new pipeline security contract. Ironically, many of these new “employees” had heavily participated in bunkering trade during the militancy period, a fact certainly not unknown to the government or to Vero. Yet the return of security programs indicates that security payments have become an intractable part of the general organization in the oil fields, integral to the management of particular risks. Within security contracting, two major challenges to Nigeria’s extractive industry, the technical vulnerability of oil infrastructure and potential social unrest, can be merged into one: safeguarding the space of extraction. But as Ebi suggests, underlying renewed security constellations are other arrangements. For, while militant groups were dismantled, organized markets around the pipeline proved more difficult to dislodge. Indeed, within emerging strategies to ensure available energy resources and to reduce future threats to the production system, black oil business begins to resemble an instrument for mitigating risk itself. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in accounts that Vero’s own contractors were purchasing local refinery fuels. Much like the existence of black oil business itself, this was hardly hidden. Indeed, a number of oil workers had documented in personal photographs, as an exotic keepsake, the large native boats laden with GeePee tanks, offloading illicit diesel at the company jetty. When I asked one of the project managers during an interview about this, he neither denied nor confirmed it, saying instead: We need a lot of diesel to run the generators, and, well, all our equipment. I mean, a lot of diesel. That’s my “official position.” Under the terms of the GMOU [Global Memorandum of Understanding] that we signed with the communities, we are required to provide a certain number of contracts. Some of these are fuel contracts, so we pay

Black Oil Business   289 community contractors to provide us with diesel, and where it comes from, well, we don’t ask.

Certainly buying back crude, like security contracting, can be seen as the continuation of engaged contingency planning on the part of transnational producers, whose production is characterized as all too often vulnerable to community unrest. The project manager mentioned numerous times during our interview how far beyond budget and over time the project had already gone. Contractors and managers have to demonstrate to head offices that they have completed a certain number of man hours without interruption. Lower lost-time incident rates mean faster and larger completion bonuses, which might suggest it is to the contractor’s advantage to hedge against interference at the work site by looking the other way. However, this stated lack of interest in the fuel’s provenance seems important given the great amount of attention paid to fears of missing oil draining away corporate profit margins and state resources. Why are certain things accounted for and not others? According to Joe, an accountant for Vero, the company already adjusts its projected output a certain percentage to allot for losses to bunkering. He explained that bunkering has long been considered a cost of doing business in Nigeria, and thus in order to meet projected outputs circulated to shareholders, the corporation anticipates the missing oil months in advance. These seemingly odd actuarial practices, leveraging oil’s status as industrial commodity against the corporation’s potential value as a publicly traded company, point to gaps forming not only in the pipeline, but within institutional arrangements and metrical instruments. Nigeria’s own national petroleum company, for instance, has no independent metering system to even verify oil losses (Bassey 2011). Estimates of just how much is missing jump from 40,000 bpd (barrels per day) to 400,000 bpd to 100,000 bpd, depending on the source. Contrary to the figure of the oil thief put forward by corporate PR machines and Nigerian politicians, it is the oil itself, the substance around which claims of ownership and interests takes place, that is untraceable. For contractors on the project, what matters is the set of outcomes that purchasing black oil enables: “Buying from them [bunkerers] means less disruption by the community, less lost man hours,” Joe explained. And in a sentence that seems to recall a predicament similar to the one Ebi described, he added, “it’s not something we state publicly, but see, the thing is, it just helps make our project more secure. We call it the cost of peace.” It is perhaps not surprising that the rate of bunkering accelerated in the wake of the amnesty programs, given that most of the critical issues raised

290  Elizabeth Gelber by political militancy were shelved or reshaped as a discourse on the difference between legitimate and illegitimate extractions. Whereas the signboards with which I  began this chapter draw a distinction between “legitimate work” and “stealing,” the state and corporations were, ironically, erecting structures for decades to prevent the access of local populations to legitimate work and accumulation. Moreover, illegal activities like bunkering and local refining were not only becoming part and parcel of the licit sphere but were also, throughout successive outbreaks of fighting, negotiations of peace, and remediation, becoming instruments through which black oil dealers and transnational project managers worked to bridge and render legible intersecting processes that often exceeded their control. Black oil networks generated alternative channels of appropriation, communication, and power within a limited set of arrangements that were recognized as temporary, contingent, and leading toward eventual dissolution. There is no actual addressee for the signboards. The invocation of the figure of the thief/saboteur seeks to place the history of bunkering in line with set narratives about oil, wherein the state, corporations, and local communities act as singular and discrete entities. By contrast, flaunting the idioms of “business,” those risking their lives by participating in bunkering and local refining ventures draw attention to a permeability existing between these established boundaries. In the Niger Delta, black oil business and oil business are growing increasingly entwined. Thus, each effort to identify the thief loses its referent. It must remain an empty figure, for it gestures at a menace than can never be named without implicating the oil assemblage at large. In almost exact accord with Ebi’s prediction, and very much to my surprise, a year after our meeting the Nigerian joint task forces destroyed a large number of refineries and confiscated oil barges, nearly halting black oil business in the Escravos area. When I called Ebi he seemed unfazed that the predictions had come to pass. When I asked him about his future plans, Ebi laughed once again. “Wait and see,” he said, insisting that the government would soon have no choice but to reissue yet another year of amnesty on the pipeline: “You cannot stop it.” And indeed, a few months later, reports emerged that morning skies above Vero’s tank farm were once again streaked with smoke from local refineries.

Chapter 14

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan Saulesh Yessenova, University of Alberta

From the beginning of perestroika, Nursultan Nazarbaev, the future president of Kazakhstan, had lobbied for the introduction of market principles in the Soviet Union: “We are for the market!” he firmly asserted at the XXVIII Congress of the Communist Party held in Moscow in 1990. Once Kazakhstan became an independent state in 1991 his government immediately opened the country to foreign businesses, which he believed would facilitate the “great transformation.” This open-door policy was clearly in line with recommendations from the Bretton Woods institutions and the White House, which also claimed that democracy was an important condition for the arrival of desired foreign expertise and capital. The presence of oil helped Kazakhstan attract foreign investment fast. By 1992, Chevron had committed to invest $20 billion in the Tengiz oil field, which led to the establishment of TengizChevroil (TCO) in 1993. TCO was the first large international business partnership in the post-Soviet space, which shaped expectations for Kazakhstan’s successful postsocialist transition. Yet, the outcomes appeared to be rather contradictory. While economic liberalization proceeded relatively smoothly, the process of democratization in Kazakhstan stalled as the state moved toward an autocratic regime in the mid-1990s. In 1994, international oil deals became an exclusive prerogative of the president, bypassing the parliament and the cabinet altogether. In 1995, the new Constitution subordinated the judiciary and the representative branches of the government to the executive. The same year, Nazarbaev’s term as president was extended until 2000. In 2000, a rumor spread that Kazakhstan was to become a constitutional monarchy. It did not happen. Yet, at the time of this writing in

292  Saulesh Yessenova August 2014, Nazarbaev remains in office, controlling key positions in the country and access to its oil. The rise of autocracy did not slow down the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Kazakhstan’s oil industry. To the contrary, the more undemocratic the country’s regime became the more investment it attracted. In 1996, investment amounted to less than $1 billion. In 2000, FDI was $2.7  billion, rising to $4  billion in 2004. By 2011, the multinational oil companies (MOCs) committed to invest $80  billion in Kazakhstan’s oil projects. This inverse relationship between FDI and autocracy (a ruling paradigm “conventionally considered to discourage” investment, as James Ferguson reminds us) indicates that democracy is not a requirement for the oil industry (Ferguson 2006, 195). Indeed, countries such as Angola, Congo/Zaire, and Equatorial Guinea, which have been defined as politically the “most risky” and even as “failures,” are consistently among top FDI recipients (Ferguson 2006, 196). By the industry’s own admission, MOCs and oil service firms “go where the business is,” and that includes countries with problematic and undemocratic regimes “where one would not normally choose to go,” as Dick Cheney (1998) plainly stated. And they work in these countries because, despite the apparent lack of conduciveness for oil production involving infrastructurally significant and logistically complex capital-intensive enterprises, politically “risky” situations, as Suzana Sawyer (2011) has pointed out, reliably produce limited liability, various forms of consequential legality and coordination, and mega-profit. How does it happen? In this chapter, I examine the production of this legality by focusing on international oil contracts. MOCs have (re-)gained access to the oil reserves in postcolonial and post-Soviet states through production-sharing agreements and concessions, which are internationally sanctioned legal forms that I  refer to as “oil contracts.” In Kazakhstan, one such oil contract formed TCO, which is operated by Chevron. In the following sections, I discuss the negotiation of the TCO contract from a public perspective and the manner in which Chevron enacted important details of this contract in order to demonstrate that these contracts are important material conduits of oil that make even politically “risky” situations consistently profitable for the MOCs. I am guided by critical legal studies, whose authors have challenged conventional thinking about transnational corporate law as an autonomous and apolitical legal tool that merely enables business transactions across divided legal, economic, and political environments (Gill 1995; Cutler 2003; Riles 2011). Rather, they argue, law is a power-laden “technological commodity” that legitimizes the transfer of public resources to global corporations and domestic power holders by recasting these resources as private interests (Mattei and Nadel 2008, 71; Cutler 2003, 5). I am interested in the process of this recasting, an interest

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization   293 I explore by looking at the TCO contract, its negotiation, and implementation during the first decade of the enterprise’s operations, and the political effects of multinational corporate legality on the state. There is no shortage of critical discussion of the political developments in Kazakhstan (e.g., Karl 2000; Luong 2000; Olcott 2002; Ostrowski 2011). Seeking an explanation for autocracy, most authors refer to the resource curse (Auty 1993; Karl 1997; Ross 1999, 2001). What helped the rise of autocracy in Kazakhstan, to put it in line with Terry Karl’s argument, is the simultaneity of two developments: the projects of state-building and oil development, launched by the government at the same time. Consequently, oil rents both substitute for statecraft and mold state institutions, supporting the emergence of rent-seeking interest groups, including the state itself (Karl 1997, 75). Indeed, at the moment of signing TCO contract, Kazakhstan did not have either its Constitution or the Petroleum Law, adopted in 1993 and 1995, respectively. On the other hand, the problems with transparency, accountability, and concentration of state power in Kazakhstan began before the arrival of the oil rents, starting with the negotiation of the first oil contract in 1992. In 1992, the county’s Constitution and the Petroleum Law were debated in Parliament. Whereas the TCO contract—the document that set the terms for Chevron’s long-term access to the Tengiz oil field, which was understood in Kazakhstan as the nation’s most lucrative economic asset—was relevant to the development of both (and vice versa), its details were kept away from the Parliament under the premise of “corporate confidentiality.”1 The secrecy around Tengiz reached paramount proportions during the negotiation. However, in relation to forthcoming negotiations, it is Kazakhstan’s most publicly discussed oil deal in the making. In 1994, Nazarbaev created a “one-stop shopping centre” for the MOCs whereby the oil contracts became his exclusive prerogative. This bold authoritarian move, which removed the oil deals from the public domain, was “strongly supported by most international experts monitoring or advising Kazakhstan” (Olcott 2002, 147; Luong 2000, 92). Since then the president has signed over 230 contracts with the MOCs, thereby single-handedly granting equity and transferring public resources to private firms. These consequential developments show that statecraft in Kazakhstan was influenced not so much by the oil rents that arrived in the early 2000s as by oil privatization.2 This is my central claim, which I elaborate further below. 1.  Chevron drafted petroleum legislation for Kazakhstan in 1992 to ensure that its transaction with the state was legal. 2.  Not only the oil contracts but also state legal documents concerning oil were removed from the discussion in the public domain. For example, new versions of the Subsurface and Mineral Processing Code (1996) and Petroleum Law (1995) were then passed by presidential decrees in avoidance of the parliament (Chentsova 2004, 124–25).

294  Saulesh Yessenova Establishing the Tengiz Partnership Chevron had a long-standing interest in the Tengiz oil field situated on the northeastern coast of the Caspian Sea. At the moment of discovery in 1979, it contained nine billion barrels of recoverable light oil, which made it the largest discovery since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay in 1968. In 1985, during an initial stage of deep drilling required by the field’s geology, high pressure forced liquid to the surface, causing an explosion at one well, similar to what happened at the Deepwater Horizon platform in 2010. Chevron used this incident to approach the Kremlin, but the company’s proposal for joint development of the field was declined: the Soviets disagreed with the suggested profit-sharing scheme and instead contracted with other firms.3 Sourced by sixteen wells, the first production line at the processing plant delivered the first Tengiz crude in April 1991. This was also when Chevron renewed its ambitions relating to Tengiz, taking advantage of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its political and economic consequences. In 1992, the deteriorating economic situation in Kazakhstan required urgent action. In this situation, Kazakhstan’s government increasingly treated Western business involvement in the oil industry not merely as a reform tool, which was Nazarbaev’s original plan, but as a means of averting economic collapse. The Parliament, on the other hand, expressed caution. Its members feared that the government would “sell the country on the root” (i.e., at the core) in the name of “rescuing the economy” (Nazarbaev 1991, 141). The president assured the Parliament that their intention was to “cooperate with Western businessmen cleverly” by seeking “mutually beneficial” solutions. “The bottom line,” he stressed already in 1991, is that “if we don’t put our mineral resources to work [now], we would have . . . to ‘feed people’ ”—invoking the infamous Soviet rhetoric—“with a promise of a better life in some ‘bright future’ ” (Nazarbaev 1991, 141). Nazarbaev’s administration drafted a proposal that Kazakhstan’s officials delivered to Chevron during their trip to Washington, D.C., in December 1991. American journalists asked them what they expected to get from the United States. Nazarbaev responded that they “came not to ask for anything,” explaining that the purpose of their visit was to attract Western businesses to come and work in Kazakhstan on “mutually beneficial terms.” “Not loans—investment is our priority,” he stressed. He explained 3.  The Russian Technical Institute designed and installed required drilling infrastructure; Lurgi, a German firm, and Lavalin, a Canadian company, supplied ready-to-use equipment; and the Hungarian State Engineering Company built a processing plant to separate oil and compress sour gas.

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization   295 that they had “developed 125 project proposals including technical characteristics, economic charts, and incentives for foreign investors” that they intended to promote during the visit (Nazarbaev 2010, 179). But their mission had limited success; out of the entire portfolio only hydrocarbon projects generated potential interest among corporate America, with Tengiz at the top of the list. Chevron ignored Kazakhstan’s business offer altogether and forwarded its own proposal instead in February 1992. Yet the terms of Chevron’s proposal were far from “mutually beneficial.” In March 1992, fragments of the proposed agreement were made public at a press conference held by Vice Prime Minister Halyk Abdullaev in Almaty, then the capital of Kazakhstan. Chevron sought 35% equity in the Tengiz field, which was 10% more than what the company had proposed to the Kremlin in 1985, that is, before Tengiz became a producing field, which significantly increased its original value. Abdullaev communicated the government’s dissatisfaction with the proposed terms, and announced that the government had hired JP Morgan to provide an independent assessment. The revised terms, he argued, could double Kazakhstan’s revenues from Tengiz. If Chevron accepted them, he added, “JP Morgan will get an honorarium around $3–4 million” (Kiyanitsya 1992). The audience at the press conference wanted to see JP Morgan’s report on the value of Tengiz, which in addition to billions of barrels of recoverable oil included a costly industrial infrastructure. Was this properly reflected in the independent assessment? Abdullaev responded that no further information on Tengiz could be disclosed to the public because it was locked in the negotiations as a “commercial secret.” To the question of whether the government was considering other foreign oil companies, he said that they were not “looking for another partner.” “Only if Chevron says ‘no,’ ” he stressed before adjourning the press conference, “they might contact other companies.”4 The information aired at the press conference stirred a wave of public concern. One journalist commented: “With all respect to commercial secrets, it is time to admit: an open competitive bidding offers much better possibilities for success . . . than any negotiations behind closed doors” (Kiyanitsya 1992). The public was still expecting further updates on the negotiation when, less than one month after the press conference and without any further public deliberations, it was announced that the government of Kazakhstan and Chevron had agreed to establish TengizChevroil. The TCO’s protocol was signed on May 7, 1992,

4.  See “Usloviya Kazakhstana izvestny: Slovo za ‘Shevronom,’ ” Prikaspiyskaya Kommunna [Caspian Commune] (April 1, 1992).

296  Saulesh Yessenova producing the national newspaper headline “Kazakhstan and Chevron Are Partners for 40 Years!” and a brief description of the deal: It will be a 50/50 joint venture enterprise. Chevron will pay Kazakhstan a bonus and invest $20 billion in project development. The state will also receive substantial payments in the form of taxes and royalty. Their structure will reflect the enterprise’s profitability: the higher the revenues, the larger the payments. Profit-sharing is set at 80 percent for Kazakhstan and 20 percent for Chevron. (Zhorov 1992)

Far from everyone in Kazakhstan appreciated the idea of foreign companies benefiting from the country’s mineral resources, and fewer still understood what contractual privatization of those resources meant for the country. On the other hand, in 1992 everyone was experiencing the problems brought about by economic disintegration and shock therapy. At that time, Western powers pledged their commitment to the reconstruction of Soviet successor states. Along with companies, bargaining for access to emerging post-Soviet markets, they called for economic liberalization and large-scale privatization to allow foreign capital to penetrate their nearly collapsed economies. Within this context of domestic despair and international promises, the news about Tengiz stirred hopes among the country’s citizens for renewed economic stability. And yet major questions concerning the Tengiz contract remained. First, there was no mention that, in addition to Tengiz, Chevron had been granted access to the Korolev reserve, a smaller oil field confirmed in 1986 that was situated fifteen kilometers away from Tengiz and contained 1.5 billion barrels of crude. Second, the value of Tengiz and the past investment in this field, which according to some sources amounted to $1.66 billion, remained a commercial secret (Abishev 2002, 98). Third, the state was to pay all the debts of the Soviet company that was developing Tengiz, which in 1992 amounted to $40 million (Kadirov 1992a, 1992b). Finally, the state was to expand Tengiz’s production capacities by the time TCO took possession in April 1993. The field was to have another nine wells and the processing plant was to have four production lines fully installed, which required over $200 million of additional investment. The state honored all these obligations by redirecting resources from the rest of the economy in the midst of the economic crisis and borrowing funds from the International Monetary Fund. From early on, Nazarbaev followed advice from the World Bank, the IMF, and the MOCs, which argued that foreign investment in oil would let the government allocate available resources, otherwise to be used for oil development, to other social and economic projects. The Tengiz contract proved this argument to be self-serving and false. Chevron’s commitment to invest and profit from

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization   297 the oil field forced the state to obtain more loans from the very institutions that had advocated oil privatization in the first place. This, of course, has never been made public in Kazakhstan, similar to the secret terms of the legal infrastructure supporting the oil privatization, to which I now turn.

The TCO Contract The form of agreement that Kazakhstan initially proposed to Chevron in 1991 was a “technical service” contract. Specific arrangements within this internationally recognized contractual form vary greatly based on the physical characteristics of the oil field, the stage of exploration or development, the country’s legal framework, and other factors. One thing that the technical service contract excludes is the possibility of foreign contractor’s equity: an oil company invests capital and, once reimbursed, is paid a fixed fee. This means that the state claims all excess profits and maintains full control over the project (Bindemann 1999, 10; Mittitt 2005, 12–13). Chevron rejected Kazakhstan’s proposal altogether, suggesting a very different contractual form: a production-sharing concession. The oil concession is a product of Western colonialism in the Middle East. Under its “classical” form, the state transferred the right to develop tracts of land to a foreign oil company, or a consortium, for 60–75 years (Bindemann 1999, 9). The oil company operated independently from the host state, forming an economic and political outpost of its home country and repatriating all revenues, minus a fixed rate of royalty and the taxes it paid to the host government (Kent 1976; Chisholm 1975). Between the 1940s and the 1970s, governments either nationalized oil industries on the wave of anti- and postcolonial struggles, or nationalized and then decided to reopen their markets to foreign oil companies. Responding to the political sensitivities of the states, the MOCs redressed the “classic” concession into a production-sharing agreement/concession (“oil contract”) (Bindemann 1999, 11; Gary and Reisch 2005, 37). These oil contracts seem to serve purely utilitarian purpose of defining the responsibility of the state and private company (or consortium), as well as each party’s equity. The TCO contract, for example, has allocated an 80% share of production to the state and the remaining 20% to Chevron. This simple formula makes the deal look transparent and attractive for the state. Yet the fiscal procedures and legal stipulations outlined in hundreds of pages of the contract hidden from the public alter the production-sharing scheme, which was made public. The oil contract comprises legal and fiscal regimes in their entirety, the whole purpose of which is to minimize potential external shocks that may compromise the MOC’s investment and to secure “a favorable profit

298  Saulesh Yessenova margin” for it at all times (Hayos 2003). Specific accounting procedures are applied to calculate profits, taxes, and royalties, and determine project costs and the cost of produced crude, which are never disclosed. There is also a specific pricing mechanism separating enterprise’s sales prices from the “arm’s length” market price (Frynas 1998, 469). The enterprise’s sales prices therefore are never the difference between production cost and the world’s market price. The pricing mechanism, along with the methods of calculating other benefit streams to the state, protect MOCs against the falling world market prices, and, when they soar, allows them, as vertically integrated companies owning sales outlets and refineries, to sell the oil they have produced to themselves at lower prices (Gary and Reisch 2005, 39–40). In this regard, Richard Matzke, Chevron’s former vice chairman, boasted about a “complicated provision” rewarding his company that he had written into the Tengiz contract (LeVine 2007, 141). The acquisition of the Tengiz and Korolev oil fields increased Chevron’s oil reserve base by 50% in just one day. By its executive’s own admission, this deal was a “company maker” (LeVine 2007, 100)—not a “country maker.” For the 45% stake in Tengiz Chevron was to pay $800  million, which remained a commercial secret until Matzke disclosed it to Bloomberg News (Glovin 2005). This amount constituted a buying price and it was part of the $20  billion, Chevron’s total anticipated investment. Half of this amount ($400 million) was to cover production costs in the following years and the other half and was to be paid to the state once TCO became a “profitable” enterprise. Chevron established the threshold of TCO’s profitability by linking it to a gross production of twenty-three  million tons a year (LeVine 2007, 240). The state’s share of production has also been tied to the enterprise’s profitability, that is, the state would start receiving the 80% share only after TCO has reached the profitability threshold. The latter finally took place in 2008, fifteen years after the start of the contract. Until then, the contract allowed Chevron to keep the state’s share for itself. The state was also entitled to a $450 million “signature” bonus. However, $420 million from this amount was to be paid only after Kazakhstan had built a dedicated pipeline for Tengiz crude to be carried to Novorossiysk, a Russian port on the Black Sea. These conditions left the state with the meager amount of $30 million that it received from Chevron upon signing the agreement in 1992, while the dates on which the rest of the buying price, bonus, and production share would arrive were uncertain (LeVine 2007, 141). Once signed, the state is legally prohibited from terminating the contract or altering its terms. Based on civil law, the oil contract is “a law unto itself,” shielding the MOC from any future changes in legislation, taxation policy, or property or political regime in the host country that could

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization   299 potentially affect its profits (Bayulgen 2010, 21–33).5 The MOCs use an argument of “risky environment” and “political instability” in host countries for forging such coercive contracts. These contracts indeed insulate the MOCs from the environment of the host country to the degree that they can operate in a war zone, which is why MOCs’ investment in Nigeria and Angola increased after the escalation of conflict and insurgency in these countries (Frynas 1998, 468; Ferguson 2006, 194–203). In 2004, Iraq was rated by global oil professionals as the world’s third best place to invest (Mittitt 2005, 10). The proper explanation behind this seemingly irrational trend would also have to take into account that the more unstable and unpredictable the situation is in the country, the better terms MOCs can obtain for themselves (Frynas 1998). Kazakhstan, in 1992, was considered an “emerging democracy” on the verge of economic collapse. Therefore it was one of these states with “unstable” and “risky” political environments that granted Chevron high leverage in the negotiations. By the mid-1990s, Kazakhstan’s economy had shrunk by 80% and the country’s debt to the IMF approached $1 billion. The government, frustrated by the unfulfilled promise of windfall profits, sold half its stake (25%) in TCO to Mobil for $1.05 billion, thereby drastically reducing its share of future profits from the largest oil project in Kazakhstan. MOCs have contractual obligations as well, including timely investment and work responsibilities. Yet, unlike the inflexible nature of the state’s obligations, the schedule of corporate investment is conditional and open to negotiation, which allows the MOCs to maintain control over project development and the streams of revenues (Bindemann 1999). As noted earlier, the TCO contract linked the payment of a $420 million “signature bonus” to the state to the completion of the dedicated pipeline for Tengiz crude (the future Caspian Pipeline Consortium, or CPC). Even though Chevron had established this arrangement, it anticipated that Nazarbaev would fail to build the pipeline, in which case the company would keep this amount to itself and eventually build the pipeline itself on its own terms (LeVine 2007, 142). Chevron’s prediction proved to be wrong. The Caspian Pipeline Consortium was formed in 1992 and planned to complete the construction in 1995 (Gaissin 2004, 326). But after CPC had already invested $100  million, Chevron refused to provide the guarantee required for the release of further financing for the pipeline project: that TCO, the client of the future pipeline, would actually use it (Gaissin 2004, 5. The first Subsurface and Mineral Processing Code was passed by Parliament on May 30, 1992, that is, about three weeks after the TCO protocol was signed, which means that the TCO is not subject to any petroleum law in Kazakhstan since no law can apply retroactively within the design of the oil contracts discussed in this chapter.

300  Saulesh Yessenova 326). This maneuver stalled the pipeline project in 1993. In 1995, Chevron performed another trick by announcing that it would decrease a planned investment in Tengiz by 90% because the pipeline did not yet exist. The case was finally settled in 1996 with Chevron purchasing 15% equity in CPC at a preferential rate (Rasumov 1995; Bektiyarova 1995). In 2001, the pipeline was finally built. This meant that Chevron was to pay the bonus to the state—$420 million—and to begin the expansion project with an estimated cost of $4 billion, which would double its output. To recap, Chevron tied the state’s share of production to the level of TCO gross output, which could be achieved only when the expansion project was completed. In 2001, Chevron announced that the TCO would self-finance the expansion project by reinvesting the enterprise’s profits, including those of the state, in construction. For the state, this meant that it would not receive any payments from the TCO in the years to come. The dispute between Chevron and the state lasted for three years, and similar to the earlier dispute that delayed pipeline construction by six years, cost the state millions in lost revenues. In 2004, Chevron finally began financing the expansion project. Oil reserves are commonly owned by the state, which is why the term “hydrocarbon law” typically denotes the legislation adopted by the nation-state to assert its sovereignty. This formal definition of the “hydrocarbon law,” however, obscures the existence of the oil contracts that form a sophisticated shadow infrastructure (not unlike black oil, discussed by Elizabeth Gelber in this volume) that circumvents the public law and places oil in the service of private agents. Appel (this volume; 2012a) has discussed particular “entanglements” between the multinational oil industry and Equatorial Guinea by looking at the material (industrial, logistical) and legal (contractual) oil infrastructures that effectively define “the offshore” as a distant (“disentangled”) location outside the nation’s purview. I am interested in the processes that link the contractual oil infrastructure to politics. I have argued elsewhere that the provisions of the oil contracts sacrifice the political authority of the state to the autonomy of the multinational oil project, and that the oil contracts create practical disincentives and legal barriers to effective monitoring of the multinational oil projects on the ground (Yessenova 2012). In the following section, I  specify the role of this “extractive neoliberalism” (Ferguson 2006, 210) in setting in motion broader political processes in Kazakhstan.

(Re-)Creation of a “Risky” Environment From the moment that he signed the TCO contract, Nazarbaev had acquired the habit of crediting important developments on the oil front to himself: he “brought” American investors to the country; he “delivered big

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization   301 oil.” However, the situation involved other significant actors as well. In 1999, an article in the New York Times reported the detection of suspicious accounts in Swiss banks allegedly linked to Kazakhstan’s top officials (LeVine 1999). In 2001, this incident suddenly captured global headlines and grew into a media story that exposed behind-the-scene events pertaining to Tengiz and other multinational oil projects in Kazakhstan. It transpired that at every critical moment—whether the establishment of TCO, the arrival of Texaco through the merger with Chevron, Kazakhstan’s sale of half of its stake to Mobil in 1996, or the entry of Exxon (which had acquired Mobil in 1999), all of which were negotiated promptly and behind closed doors—there was a middleman on the payroll of one side or the other, or the same person serviced both the state and the company, moving tens of millions of dollars from the oil companies to secret accounts that belonged to Kazakhstan’s top officials and simultaneously rewarding themselves. One of these middlemen was Jim Giffen, an American entrepreneur whose investment bank earned $67 million between 1995 and 2000 from Kazakhstan’s oil deals. Giffen’s triangular affair with Nazarbaev and Chevron, which still pays Giffen a 7.5 cent commission from every barrel of Tengiz crude, was named Kazakhgate (LeVine 2007, 283).6 Reporters were divided about how it had developed, how much money was involved, and other details. In retrospect, these discrepancies have little significance because the plot of the story, centering on the country’s power brokers and oddly powerful foreign middlemen, is as old as the international oil business itself. In the early twentieth century, William D’Arcy helped establish the Mesopotamian Concession for the future BP-Shell (Kent 1976, 6). Calouste Gulbenkian (“Mr. Five Percent”) did the same in Iraq for the Turkish Petroleum Company, a consortium of European oil companies (LeVine 2007, 111). In the 1930s, Frank Holmes and Karl Twitchell helped to obtain concessions from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for Standard Oil of California, the future Chevron (Yergin 1991). And, in the 1950s, a number of British officers paved the way for BP-Shell in Nigeria (Frynas 1998). Giffen is just one among many other businessmen who helped Western oil companies break into untapped foreign fields and was certainly not a target in the international publicity.7

6.  The Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which was originally formed between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Oman, owes its existence not so much to Nazarbaev, however, as to John Deuss, a Dutch oil trader who had courted Nazarbaev since the early 1990s, not unlike Giffen, and helped him with the CPC (LeVine 2007, 236–40). 7.  Giffen was arrested in the United States and charged with corruption, fraud, tax evasion, and money-laundering, but eventually his case was dismissed: the judge praised him “as a Cold War hero . . . and stated that the case should never had been brought in the first place” (LeVine 2010). The oil companies were not affected by the justice system in any way (Telvick 2003).

302  Saulesh Yessenova Between 2001 and 2006, the New Yorker,8 the New York Times,9 the Financial Times,10 and Bloomberg News11 featured a series of articles from which Kazakhstan, hitherto an unknown country in the West, was “conjured” in the form of two familiar ingredients: oil and a mega-corrupted leadership. “In a world long accustomed to outsize public corruption,” the New York Times reported, “some analysts say Mr. Nazarbaev is in a class by himself” (Stodghill 2006). Based on the information available—that, among other things, Chevron and Mobil had acquired equities based on noncompetitive bidding, and that Texaco and Total got theirs through their mergers with the former—it is impossible to come anywhere near a conclusion concerning what exactly those illicit transactions were, what they were intended for, and whether they were as illegal as the media claimed. One thing is certain: all negotiations were closed to the public eye, which opened every possibility for kickbacks and embezzlement. One can speculate that the bribes Kazakhstan’s leadership received (if it did) were intended to speed up the acceptance of the terms proposed by the oil companies. Kazakhstan’s government provided a different explanation, however. In April 2002, Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov acknowledged to the Parliament the existence of accounts in Swiss banks that were in the name of the president. In 2000, these accounts, he explained, were merged based on a presidential decree on the establishment of the National Fund of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Fund held the money that the state generated through the sale of the state’s shares in oil enterprises to foreign oil companies and the export of crude. The idea of keeping (excess) oil revenues in foreign banks, he stressed, came from international experts who had recommended it as a means of avoiding the distortion of foreign exchange in Kazakhstan and of preserving capital for future generations from the sale of nonrenewable resources. Furthermore, the money that had been set aside proved to be vital during the late 1990s when the President withdrew almost $1 billion of it in order to both stabilize Kazakhstan’s currency and cover budget deficits created as a result of

  8.  Seymour M. Hersh, “The Price of Oil: What Was Mobil up to in Kazakhstan?,” New Yorker (July 9, 2001), 48–65.   9.  Jeff Gerth, “Bribery Inquiry Involves Kazakh Chief, and He’s Unhappy,” November 12, 2002; Jeff Gerth, “U.S. Businessman Is Accused of Oil Bribes to Kazakhstan,” April 1, 2003; “Former Mobil Corp. Executive Indicted for Tax Evasion in Kickback Scheme,” press release, April 2, 2003; Stodghill 2006; Peter Maas, “The Fuel Fixers,” December 23, 2007; all New York Times. 10.  Joshua Chaffin, “Chevron Texaco Quizzed in Bribe Probe,” September 11, 2003; Neil Buckley, “Fair Elections May Fall Victim to Kazakh Success,” November 28, 2005; Neil Buckley, “Election History in Kazakhstan Leaves Opposition with Little Hope,” November  29, 2005; all Financial Times. 11. David Glovin, “Kazakhstan President Nazarbaev Accepted Bribes, U.S. Alleges,” Bloomberg News, April 16, 2004; Glovin 2005.

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization   303 the Asian (1997) and Russian (1998) financial crises. Since then, revenues from the twelve largest oil and gas projects in the country had been deposited into the National Fund. In 2001, the Fund contained $1.1 billion. In 2002, he stressed, this amount was augmented by another $576 million (Ostrowski 2011, 131; Tsalik 2003, 145–147). Kazakhgate thus pushed the government to acknowledge the existence of the National Fund and a series of what look like perfectly legitimate transfers. Public response in Kazakhstan to Kazakhgate was predictable. The nation’s leadership did not have an unquestionable reputation in the eyes of the society prior to Kazakhgate. During the 1990s, Nazarbaev and his consecutive governments conducted large-scale privatization that fostered nepotism, corruption, dispossession, and social inequalities. By 2000, the government finally stabilized the economy by combining market reforms with the injection of petrodollars, whose flow increased with the sudden spike in world oil prices. That year, Kazakhstan’s economy finally showed visible growth. One of my Almaty interlocutors described that short period in his retrospective comment as a “moment of hope” when one could almost “smell freedom and a more prosperous future.” Kazakhgate ended that hope, mobilizing public sentiment against the state and its oil policies. People were astonished to learn that the country’s top officials had siphoned millions of dollars to foreign banks while many citizens lived in poverty. Although the information the prime minister delivered to the nation in 2002 was intended to resolve public anger, it instead provoked a strong wave of public apprehension and outrage, mobilizing public sentiment around oil. Two political parties otherwise having little in common, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, which was formed in 2001 in response to Kazakhgate, and the Communist Party, signed a joint petition. The petition, entitled “Let’s Return the Country’s Wealth to the People!,” called for the repatriation of the funds and their investment in health care and education. This, the party members believed, would be “the most suitable investment in future generations.” Seidahmet Kuttykadam, a political scientist and public figure, spoke about the country’s oil “being sold in offshore zones at low prices,” which he defined as “another tragedy” taking place along with the appropriation of oil revenues by the state’s elite.12 By 2002, the opposition proliferated, producing the Aq Zhol (Bright Way) party. Both parties, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and Aq Zhol, argued that Nazarbaev no longer had a “moral right” to lead the country and called for elections (Burke 2002). Their voices threatened Nazarbaev’s regime, indicating mistrust of the foreign involvement in the country’s

12.  See “Prestupleniye bez nakazaniya, ili kak kinuli narod,” Epoha [Era] (August  13, 2004), 14.

304  Saulesh Yessenova oil industry and revenue management, which the president boasted that he had brought to Kazakhstan. This promised political instability in the country, which showed in the oil companies’ behavior. Once public calls for redistribution of the oil revenues and regime change in Kazakhstan made headlines in 2001, Chevron plainly refused to commit major investments to the project expansion, thereby postponing the time when it would have to increase the state’s revenues from TCO. The creation of a politically “risky” environment let Chevron buy time, which cost the state millions in lost revenues. Kazakhgate took shape right after the Kashagan oil field had been confirmed in July 2000, which increased Kazakhstan’s proven oil reserves threefold, and Nazarbaev was negotiating his “deal of the twenty-first century” with the MOCs. Negative international publicity and strong opposition voices at home did not help his bargaining power. The state attacked the opposition leaders and those who spoke publicly about Kazakhgate, strengthening the existing regime by further restricting competition for power. Once Nazarbaev had enforced his position in power Chevron began financing the expansion project in 2004. In July 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney, who previously had served on Nazarbaev’s Oil Advisory Board as the CEO of Halliburton, visited Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan. He expressed his admiration “for what has transpired  .  .  . in Kazakhstan over the past 15  years, both in terms of economic development as well as political development” (Greenberg and Kramer 2006). Enjoying international political support, Nazarbaev has positioned himself as the sole guarantor of stability, and, similar to President Suharto in Indonesia, had emerged as an icon of a “timeless political regime” in Kazakhstan, which boosted investors’ confidence and also led to a significant power shift between the state and the MOCs (Tsing 2005, 55). In the theory of the resource curse, the creation of ultrapresidential regimes is tied to the oil rents, the flow of which has indeed increased in Kazakhstan during the twenty-first century. Oil rents, Karl argues, push petro-states toward consolidation. The stronger the regime, the more it depends on oil rents and the less it has an incentive to “decentralize power to other stakeholders” (Karl 1997, 37). In practical terms, this means that oil autocrats have to seek more investment to sustain themselves in power by offering attractive incentives to the MOCs. This suggests that autocracy weakens the state’s bargaining power vis-à-vis MOCs, which ultimately reduces the state’s share of the oil revenues. In Kazakhstan, the flow of FDI in oil development considerably increased in the 2000s, which supports Karl’s argument. At the same time, the dynamic of the relationship between the state and the MOCs has been quite the reverse. In 2004, Richard Orange, an oil industry expert, summarized the situation:

The Political Economy of Oil Privatization   305 “Times have changed since the innocent 1990s. Now . . . Kazakhstan, led by authoritarian president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, is throwing its weight around” (Ostrowski 2011, 144). Between 2003 and 2010, Nazarbaev toughened Kazakhstan’s investment climate for foreign oil companies by changing existing legislation, which increased the state’s benefit streams from the multinational projects. In 2010 and 2011, he also improved the state’s position in Karachaganak and Kashagan, large hydrocarbon projects managed by multinational consortiums (Bantekas 2004; Sarsenbaev 2011). The oil companies were displeased. However, none of them left Kazakhstan (Lelyveld 2003). The soaring world oil prices in 2003, which reached historical highs in 2008 of $147.30 a barrel, provided a strong incentive for them to stay. According to Ernst & Young, the oil companies are “largely satisfied with their investment” and the majority of them are planning to invest more in Kazakhstan.13 The MOCs must have understood that Nazarbaev’s triumph is temporary, as is the political regime in Kazakhstan, which he has built around his (aging) persona, not democratic institutions. Sooner or later, a color revolution, a “Kazakh Spring,” or Nazarbaev’s death will destabilize the political situation in the country and restore the bargaining power of global oil. According to Nazarbaev’s original plan, business partnerships with foreign oil companies were to transform his country’s economy. It appeared, however, that instead these partnerships transformed his regime. The oil contracts are important mechanisms that enable the MOCs—which are “transnational” and not “multinational” companies in nature since each is tied to one country—to accumulate capital in a legitimate manner and to ensure an uninterrupted supply of petroleum to privileged consumers (Duménil and Lévy 2004, 661). The MOCs achieve these goals by recasting oil deals as private (corporate) matters to be negotiated in secrecy and in a speedy manner with the executive branch. The primary effects of this arrangement are corruption, concentration of state power, and a lack of transparency and accountability of the state that, as has been argued, has plagued most petro-states. The absence of open parliamentary debates on proposed multinational oil deals also undermines the ability of the host state to draw on public support in order to get fair contractual terms for the country. This gap pushes the state toward consolidation as the means to increase its bargaining power. The oil contracts therefore encourage “stable,” albeit temporary, autocracies.

13.  Ernst  & Young, “The Emerging Market Center,” fdi-into-kazakhstan-on-the-increase-but-perception-gap-remains/.

306  Saulesh Yessenova Oil autocracies do depend on the oil revenues for political survival, as Karl and other theorists of the resource curse have argued. However, the findings in my research  indicate that Kazakhstan was set on a path to this condition as soon as the country opened its market to the MOCs. Once there, the oil revenues must have influenced political culture in Kazakhstan. By then, however, the politics in this country had already been steered in a particular direction by the powerful external actors invisibly embedded in the anatomy of the state. I have no intention of arguing that the oil contracts provide an exhaustive explanation of why oil-rich states lack democracy. Nonetheless, my contention is that the oil contracts and the manner in which they are negotiated as well as the state’s political responses to the requirements set by the global oil industry seriously obstruct democratic processes, thereby distorting political development in the countries hosting multinational projects. At the same time, this very distortion creates a proper environment for the MOCs, which explains the incremental increase of foreign capital investment in Kazakhstan’s oil development and perhaps elsewhere.

Chapter 15

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil Hannah Knox, University of Manchester

Attempts to mitigate climate change through reductions in carbon emissions are introducing new ways of imagining and talking about oil. Inspired in part by Mitchell’s (2011) analysis of the epistemological and material mechanisms through which oil came to establish its contemporary political power, this chapter attends to what happens when theories of anthropogenic climate change reconfigure fossil fuels as the primary source of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. In what follows, I explore how the identification of oil and other fossil fuels as “carbon” has had the effect of unsettling the relations that have come to organize the use and circulation of oil. The analysis proceeds through a consideration of two empirical cases. First, following a brief history of how carbon measurement became a matter of political concern, I explore the introduction of carbon as a fungible unit of trade in carbon markets in order to unpack the implications of carbon trading for our understanding of the contemporary politics of oil. Second, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Manchester, England, to explore how local efforts to reduce the carbon emissions of particular territories are also affecting the imagination of oil as a political substance. Through a consideration of the calculations and translations required to reconfigure oil as carbon, I describe how recasting oil as carbon has had the effect of placing fossil fuels into a relationship of similitude with other carbon producing or absorbing entities that can be aligned and rendered definitionally equivalent to oil. Observing the effects of the reconfiguration of oil as carbon extends a core interest of this volume in the performativity of oil and gas, by exploring the way in which

310  Hannah Knox the performativity of fossil fuels interfaces with other institutional, political, and environmental concerns. In particular it draws attention to the way in which calculative knowledge practices are capable of destabilizing the coherence of a substance like oil. This has implications for our consideration of just what it is that is being referred to when people engage in different kinds of “oil talk.”

Making Carbon Political Global climate change is in its very definition inextricably tied to carbon, although the history of the emergence of the current theory of anthropogenic climate change illustrates the complex social, political, and technological relationships that were required to produce the conditions within which a link between the burning of fossil fuels and the warming of the earth could become established (Weart 2008). From the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century, the science of global warming was concerned not with intervening in energy politics, but with merely establishing the facts about the functioning of the global atmosphere, the climate, and the weather, and the conditions that might lead to global temperature changes. This is not the place to recount precisely how a link was established between the burning of fossil fuels and global climate change, a story that is well rehearsed elsewhere (P. Edwards 2010; Weart 2008), but suffice it to say that by the mid-1980s this link had become sufficiently well established by mainstream climate science that a shift occurred, from the pursuit of scientific knowledge about anthropogenic climate change for its own sake to discussions of what kinds of political actions might be necessary to mitigate the effects that human activities were having on the global climate system (Lövbrand and Stripple 2011). During the 1980s and 1990s, a policy infrastructure began to be established that aimed to turn the science of climate change into a political, economic, and social issue. This was to bring the science of climate change and carbon to bear for the first time on the technopolitics of oil. The UN Conference on Climate Change held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 is generally held up as the moment at which climate change became the basis of forms of social and political reorganization with implications for the technopolitical life of oil with which this chapter is concerned (Gough and Shackley 2001; Weart 2008; P. Edwards 2010). The Kyoto Protocol was the first legally binding global agreement that attempted to put in place measures that would begin to tackle global carbon emissions (Böhringer 2003). The solution that emerged was the outcome of complex political negotiations that focused primarily on the question of who should be held responsible for reducing carbon emissions and by what amount. After

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil   311 protracted negotiations it was agreed that developing countries would be excluded from the protocol. In turn, developed countries would be expected to reduce their carbon emissions to achieve an average reduction of 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012 (Bachram 2004). In setting out a methodology for achieving these emission reductions targets the protocol did two things. First, it established a legally binding agreement for developed countries to reduce their territorial carbon emissions by a set amount. Second, it put in place the basic infrastructure of a greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme, called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which would allow developed countries to direct funds toward carbon reduction projects in the developing world in order to claim the carbon reductions achieved in these projects as part of their own carbon reduction targets (Bailey, Gouldson, and Newell 2010; E. Boyd, Boykoff, and Newell 2011). Both territorial emissions reductions and carbon trading were to require a reconsideration of the role that fossil fuels play in driving social and economic development by posing the question of precisely what the substantive composition of these fossil fuels should be understood to be. By reconceiving of oil as carbon, the technopolitical management of fossil fuels was to enter a new and highly politicized terrain, which, as we will see, threatened to unsettle conventional forms of oil talk.

Carbon Markets The Clean Development Mechanism was a negotiated response to the problem of how to develop a policy intervention to reduce carbon emissions in a way that would be politically and economically palatable. In the face of reticence from countries like the United States that were concerned about the implications of signing a treaty that would commit them to reduce their use of fossil fuels, and in the face of the political unpalatability of regulation as a tool for global governance (E. Boyd, Boykoff, and Newell 2011), emissions trading schemes emerged as a compromise that would introduce flexibility into the way in which countries could achieve emissions reductions targets. The CDM was based in large part on a previous emissions trading scheme that had been developed in the United States during the 1980s to tackle the problem of acid rain by reducing industrial emissions of sulfur-dioxide (MacKenzie 2007; Prins and Rayner 2007). The use of emissions trading to tackle acid raid had been broadly understood to have been successful, prompting factories to invest in clean technologies with the effect of significantly reducing sulfur-dioxide emissions. Using a similar mechanism to deal with greenhouse gas emissions was put forward by

312  Hannah Knox the United States as a solution that would allow high-emitting countries to offset emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels, with emissions saved in other places through different kinds of activities. The CDM was just one of a range of markets mechanisms that were developed post-Kyoto to enable emission trading. One of the major criticisms that has been leveled at markets like the CDM is the complex geopolitics that the structure of these trading arrangements has effected. Crudely put, the CDM enabled developed countries to trade units of pollution, categorized as “tons of carbon dioxide equivalent,” with units of carbon dioxide saved in the developing world. The CDM established a trading relationship whereby developed countries ended up financing developing countries to reduce their emissions while they were given a license to pollute (Bachram 2004). Studies that have looked at the details of specific carbon-offsetting projects that have been established in countries such as India and Brazil have highlighted a powerful neocolonialist logic to carbon markets where the unit of carbon dioxide becomes a mechanism, for example, for valuing forests as resources to be preserved, rather than valuing them as sites where people live and livelihoods are supported (Agarwal and Narain 1991; Robbins 2007; Bumpus and Liverman 2008; Liverman 2009). However, while much of the critical literature has focused on the geopolitics of carbon trading mechanisms like the CDM, the focus of this chapter is, in the spirit of this volume, to ask less what carbon trading does to social and political relations than to ask what carbon trading does to oil as a politically and technologically constituted substance. As noted above, trading mechanisms such as the CDM work on the basis of exchangeable units of carbon known as “metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent” (TCO2e). Standardized measures are used to determine the TCO2e of different fuel stuffs, and these are set  alongside the estimated savings of carbon that can be achieved by projects that achieve reductions in emissions by stopping activities that would have emitted more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than would have occurred without the intervention of the CDM. The differential emissions generated by the replacement of one activity by another that emits less carbon is commonly termed “additionality” (W. Boyd 2010). This is achieved through various initiatives, including projects to prevent the felling of forests, which are reconceived as carbon “sinks” (stores of carbon dioxide); renewable energy projects that involve a transfer of energy use from fossil fuels to renewables; and projects that result in reductions in industrial emissions. The first effect of the emissions trading schemes is that a focus on carbon renders oil and other fossil fuels as definitionally equivalent to objects and projects that would previously have been considered of an entirely different order. Oil, reconceived as TCO2e, becomes categorically identical,

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil   313 for example, to a particular acreage of nonfelled forest. William Boyd sums this up well: Simply put, a ton of avoided emissions from reduced deforestation is conceptually identical to a ton of avoided emissions from reduced fossil fuel use, with the same permanence issues applying (in theory) in both cases. In the former case, live carbon is left in the forest reservoir and prevented from leaking into the atmosphere. In the latter case, the dead carbon is left in the geological reservoir and prevented from leaking into the atmosphere. (W. Boyd 2010, 896)

In practice, offset schemes have focused on the former of these two scenarios—the avoidance of emissions from reduced deforestation— precisely in order to prevent the need to reduce carbon emissions by leaving valuable fossil fuels in the geological reservoir. Transforming forests into carbon sinks has required a reconceptualization of particular forests as part of a global ecosystemic infrastructure of forests, capable of exerting a transformative planetary force. Boyd points out, for example, that understanding forests as a problem of global carbon management . . . depends on a conceptual understanding of the earth’s forests as a single, aggregated component of the global carbon budget, as well as new synoptic infrastructures for coordinating the observation of forests on a planetary scale. This new way of seeing constitutes an immensely powerful technology of simplification and legibility “dedicated to specific forms of globalist information” (creating new “facts on a planetary scale”) that are in turn shaping the content of specific regulatory responses. (W. Boyd 2010, 901)

Oil, on the other hand, is itself already configured by similar devices of measurement and inscription in the fulfillment of a different kind of global role (see Limbert, this volume). Rather than being seen as part of a global ecosystem, oil has been conceived more along the lines of what Heidegger (1977) referred to as a “standing reserve,” a banked resource that has the potential to act as the foundation for the ongoing development of a technological society. As other chapters in this book attest, oil has for a long time been conceived as a resource awaiting extraction and exploitation, with all the political wranglings that the existence of such a resource entails. With fossil fuels already inscribed as a foundational component of modern life (Campbell 2005), reconceiving of them as part of an ecosystem whose key function is one of preservation, and not as a reserve to be used, is highly controversial.

314  Hannah Knox Although on the face of it carbon trading might therefore appear to make all carbon identical, we might also argue that it is precisely the political importance of allowing oil to retain its status as a “standing reserve” that has driven the pursuit of methodologies that can establish the equivalence of oil and other carbon producing entities. The purpose of making oil and forests equivalent in terms of TCO2e is not to render them the same, but precisely to avoid the scenario where fossil fuels might have to be conceived as carbon sinks, with the associated risk that this might draw forth regulatory mechanisms that would prevent or slow down the rate of extraction of fossil fuels. Indeed, the very reason why trading schemes were developed in the first place was to allow carbon reduction initiatives to proceed without affecting the extraction and use of fossil fuels. Although carbon trading thus appears to establish oil as definitionally the same as forests and other carbon-defined entities, its primary effect has been to diminish the political significance of oil and other fossil fuels as carbon by finding other kinds of carbon that can act as substitutes for fossil fuels as participants in an atmospheric politics. Whereas carbon trading posits an equivalence between different entities in terms of their capacity to absorb or emit carbon dioxide, the aim of this equivalence is to enable a substitutability between oil and other kinds of activities that have nothing to do with the oil industry. The establishment of an equivalence between oil and other entities in terms of their participation in the carbon cycle operates as a means by which oil can remain shielded from concerns about environmental politics. Carbon offsetting allows for the legitimation of the continued pursuit and use of oil and other kinds of fossil fuels by enrolling other entities to participate in carbon markets as proxies for the polluting effects of burning fossil fuels (Bumpus and Liverman 2008). This is not, however, to claim that the introduction of proxies does not in the end have effects on the conceptualization and circulation of fossil fuels such as oil. As Boyd points out, once carbon becomes a numerical proxy, the problem for the oil industry is that “it may take on a life of is own, tempting all concerned to evaluate alternative programs solely in terms of the number, without asking more fundamental questions” (W. Boyd 2010, 904). Certainly this seems to have been the case with carbon trading, with implications that have had tangible effects on the fluctuating price of fossil fuels. Writing about the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS), which was established in 2005, for example, Donald Mackenzie (2007) points out that carbon trading often produces highly perverse effects that are directly related to decisions about the use of different fuel stuffs. In the case of the EU-ETS, certain key industries have been categorized as high polluters, thus making them eligible for incorporation in carbon trading schemes. In order to protect those industries with high levels

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil   315 of pollution from what were seen as unfair penalties for their polluting activities, a quota scheme was introduced that would allow high-carbon-dioxide emitters to legitimately produce a certain level of CO2 emissions. First assessed as to the levels of carbon dioxide that they were emitting, these industries were then allocated a quota of carbon dioxide that they were allowed to emit annually. The trading scheme operated on the basis that companies that emitted more carbon than their allocation could bring their emissions levels down by buying carbon offsets. Meanwhile, industrial producers that emitted less carbon dioxide than their allocation were able to trade these savings on the EU-ETS (Mackenzie 2007). Mackenzie’s fascinating analysis of the effects of establishing equivalences between different fuels via the EU-ETS highlights a perverse incentive that emerged in the course of the development of the scheme. Far from encouraging high-polluting industries to invest in low carbon or carbon capture technologies, the EU-ETS initially had the effect of encouraging high polluters to pollute more in advance of their incorporation into the EU-ETS. Ironically, the transformation of fossil fuels into carbon acted as an incentive for industries to use higher polluting fossil fuels during the period of their assessment. This enabled them to become eligible for larger allowances, and thus they would need to do less to reduce their emissions in the future. Moreover, Mackenzie also shows that the method through which carbon allowances were allocated was highly influenced by powerful lobbying by industries that campaigned for high quota levels. This is widely regarded to have led to a general overallocation of allowances, meaning that industries began to receive allowances for more than they polluted. With industrial producers and power generators receiving more allowances to pollute than the levels of carbon they were emitting, they were able to begin to sell the difference between the amount of carbon they emitted and the amount they were allowed to emit, with the effect of flooding the market with excess units of carbon. As a result carbon prices began to fall; from a peak of thirty-one euros per ton of carbon, the price at the time of writing sits at less than five euros per ton. Even though carbon allowances have clearly reduced the capacity of carbon trading to incentivize investment in low carbon and carbon capture technologies, they also reveal how the complex interplay of carbon politics interfaces with calculations about the desirability of different fuels in often surprising ways. Whereas carbon trading shields oil from being directly tackled as a source of pollution, the complexities of carbon trading revealed by Mackenzie’s analysis demonstrate that carbon has now become an additional dimension to the means by which the choice of fuel is decided. With unstable carbon markets, the practical implication for industry is that the carbon price of particular fuels fluctuates over time. The

316  Hannah Knox desirability of a particular fuel is not tied solely to the levels of emissions it produces, but changes according to the idiosyncrasies of the carbon market itself. Even if the fuel is as polluting as it always has been, the relative importance of its carbon status waxes and wanes in ways that make choices over which fuel stuff to use highly complex. Carbon markets potentially produce an additional uncertainty into how people address fossil fuels as commodities. Not only is their price affected by demand, but their desirability is affected by the shifting implications of the price of their polluting effects. In sum, the reconfiguration of oil as carbon through carbon markets has been shown to have particular relational effects that do not always result in the choice of using a lower carbon-emitting fuel. Measuring the carbon status of a fuel establishes an equivalence between fuels such as oil and previously nonequivalent entities such as forests. At the same time, the purpose of the establishment of this equivalence has been less to demonstrate similitude than to introduce the possibility of substitutability. The aim of substitutability is not to reposition fossil fuels as historical carbon sinks, but rather to enable the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels by introducing numerical proxies that allow other things to stand in for oil, thus allowing oil to remain coherent as a tradable economic commodity. At the same time, the generation of proxies does not entirely insulate fuels like oil from the politics of carbon reduction. Via mechanisms that work to put a price on carbon, the price of oil risks being further destabilized by experimental carbon markets, which have experienced large price fluctuations in the process of their establishment. Ongoing attempts to reinstate the carbon-life of oil as a political problematic focus on what kinds of interventions might be able to repair the failures of carbon markets, which continue to struggle with unstable carbon prices.

Carbon Reductions beyond Trading Although the Kyoto Protocol’s aim of reducing carbon emissions by making states responsible for their territorial carbon emissions has been analyzed in the literature largely in terms of carbon trading, emissions trading in fact only accounts for a certain percentage of the territorial emissions reductions that were required under the Kyoto Protocol. Fankhauser, Kennedy, and Skia (2009) have suggested that at least a third of overall emissions reductions targets in the United Kingdom, for example, are expected to come from direct reductions in the use of fossil fuels in sectors that are not covered by the emissions trading schemes. Beyond carbon trading schemes, then, an extended range of techniques and methods that aims to directly reduce carbon emissions has been under development. I suggest

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil   317 that these also have had the effect of disrupting what we are terming here “oil talk.” In this section I  will draw on ethnographic work that I  have been conducting on attempts to bring about territorial emissions reductions through interventions into this nontradable domain in order to explore what these activities have been doing to the conceptualization and discussion of oil. Since 2010 I  have been following the activities of people in Manchester who have been involved in strategic attempts and specific initiatives to try to bring about reductions in carbon emissions through direct transformations in energy use. Like other cities and regions that have pursued direct reductions in carbon emissions (cf. While, Jonas, and Gibbs 2004; Rutland and Aylett 2008; Jonas, Gibbs, and While 2011), the primary focus of work in Manchester has been on how to increase the energy efficiency of buildings and transport and how to reduce the consumption of energy through attempts at cultural or behavioral change. The development of solutions to reduce carbon emissions in Manchester was oriented by an initial economic analysis that calculated the potential carbon emissions reductions achievable within the local economy. Arriving at this baseline information required definitional work, which was carried out by scientists working for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research in Manchester. The scientists who carried out the analysis utilized a cost-benefit model called MARKAL that works out the most economically efficient way of dealing with carbon reductions in order to determine where policy interventions for carbon reduction would be most effective. The model, which had previously been used by the Committee on Climate Change to work out U.K. emissions reductions targets, was applied to Manchester to work out a “realistic” distribution of carbon reductions at the city level. Using “marginal abatement cost curves,” the model promised to demonstrate the relationship between the impact of different carbon reduction measures and the cost of achieving those reductions. According to one of the scientists at the Tyndall Centre, the model assumes that “if the cost is right the change will happen.” Although recognizing that “it is more complicated than that,” the scientists argued that the model nevertheless produced a viable basis on which to frame the kinds of energy reductions that should be aimed for within the key areas of action that the report identified—buildings, transport, and energy—and within what timescale. The purpose of the calculations was to arrive at a set of figures that would both be indicative of what needed to be done to avoid catastrophic global warming and which realistically apportioned sites of action according to where current technologies and methods of intervention were deemed already economically viable. One effect of the model, then, was to establish a direct relationship between the ambition of reducing carbon and the financial implications of

318  Hannah Knox these activities. The model incorporated calculations of both the costs associated with implementing carbon reduction measures and the potential cost savings that could be made by reductions in fuel use resulting from the installation of these measures. In aligning carbon reduction and cost in this model, oil and other fuels were conceptualized as convertible both into carbon and, simultaneously, into cost savings. Reconfiguring energy usage in terms of carbon reductions and cost savings was also central to the broader use of carbon footprints as a technique that was being used to help reduce people’s personal consumption of fuel and the consumption of fuel by businesses. An environmental organization working in Manchester at the time of my fieldwork, which I will call Efficas, was working with businesses to help them achieve what they called “resource efficiencies.” A key part of the work of Efficas was to assist in the overall reductions of carbon emissions for Manchester by encouraging businesses to invest in technologies and management techniques that would reduce both their carbon emissions and their energy costs. Companies that signed up to the program were visited by an analyst who conducted an audit of their business, mapping the various resources that they used in their organization, including different fuels, and then entering them into a spreadsheet. The figures on the quantities of resources used by the business were then channeled through a set of “conversion factors.” These conversion factors are standardized calculations that are updated each year by the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change and enable a particular quantity of any fuel to be translated both into TCO2e and into cost. In this way it was possible for a direct relationship to be established between energy savings, carbon savings, and cost savings, each capable of being converted into the others at the click of a button. So, what have the effects of these conversions been on the status and conceptualization of oil? First, the act of conversion has focused attention on the primary issue surrounding the use of fuel, the problem of quantity. In contrast to what Urry (2010) has characterized as a contemporary “culture of excess,” which is preoccupied primarily with capital and resource accumulation and ever increasing consumption, conversions between energy, carbon, and money have had the effect of introducing a politics of efficiency into discussions about the proper manner of consuming fuel stuffs like oil. One perennial problem that is posed as a result of rendering of fossil fuels and other resource as substances that need to be saved rather than expended is the question of what happens to the money that is saved through efficiency drives. An oft repeated example is the imagined scenario where a householder saves several hundred pounds on energy costs by insulating their home, but spends the money that they have saved on an overseas flight. Not only does the convertibility of energy into carbon and

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil   319 into money create the foundation for an approach to fuel that is framed by the question of efficiency, but it simultaneously raises the specter of a twin problem, what I will call here “transference.” Because almost everything that people living in Manchester do is understood to be based on carbon-producing activities, the issue thus shifts from a question of how to improve the efficiency of people’s use of fossil fuels like oil to the problem of how to incorporate an understanding of the latent energetic qualities of all of the things that they could potentially spend money on. In order to tackle this problem, organizations such as Efficas have begun to attempt to understand not just the carbon impact of the use of particular fuels but to analyze the carbon impact of all “resource use.” Unlike the MARKAL model, which was used to calculate carbon reduction targets for Manchester as a whole and which focused just on carbon dioxide emissions from the direct burning of fossil fuels within the city boundaries or the use of electricity by city businesses and residents, carbon footprinting carried out both for businesses and for individuals increasingly incorporates an analysis of the carbon impact of things other than fuel. Rather than focusing just on gas and oil (“scope 1” emissions) and electricity (“scope 2” emissions), resource efficiency and ecological footprinting techniques also incorporate what are known as “scope 3” emissions—that is, those emissions that are generated in the course of producing or disposing of any good or service. Keen to pursue the most effective and transparent approach to carbon reduction measures, since 2011 members of the Manchester City Council environment team have been pursuing the possibility of extending the measurement of carbon emissions conducted by the Tyndall Centre scientists from a focus just on fuel use as the basis for a territorial measure of carbon reductions. The aim of the new analysis is to include not just the carbon effects of the fuel burnt and electricity used within the territorial boundaries of the city, but to acknowledge the broader responsibility that the city and its residents should have for consuming goods and services whose carbon production and distribution is located outside the territorial boundaries of the city. To this end, the city council has been involved in attempts to develop an alternative way of measuring carbon to that used in the Kyoto agreements, a measure that has come to be called “total carbon footprinting.” In 2011 the city council in Manchester commissioned a report from an independent consultancy called Small World Consulting, whose managing director, Mike Berners-Lee, is also the author of a popular book on consumption-based carbon footprinting entitled How Bad Are Bananas? (Berners-Lee 2009). The book, written in a playful and accessible style, sets out to demonstrate the counterintuitive effects of consumption-based carbon emissions measurement and promotes an educational message

320  Hannah Knox to help people make the right consumption choices to reduce their carbon-producing behavior. Building up an escalating picture of the carbon-producing effects of different activities, the author discovers that reusing plastic bags has a minor carbon effect compared to stopping eating meat, and that flying on an airplane is about the worst single thing you can do as an individual to emit carbon. The central aim of the book is to provide people with the tools through which they can deal with the problem of transference, which lies at the heart of attempts to be environmentally aware by pursuing cost savings through energy efficiency. The book provides a map of consumption choices that people can make if they want to simultaneously participate in a consumer society and save carbon. Building on the methodology used in this book, in 2011 Small World Consulting developed a total carbon footprint for the whole of Greater Manchester. This resulted in a pie chart that demonstrated where most of the carbon was currently expended in the consumption habits of Manchester residents (fig. 15.1). What was most striking was the relatively significant impact of activities that were not covered by the original Tyndall report on the city’s contribution to climate change. Transport and buildings as sites of energy reduction activities now appeared alongside a new

Domestic construction

Public administration and other public services Education Health care Water, waste, and sewage Other bought services (including financial services)

Household fuel

3% 12%

7% 2%

4% 8%


Domestic vehicle fuel

5% 7%

Other nonfood shopping

Household electricity

10% 11%

Electrical goods

2% 7%

Eating, drinking, and staying away from home

Personal flights

3% 5% 13%

Travel by train, bus, and other transport Car manufacture and maintenance

Food and drink from retail

Figure 15.1. The greenhouse gas footprint of Greater Manchester residents broken down by consumption category (total 41.2 million tons CO2e). The Total Carbon Footprint of Greater Manchester, 2011, Small World Consulting.

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil   321 set of areas of potential intervention, with the largest new area of intervention appearing to be food. One of the immediate effects of reanalyzing the activities that were responsible for the city’s contribution to climate change was that the work that had been done to achieve reductions in carbon emissions by reducing the use of fuel by local businesses and residents was being replaced by figures that showed that the carbon footprint of the city, far from gradually being reduced, was in fact increasing. A U.K. analysis using a similar methodology demonstrated that far from having reduced its carbon emissions by the celebrated figure of 15% between 1990 and 2005, the United Kingdom could be shown to have actually significantly increased emissions since 1990 by 19% (Helm 2012). Why, then, was this the case and what were its implications for our present discussion about oil? On January 17, 2012, both Mike Berners-Lee and a representative from the city council debated this very question at a hearing of the U.K. Energy and Climate Change Committee at the House of Commons, a hearing that had been convened to gather expert advice on the possibilities and limits of total carbon footprinting. According to the discussion in the committee meeting, and the diagnosis of others in Manchester with whom I discussed the possible advantages and disadvantages of total carbon footprinting, the reason why total carbon footprinting appears to increase the United Kingdom’s responsibility for carbon emissions is that it expands the definition of territorial emissions to consider all of the carbon dioxide emitted in the supply chain activities that go into producing goods and services that are consumed in a single country. In terms of what this does to fuels like oil, a shift from the “direct emissions” method of reporting, which was established in the Kyoto Protocol, to total carbon footprinting has the effect of redistributing the locations where oil can be conceptually located. Moving away from thinking of oil as a tangible substance existing in a particular time and place, total carbon footprinting instead reconfigures oil and other fossil fuels as a kind of echo or ghostly presence, imperceptibly contained in the biographies of all goods and services. Total carbon footprinting thus appears to shift attention away from oil itself as an identifiable thing in its own domain. Instead, it dissipates fossil fuels into a component of everything, establishing a potential carbon equivalence not just between different kinds of fuel but between all things and activities. The analysis provided by total carbon footprinting thus draws attention away from the commodity status of objects in their own right and toward the question of any object’s energetic biography. One effect of an increased awareness of the carbon life of all objects has been to draw attention to the problem of definitional instability. One example that was often given to illustrate this instability was strawberries. During an

322  Hannah Knox interview with the head of environment and energy at a medium-sized supermarket chain, the interviewee reflected on the way in which his organization had dealt with the often counterintuitive findings of carbon footprinting by recounting what had happened when they too had conducted a carbon footprint of the strawberries that the supermarket stocked. A carbon-biography of different strawberries had revealed that the strawberries that they sourced from Scotland were, surprisingly, responsible for a far larger carbon footprint than those they imported from Spain. This turned on its head a general conceit that imported goods are more carbon intensive than nonimported goods because of the fuel expended in transporting them. In this case, the reason for the difference came down to production methods. The footprinting had shown that Scottish strawberries had been grown using peat, an agricultural material that had a much greater carbon impact than the fuel burned in the transportation of Spanish strawberries to the United Kingdom. If the immediate effect of total carbon footprinting was to reveal surprising figures on the carbon life of different objects, the issue of how to act on this information soon drew attention to the politics of intervention. One of the primary concerns about the interventions that total carbon footprinting would require to achieve a reduction in the carbon emissions of goods and services was the geopolitics these interventions would set in play. Although the methodology is not yet widely used, during the Energy and Climate Change Committee hearing there were several scenarios put forward that imagined the geopolitical implications of introducing a method like total carbon footprinting. With total carbon footprinting appearing to enjoin developed countries like the United Kingdom to acknowledge a greater contribution to climate change than that identified in the Kyoto Protocol, one issue that arose was the extent to which the United Kingdom should be expected to directly intervene in the production methods of companies that produced things that were consumed in Britain, but which were themselves located under different legal and regulatory regimes. People at the committee hearing were concerned about the political and moral implications of interventions into the energy decisions of other countries that were currently protected from having to pursue a legally binding reduction in fossil fuel emissions. Others put forward more pragmatic arguments, suggesting that carbon pricing, if it could be made to work, would likely raise the cost of commodities produced overseas because few attempts had yet been made to reduce direct carbon emissions in many countries that produce manufactured goods consumed in the United Kingdom. Preemptively intervening in the energy systems of developing countries was in this instance conceived less as a form of ideological imperialism and more as a matter of national security: protecting one’s own citizens against rising commodity prices becomes recognized

Carbon, Convertibility, and the Technopolitics of Oil   323 as a necessity once all objects, all commodities, and all processes are reimagined as materializations of a chain of relations revealed by a shift in attention to the carbon composition of fossil fuels like oil. In a recent article on carbon markets, Anders Blok describes the circulation of conceptualization and reifications of both global climate change and units of carbon as what he calls “overlapping and clashing cosmograms” (Blok 2010, 910). Yet for Blok, like for many others who are working to understand the complexities of global climate change and contemporary energy politics, the dynamics of overlap and clash are mainly analyzed in terms of their existence in the field defined by the focus of analysis. As Gavin Bridge has pointed out, research on climate change and research on energy continue to be pursued along parallel trajectories with few attempts to explore the manifold interferences that we find between these two domains (Bridge 2011; Lovell, Bulkeley, and Owens 2009). Inspired in large part by the same theoretical debates and conceptual repertoires as Blok, the purpose of this chapter has been to shift beyond an analysis of the technopolitical dynamics that might explain the epistemological emergence and cultural significance of either climate change (Szerszynsky and Urry 2010; Wynne 2010) or energy politics (Nye 1990; Coronil 1997; Winther 2008; Mitchell 2010), and to observe how the domains of expertise being developed around carbon in response to scientific evidence on climate change is affecting the coherence and stability of what we might call, following Blok, the “cosmograms” of oil. The Kyoto Protocol was put in place in 1997, but since then global carbon emissions have continued their exponential rise. In spite of proven emissions reductions in some developed countries, overall global emissions appear to have been hardly affected by the measures that have been put in place. The analysis provided here gives some clues as to why. Although the transformation of fossil fuels into carbon aimed to incentivize industries to invest in low carbon alternatives, the establishment of an equivalence between fossil fuels and other entities that could also be conceived in terms of their carbon properties also had the effect of protecting oil talk from its reconceptualization in terms of carbon through what I have called a technique of substitutability. This is not to say that fossil fuels have not been unsettled by moves to reconceptualize them in terms of their carbon polluting qualities. However, the destabilization of oil and other fossil fuels has been accompanied by considerable analytical, institutional, political, and technical repair work that has attempted to reinstate the purification (Latour 1993) of fossil fuels, allowing them to remain primarily conceived as a “standing reserve” for future human use. In activities focused on reducing territorial emissions through the promotion of energy efficiency, this work has proceeded through techniques

324  Hannah Knox that have aimed to establish a convertibility between energy, carbon, and cost. However, as we have seen, this in turn has produced a problem of transference, where efficiencies/carbon savings achieved in one sphere of activity risk being undone by spending/carbon expenditure in another. In response to the problem of transference I have considered the implications for fossil fuels of a new method of measurement that has been proposed in the context of my fieldwork on climate change mitigation in Manchester, the method of total carbon footprinting. Although recommendations are beginning to be made to shift the measurement of carbon from a direct emissions-based method of measurement to a total-carbon-footprinting-based method, it remains to be seen what the actual effects will be on oil talk. We have seen some tentative speculations as to what these might be, in terms of both a moral crusade to implore other countries to also invest in energy efficiency measures and a pragmatic sense of the need for preemptive action against future commodity costs that might be affected by taxes on pollution. For those who hope that total carbon footprinting techniques hold the key to developing new forms of legislation that might prove more effective than the Kyoto Protocol at reducing carbon emissions, it would seem imperative, however, not just to assume that metrics change the choice of which substance to use, but to acknowledge that the substantive stability of different fuel stuffs is a simultaneously social, cultural, and technical achievement. As we move forward, understanding the politics of oil in the context of transition will, I suggest, benefit from an ongoing attention to the interplay between different methods of calculation, enumeration, and definition through which the objects and subjects of climate change and energy will continue to form themselves anew.

Chapter 16

Events Collectives The Social Life of a Promise-Disappointment Cycle Arthur Mason, Rice University

At a meeting I attended in 2004, Alaska governor Frank Murkowski invited oil executives and members of his staff to discuss plans for building a $30 billion natural gas pipeline. One of the participants, Joe Marushak, a vice president for ConocoPhillips, stated, “What we see happening over and over again is that Alaska [oil companies] come together to start working on a pipeline project when natural gas prices get quite high. And then, gas prices get as low as $2.25 [per thousand cubic feet]. Well, that $2.25 clearly does not support a pipeline, and just highlights—for whatever reason—periods where there’s huge price volatility. That volatility puts a dampening effect in trying to invest thirty billion dollars at one point in time.” Also in attendance at the meeting was Terry Koonce, then president of ExxonMobil, who expressed his own ambivalence about the project: “Governor, we love you,” Koonce began, “but we have to make sure that we don’t develop in my own terms a sinkhole or a problem for the next generation of management or shareholders coming behind us.” The discovery in the 1960s of a large natural gas reservoir located at Prudhoe Bay has inspired frequent exchanges between Alaska state officials (including at one time myself as associate director of energy under Governor Murkowski, primarily working with Congress on energy issues) and industry sponsors about the delivery of Alaska gas to southern markets. For oil executives, the sizable reward for monetizing Alaska gas and its extraordinary positioning in relation to energy markets links two elements of one chain: first, the uncertainty of delivering Alaska gas to markets located thousands of miles away, and second, addressing this uncertainty

326  Arthur Mason against the kind of economic value that shareholders expect. For me, as an observer of Arctic natural gas predicaments, this chain of commitment raises a question: Under what rubric can events of expectation remain a promise that repeatedly excites despite its record of disappointment? In this chapter I specify a collection of ritual and rhetorical manifestations that express expectation and disillusion over Alaska natural gas development. For analytical purposes I  refer to this promise and disappointment cycle as an events collective. My aim is to recognize an effective bundling of potentials that mobilizes interest, entanglement, deception, and confusion in Arctic hydrocarbon development—where the enormous value of monetizing reserves is significantly diminished by the extraordinary construction costs, environmental risks, and market uncertainties of connecting Arctic resources to global markets. Most of the events that I speak of are government and industry sponsored. Their duration usually lasts no longer than two hours but can run as little as fifteen minutes or as long as several days, and in the case of legislative sessions, several months. Sometimes, the significance of the event can be attributed to how it is being reported afterward in news outlets. None of these publicized happenings are organized collectively; that is, each event is singular and not purposefully strung together with other events, although in some cases the gatherings, such as policy council meetings, convene during interim periods and travel to several locations. Events take many guises—unconditioned, discursive, critical, cascading— and are inseparably related to their mode of registration (Ardener 1989; Appadurai 1996; Das 1995; Foucault 1972). Such happenings, as with mythical thought, often act as liberators of meaning, providing the grounds for a protest against the rational assembly of explanation (Lévi-Strauss 1968, 22; Faubion 1995, xix). They also give rise to an unbridled kingdom of fact, wish fulfillment, and imagination, whose stagings of verification invoke an anthropology of religion, magic, and fraud (Munn 1992; Turner 1969; Tsing 2000). Here, I consider the events collective as a category of expectation oriented toward building protected spaces that play a role in the sociocultural processes that are part of technological developments (N. Brown, Rappert, and Webster 2000; Geels and Smit 2000; Pollock and Williams 2010). An events collective is a strategic resource for attracting attention from sponsors (financial, regulatory) to stimulate agenda-setting processes; as such, it contributes to a narrative order that governs the distribution of social power (Van Lente 1993) and a hierarchy of discourses that would otherwise atrophy (Foucault 1971). Increasingly on display at Arctic events collectives are the social authorities, intellectual technologies, and anticipatory strategies capable of reconfiguring the Arctic into hydrocarbon-rich and accessible landscapes (Kristofferson 2014; Johnson 2010b). Their logics of geopolitical

Events Collectives  327 expansion and prophesy dimension raise scholarly concern over privatized knowledge systems that license the intervention of experts in debates about community plans (Bravo 2009; Powell 2008), extractive industry (Harsem, Eide, and Heen 2011; Nuttall 2013; Stammler 2011), and infrastructure development and security (Hoogensen Gjorv et al. 2013), as well as the efficacy of integrating Indigenous knowledge systems with Western institutional apparatuses (Buxton and Wilson 2013). Recent statements of support for Russian-Norwegian Arctic natural gas development (Moe 2010; Offerdal 2010) offer a sampling of the varyingly scripted formal and informal geographically diffused material information networks that comprise an events collective. As an example, in June 2013 I  caught a glimpse of Maria van der Hoeven, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), speaking enthusiastically of capturing high natural gas prices in Asia. During the St.  Petersburg International Economic Forum, van der Hoeven described “hypothetical” pipelines shipping Arctic natural gas to China in efforts to resolve the contractions of an industry that stubbornly resists globalization. Days later, many of the St.  Petersburg forum players flew to the Moscow Oil and Gas Congress to voice approval of IEA scenarios. Ivan Grachev, energy chairman for the Russian State Duma, and Vitaliy Yermakov, director in Moscow for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, both affirmed anticipated rises in natural gas prices: “One-hundred percent certainty,” remarked Grachev. Meanwhile, at the Arctic Summit in Oslo, Henrik Madsen, CEO of Det Norske Veritas (a strategic knowledge firm), spoke to me of an industrialized Arctic, which he later pronounced to the assembly under the title of the “Near-High North,” as opposed to what he called an “unthinkable High-High North.” Offering further details, Runi Hansen, head of Statoil Arctic, referred to three categories of oil and gas development: Workable Arctic, by which he meant “no ice”; Stretch Arctic, a region of seasonal ice; and Extreme Arctic, referring to regions with year-round ice. According to Hansen, these categories offer a “step-wise approach” for developing shallow to ultra-deepwater projects. Back in Russia, at the Corinthia Hotel in St. Petersburg, I joined a Russian-Norwegian task force that focuses on step-wise development in the Barents Sea region. We poured over charts unofficially titled Parallelity, by which they meant Arctic energy projects moving forward through coordinated Russian-Norwegian time frames with additional foreign investment. These differently expressed opinions form a part of the events collective—the talking simultaneously, getting excited, and making the unreal into a probability by putting wishes into words. Looking over my notes taken at the turn of the millennium, I can identify similar discursive commitments in favor of expanding the U.S. continental energy supply (Mason 2008, 2005). Without ever having established

328  Arthur Mason one project, target completion dates of 2007 to 2012 promised the delivery of Arctic natural gas from locations at Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, Canada’s Mackenzie Delta, and Russia’s Barents Sea. Optimism for these projects was widely disseminated in trade and national news outlets. In what follows below, I offer an events collective as a framework for a particular route of agency in Alaska energy politics. Specifically, I string together a series of unstructured publicized happenings (gatherings, announcements) so as to formulate an archetype of hydrocarbon development taking place at both the limits of rational expectation and its entry into mystification. Instead of words expressing what is actually desired by the persons involved and individuals being seen as planners, creators, and causes, I argue that in reality an events collective is an expression of the total social network of people and their wishes, the constellation of the total social field as a whole, and the opportunities it gives to individual groups and persons. In doing so, my aim is to consider the enrollment of actors into frameworks of understanding and consensus, where certain truths emerge even while disagreement and ignorance reign and resentment and distrust remain. I want to know how strategic partnerships intersect and how sequestered conversations open up and become public conversation, drawing attention to individuals (careers, attitudes) and fleeting phenomena (modes of talking, attire) as objects of representation that structure the images my informants have of themselves (Mason and Stoilkova 2012). As I demonstrate, an Alaska events collective is an underworld of empiricism whose formula of need reflects the nature and degree of interdependences that hold together the various people and groups forming Alaska hydrocarbon development—interdependencies that always require the so-called owners (the State of Alaska), de facto owners (Exxon, BP, Conoco), pipeline builders (Foothills Pipe Lines), and so forth. As such, policy is peripatetic, as issues travel from city to city and announcements take place in various places. An entire entourage travels about, with the governor, lawmakers, aides, journalists, consultants, and lobbyists traveling from the economic hub (Anchorage) to the capitals (Juneau, Washington, D.C.) and back again. In this way the arteries connecting provincial life with the Capitol, rural Alaska with the metropolis, are not constricted. A process of distancing is taking place, but the constant movement of the political entourage prevents the distances from becoming petrified, creating an awareness of the networks and entanglements in and through which everyone must act and think (Elias 1983).

The Promise The potency of emotional markers that I  attribute to an Alaska events collective arises from knowledgeable persons working in the financial and

Events Collectives  329 petroleum industries who publicly announced converging global energy threats, thus suggesting the potential for building a $30 billion Alaska natural gas pipeline. A potential suggests a state of possibility for developing into a state of actuality. Rumors in December 2000 of a potential pipeline project were taken quite seriously by the Alaska state lawmakers who began the first session of the twenty-second state legislature in January 2001. During that session, awareness of just such a potential translated the imagined possibilities of a pipeline into fact in the minds of the lawmakers. It produced the belief that, after thirty years, a window of opportunity had finally opened for commercializing the state’s natural gas reserves. In this period, financial analysts described a “state of the world” where natural gas fuel had become the energy of choice. They pointed to India, a coal-intensive country with a growth rate of natural gas consumption four times that of coal during the 1990s, and to California, where new electricity capacity was almost entirely fueled by natural gas. They spoke of China, where bureaucrats had announced the construction of a gas pipeline from the west to Shanghai, and they mentioned Japan, where energy leaders had struck natural gas deals with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Qatar, involving nearly $3 billion. They referred to the completely unexpected price levels of natural gas ($5.15 per million Btu) compared with one year earlier ($1.75/mBtu) and to the New York Mercantile Exchange, where on several occasions prices had risen to double this amount. They noted the maturity of traditional natural gas supply areas and of drilling in the United States and Canada, which, though averaging twenty-five thousand new wells a year, a seemingly robust number, had not resulted in any significant increases in supply, while the decline rates for wells were extremely high during initial years of production (40% annually). In their turn, energy consultants explained the probability and embraced the plausibility of the rise of a new technological formation. The energy industry, they argued, was fixed on a very ambitious target. They referred to a growth imperative likely to fundamentally alter the structure and functioning of the North American natural gas market. Through specialized client privilege reports and descriptive scenarios available on the Internet, in newspapers, and on news-talk outlets, they explained that the industry had embarked on a path—The Long Ascent as they put it. The road promised to be an interplay of conflicting supply and demand forces and accentuating boom and bust cycles. As the path spiraled upward, indeed, they guaranteed that the climb would be a “wild ride for the entire industry.” The size of the challenge, the current strength of the market, and improved technological and infrastructure advancements, though with some inevitable twists and turns, would lead to the construction of a $30  billion, thirty-five-hundred-mile pipeline to deliver Alaska gas reserves to the United States midcontinent. “In this new environment,” they opined, “the greatest value will be exploited by those who can understand

330  Arthur Mason the new cycles and who position themselves to take advantage of them” (Robinson and Hoffman 2000). In Alaska, these events circulated as the convergence of a triple threat: natural gas shortages, oil price shocks, and disuse of coal, with one University of Alaska economics professor announcing a “perfect energy storm,” in reference to the movie The Perfect Storm, in which three weather systems converge at the same time and location to overwhelm fishermen at sea (Reynolds 2003). State newspapers opined that as America faced its perfect energy storm, Alaska could benefit from high energy prices if a pipeline could transport Arctic gas to midcontinental markets. The alignment of circumstance had Governor Tony Knowles wide-eyed as he addressed the state via radio and television, and the world via live Webcast on January 10, 2001: “After decades of false starts and broken dreams, the economic and political stars are finally aligned in our favor. Natural gas is the fuel of the twenty-first century.” In supportive statements, then–Alaska senator Frank Murkowski pronounced that Alaska might once again become a destination for workers seeking adventure and fortune, and he envisioned an Arctic pipeline as “a snowball that would initiate an avalanche of development statewide.” During this period, Alaska lawmakers heard upbeat testimony in support of building a pipeline by spokespersons for Cambridge Energy, British Petroleum, Phillips Petroleum, ExxonMobil, Yukon Pacific Corp., Marubeni Corp., and Foothills Pipe Lines. Company representatives noted that oil prices in New York had jumped to $30 a barrel in anticipation of production cuts by Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of oil, which was set to reduce shipments by five hundred thousand barrels a day starting in February. The rising cost of oil, they emphasized, was increasing demand on natural gas as a fuel for electricity power plants and home heating, while American resentment was rising over being held hostage by OPEC, an organization with 40% of the world’s crude oil and control of 75% of the world’s accessible oil reserves.

Reverberations In the Alaska events collective, a small number of energy leaders created focal points in time and space that reverberated in the minds and speech of others. Consider the December 6, 2000, announcement by vice presidents of ExxonMobil, Phillips Petroleum, and British Petroleum of a $100 million joint work program to evaluate an Alaska natural gas pipeline project. At a press conference in Anchorage, Joe Marushak of Phillips described the formation of a project team, the North American Natural Gas Pipeline Group. Marushak promised an “economically viable project” that would encourage new investment in exploration of Alaska gas, maximize state

Events Collectives  331 revenues, and provide employment opportunities and access to natural gas within the state. A joint press release called for an “economic project” to provide “the kind of value that shareholders expect.” These three companies, among the world’s largest, own nearly all of the discovered oil and gas reserves in Alaska. As owners of the gas, one of these companies, or all collectively, would likely carry the risk of investing the multiple billions of dollars required to move Alaska gas to consuming markets. On several occasions since the discovery in 1968, these producers, or their predecessors in interest, have considered options for natural gas commercialization. The announcements from Alaska oil companies float like air and permeate into spaces that typically exercise security in the traffic of all things. In the sequestered rooms of the state capitol building in Juneau, including the governor’s office, news of the proposed study traveled freely and circulated without restriction. It traveled via speakerphone into the Office of the Alaska Governor in Washington, D.C., located on the Senate side of Capitol Hill, where it then further penetrated the congressional offices of Senator Murkowski. Weeks earlier, responding to high natural gas prices, Murkowski had called a hearing to gather recommendations for energy legislation he planned to introduce into Congress. The hearing was titled “To Consider the Transportation of Alaska North Slope Natural Gas to Market and to Investigate the Cost, Environmental Impacts and Energy Security Implications to Alaska and the Rest of the Nation for Alternative Routes and Projects.” Testimony was given by Terry Koonce, president of ExxonMobil, as well as fourteen other highly placed industry and government officials. The reverberations of the goings-on inside the Juneau capitol building quickly spilled out, beyond the steps and into the reception halls, hotels, and civic auditoriums. In the weeks following the announcement, legislative luncheons, tournaments, parties, auctions, and banquets all became oriented toward Alaska pipeline proposals. Afterward, at late night drinking soirees and midnight suppers, at Democratic and Republican party auctions, fund-raisers, and dances, discussion over the Alaska pipeline continued. The reverberations intensified as leading state lawmakers unleashed a veritable torrent of press releases, memos, speeches, updates, 7 a.m. briefings, press conferences, Senate bills, House bills, and concurrent resolutions. Press release headlines of political deeds were ubiquitous. Alaska lawmakers hired natural gas experts and energy forecasters. They introduced bills to the Alaska Legislature on such topics as right-of-way, bonds, and development. They provided resolutions establishing task forces, joint committees, equity ownership, opposition to routes, support for gas sales, ad valorem taxes, and construction. What quantities the government tabulates, journalists publish as figures. By adjournment on May 8 of the first session of the twenty-second

332  Arthur Mason state legislature, Alaska lawmakers had introduced dozens of Senate and House bills, substitute bills, and resolutions specific to Alaska gas development. Phillips Alaska Inc., the state’s second largest oil producer, was the highest spender on lobbying, at $416,000 for fees and expenses. BP, the largest oil producer, was second, spending nearly $300,000. ExxonMobil came in third at $236,000. Veco Corp., an oil and gas contractor, spent $180,000. Yukon Pacific Corp., seeking rights to construct the natural gas pipeline, spent nearly $120,000, and Foothills Pipe Lines, which owned permits to build a pipeline along the Alaska Highway, spent $92,000. Nearly one million dollars of state funds was “steered” (the word chosen by journalists) to outside consultants, while another  million dollars was directed toward increasing government activity on pipeline development by establishing committees and councils and by hiring new staff in select departments. Legislators filed administrative orders and concurrent resolutions creating a Natural Gas Policy Council and a Joint Committee on Natural Gas Pipelines. An events collective is an obligatory passage point for an atmosphere of potentials where facts and artifacts struggle over establishing “a measure of renown,” or what the Oxford English Dictionary calls “fame.” As such, fame complements a process of fact-building through dissemination and performativity, what Bruno Latour calls inscription, the convincing of others, controlling behavior, the gathering of sufficient resources “to make claims spread out in time and space” (1987, 131). An events collective is a reverberation: according to Nancy Munn (1992), the extension and circulation of a person or thing through its name in the minds and speech of others. It channels the separation of elements and expansion through repetition of those elements in time and space. Undeniably, a central feature of the oil and gas industry is the special connection between proportions of quality to spatial and temporal quantity. Quantifiable matter includes linguistically coded economic values and political relations—the establishment of socially recognized standards of measurement (Friedrich 1989). Everything of value, everything that is valorized positively and economically for the energy industry, must achieve its full potential in temporal and spatial terms as a value of quantity. In the Alaska events collective, quantity appears as an avalanche of numbers. It is the capacity volume of gas for various pipeline proposals (1.2 to 5.6 billion cubic feet per day), and amounts in trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas reserves on Alaska’s North Slope (26–35 Tcf known reserves; 100–285 Tcf potential reserves) and in nearby Canada’s MacKenzie Delta (13 Tcf known reserves; 55 Tcf potential reserves), or within the reserves of a given gas well (Prudhoe Bay: 26 Tcf; Point Thompson: 3–5 Tcf; Kuparuk, Lisburne, and Endicott fields considered together: 2–6 Tcf). It is ownership  percentages of natural gas (BP 32%, ExxonMobil 30%,

Events Collectives  333 Phillips 30%, State of Alaska 12.5% royalty share), pipeline diameters (36”, 42”, 48”, 56”), distances to market (1,700 mi., 1,200 mi., 3,500 mi.), pipeline pressure rates (1,260 psi, 3,000 psi, 1,440 psi), steel strengths (100x, 80x, 70x), construction costs ($2.85 billion to $20 billion), percentages of in-state pipe (41%, 16%, 0%), construction times (2 yrs. to 5 yrs.), tariff rates ($0.90-$1.25 mcf), completion dates (2007 or 2012 or 2018 or 2025 or ?), associated jobs (40,000 to 400,000), and expected billions of dollars in revenue. Such numbers fuel strategies of translation for how knowledge is modified and made public, the constant shuffling between the world and the inner circles that creates the pathways, content, and context of enlisting the interest of human actors, as well as the interest of nonhuman actors (gas deposits) so as to hold the interest of the former. Inside Juneau’s capitol building, numbers appear in repeat performances at hearings, overviews, and presentations where gas pipeline knowledge streams out of committees, caucuses, press conferences, councils, and clubs. Bulletins, memos, and press releases announcing presentations by industry experts and organizations promoting specific pipeline routes appear like news flashes on legislative websites, committee schedule printouts, daily journals, and industry gas-line reports. In hallways, lobbyists, legislators, and staffers mull over different options for monetizing Alaska natural gas, including overland pipes to the continental United States, pipes to southern Alaska, liquefying gas for transport to Asia, or conversion of natural gas to liquids for shipment down the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

The Occult Diary An events collective employs implicature, stating one thing but intending something else, for the delivery of sarcasm, irony, and contempt across agents within the field of interest. The Juneau Report, a glossy twenty-page brochure describing proposals for constructing an Alaska pipeline, provides one example. Weeks prior to the December  6 announcement, BP distributed the Juneau Report among Alaska state officials and lawmakers. Despite its focus on the pipeline, the report reminds Alaskans of BP’s revenue contribution to the state through corporate taxes on Prudhoe Bay oil and gas production. In 2000, BP’s contribution, along with Phillips and Exxon, which also produce oil in Alaska, totaled nearly $2 billion. Collectively, these producers provide the third largest source of state revenue, behind federal transfer payments and investment earnings on an oil-based permanent wealth fund. On the right side of the second page, just facing the reader as you turn the cover, is a photograph of Karl Kidders, the BP team leader for the North American Natural Gas Pipeline Group. In

334  Arthur Mason the photograph Kidders appears cheerful, an image that contrasts with how I remember his behavior in front of Alaska state officials, whom he regards with mild contempt. Under the photograph is Kidders’s personal address to Alaskans. He states, “Before the end of this decade, and hopefully much sooner, Alaska’s vast supply of natural gas should be flowing to the largest natural gas market in the world, the North American market.” Weeks later, in January 2001, the Anchorage Daily News reprinted the Juneau Report’s numbers, including the $2 billion figure. They appeared in a popular biweekly column written by satirist Mike Doogan. In his commentary, Doogan writes that in 2000 the three oil companies reported large net incomes, “that’s profit to anybody but an oil company accountant: Phillips, $1.86 billion; BP, $11.87 billion; Exxon, $17.72 billion” (see “Alaska a Resource State?,” January 15, 2001). The Anchorage Daily News is the most widely circulated newspaper in the state, and nearly half of all Alaska state lawmakers are elected from Anchorage. The circulation of these statements—of revenue contributions and profits by oil companies appearing in forums that expose voters and lawmakers to the state’s reliance on corporate development—intensifies a sentiment of equitable share that informs attitudes toward shifting oil production rents in exchange for votes or campaign contributions. In the events collective, the printed brochure, newspaper article, and gossip column serve as a kind of epistemological glue, working together in some supernatural way as if creating an “occult diary” (Stringberg 1979) of public announcement. Take one example, the news of the arrival of Dick Olver, the London-based head of global production for BP, who flew to Anchorage to speak before the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, a consortium of companies serving the oil industry. In September  2000, one week prior to the release of the Juneau Report, Olver stated that BP intended to begin selling Prudhoe Bay gas within seven years. On the morning after his speech, a quote by Olver, appearing in bold lettering in the Anchorage Daily News, states, “The stars appear to be aligning for Alaska.” It is printed on page 1 of the business section under the headline “BP Aims for Gas by 2007” (September 21, 2000). Several days after his address, the Anchorage Daily News devoted the entire front page of the business section to a photograph of Olver. The man appears seated at a glass table with his hands reaching forward in a cupped manner, giving the appearance that Olver is grasping an imaginary globe. The article is headlined “Global Positioning: Prudhoe Bay Natural Gas Plays into BP’s Worldwide Plans.” The last part of the headline, “plays into BP’s worldwide plans,” echoes the expression “plays into one’s hands.” It is wordplay suggesting that the development of Alaska gas is at the manipulative whim of BP. The photograph of Olver is striking. One the one hand, there is a clear image of Olver’s face and upper body, attired in jacket and tie. Olver casts

Events Collectives  335 a grimacing smile. But in a curious display of newspaper editing, the full bottom half of the photograph depicts the mirror image of Olver as he appears on the glass table, upside down. His head is shown in a Janus-faced expression, blurred by the reflection. Directly at the center of the photograph are four hands. Two of the hands belong to Olver, while the other two appear in the reflection upon the table. In a vulgar perversion of his appearance, Olver has four thumbs and sixteen fingers. A large glass half filled with water or, depending on perspective, half empty, stands near Olver’s wrist, highlighting his gold cufflinks. The mirrored reflection from the table gives the water container the attributes of an hourglass figure. It appears, thus, like the sands of time half poured out. The article begins by reminding readers about Olver’s last appearance in Alaska the year before. Then, he was fighting for BP’s takeover of ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company). The merger deal would have placed 70% of Alaska oil production under the control of one company.

My Way Is the Highway An events collective consists of the opportunities provided for people who meet face to face to declare their rights among whoever is “inside the tent.” Consider for a moment the winners and losers in selecting a pipeline route. As detailed in the December 6 announcement, the project evaluation would consider a large diameter pipeline system to deliver gas from Prudhoe Bay to Canada and to the continental United States. The objective would be to develop a commercially viable project that could deliver natural gas at costs competitive with other suppliers in the United States and Canada. Key program activities would include conceptual design, permitting considerations, commercial structure, and overall viability. Evaluation would consider two possible routes: an Alaska Highway Route through central Alaska and an Over-the-Top (OTT) route through the Arctic Ocean, under the Beaufort Sea, then south into Canada. Among interested parties, no one would deny that burying a pipeline under the Beaufort Sea floor would present formidable technical, environmental, and logistical challenges, including the scientific fact that heavy ice floes covering the area eight months out of the year result in ice scouring the ocean floor, a danger to any buried pipe. Yet by fall 2000, one fact well publicized in Alaska was that technological advances in the pipeline industry, including the invention of high-strength steels, would allow a thinner pipe wall to handle higher operating pressures (which would mean moving more gas at less capital cost), making an Alaska pipeline a much less costly proposition than in the past. Also, the previous twenty-five years had seen tremendous growth in the international natural

336  Arthur Mason gas pipeline network, a fact that was included in the 1999 Cambridge Energy Research Associates report requested by BP dealing specifically with prospects for commercializing Alaska gas. The private report, titled White Paper: Alaska Natural Gas, was made available to lawmakers by BP and lay conspicuously in their offices, seen by anyone wandering the hallways of the legislature. Nevertheless, the unprecedented nature of the OTT, as the Over-theTop route was referred to, and the technical risks of an offshore pipeline “operating at untested high pressures for 400 miles” were seized on when, two weeks prior to the December 6 announcement, Governor Tony Knowles announced his own campaign to spur pipeline construction via the Alaska Highway, a route providing more miles in-state than the OTT. During a 7 a.m. speech before the Resource Development Council’s annual conference in Anchorage, Knowles stated, “Paraphrasing the old political adage, ‘It’s either my way or the highway,’ my response to the pipeline routing question is, ‘My way is the highway.’ ” The meeting of the Resource Council, a nonprofit group that advocates developing Alaska resources, was attended by nearly two hundred industry representatives and lawmakers. I remember the speech well, in part because the ticket for attendance cost $250. I should add in passing that just prior to Governor Knowles’s “My Way Is the Highway” speech, I caught the only available seat at a table occupied by members of Alaska’s AFL-CIO labor federation. This group of men appeared ambivalent and out of place among lawmakers and executives, though they did sport dress shirts and ties for the occasion. They told me in rumbling tones that they were at the conference that morning specifically to hear Governor Knowles’s speech: “We’re just here to make sure the governor announces the Alaska Highway Route.” In the eyes of the labor union members, the Alaska Highway Route offered twice as many pipeline construction miles within the state as the OTT. In the next day’s news coverage of Knowles’s speech, the following statement appeared on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News: “ ‘My way is the highway—that’s great,’ said Mano Frey, local AFL-CIO head, as he shook Knowles’s hand after the speech. ‘If there is anything we can do to help, just let us know.’ ”

The Disappointment In fall 2001, natural gas prices collapsed and everything came to an end. The reasons experts enlisted for the crash were the recession, a high level of energy conservation by California consumers, a cool summer, the Enron scandal, and the September 11th attack. Forecasts of lower gas demand circulated on the front pages of the national news (“Oil and Gas Prices

Events Collectives  337 Plunge on Fears of Worldwide Recession,” New York Times, September 25, 2001), while in Alaska, news of downward forecasts became headlines. By December, the trade weekly Alaska Petroleum News was publishing dour predictions on the order of once a week. To quote David Harbour—poet, photographer, Alaska oil lobbyist, and an avid blogger—the winter of 2000 was a “window on a train moving through the station gone in a flash as the invisible hand of supply and demand satisfied the market without us.” For Harbour, the organizing principle that bound these events into a collective might well be described as the so-called primitive’s ignorance of the modern world, a stupidity so drenched with yearning that nothing less than a multibillion dollar pipeline, a pipe dream, reared its head from the grave. Its unraveling was a threshold of maturity, where the potentials eroded so rapidly and completely that even the most ardent of believers had to acknowledge a change in the course of history, if only to avoid being labeled a fool. Between these two points an events collective on Alaska’s pipeline took form. The entry point corresponded with an unprecedented and dramatic rise in the price for natural gas fuel while its exit wound was its sudden and precipitous fall. Some years later, in 2004, Dr. Pedro van Hellers, an energy consultant, flew to Juneau to discuss with state officials efforts to spur Alaska pipeline construction. State of Alaska officials, myself included at the time, considered Dr. van Hellers a “genius.” His expertise on pipeline construction economics is sought after from government and industry across the globe. In his meeting with us, van Hellers stated in a serious but cheerful manner that the pipeline was “by no means a solid project.” He stated, in fact, that an Alaska natural gas pipeline is “to a large degree a fantasy project.” As if to stress the point, he added, “we have to be realistic about this.” Like van Hellers, most financial and petroleum experts believe that extracting natural gas from Alaska for use as fuel in the continental United States is risky business. Given the pipeline’s marginal prospects, I  asked around about why there was so much excitement surrounding its potential during the winter of 2000 through 2001. The answer, according to Ed Hollander, was “pure and simple: to get re-elected.” Hollander is a respected authority on the natural gas industry. He assisted the State of Alaska during 2000 and 2001 as director of the Calgary office of Cambridge Energy, a global consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hollander told me that Alaska lawmakers need “to do something that makes them look to the citizenry that they have done something for re-election. And that’s why you end up with things like [the twenty-second] legislative session.” This also was the answer given to me by several pipeline construction economists I  interviewed and by politically appointed officials in the State of Alaska with whom I  worked. The explanation is plausible. Among state

338  Arthur Mason financial analysts with whom I spoke, the State of Alaska was “broke” and any revenue-enhancing project promoted by lawmakers would be looked on favorably by voters. Moreover, with memories of the 1970s Trans-Alaska oil pipeline boom prosperity still fresh in the minds of many constituents, generating public awareness over pipeline construction was, in the language of these analysts, “a political no-brainer.” Still, as I describe above, political leaders were not the only ones caught up in the excitement.

Enclosure As the shale gas revolution began altering the landscape of natural gas supply areas in continental North America, I  returned to UC Berkeley from fieldwork in Washington, D.C., where I had been working with Congress on energy issues for the State of Alaska. At home, I  happened to read about natural gas in its liquefied cryogenic form (LNG), which was making headline news in the San Francisco Chronicle. Glancing over a few paragraphs, my attention was captured by the way the topic of natural gas had been organized. First, evident were the same players, sources of knowledge, geographical areas of supply, economies of demand, and technologies of gas transmission I had become familiar with from my work on the Alaska pipeline. Second, the relations between statements and events on LNG captured the same variety of concerns that I became familiar with from my work in Alaska and Washington, D.C. Because of my experience, information in the news article appeared natural. That is, I found myself running through a mental checklist of information I expected to see as if by some regular practice. There was, naturally, a statement by an expert indicating what had become evident: “Michael Zenker, senior director for North America with the firm Cambridge Energy Research Associates” (and a personal acquaintance of mine) states, “it’s becoming increasingly clear that the domestic supply base is reaching a stage of maturity.” Zenker’s authority was linked to speculation by three of the “world’s largest” natural gas producers (the same companies who own 90% of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay gas): “ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP are considering expanding their liquid natural gas businesses worldwide.” Unpacking my notes, I  was surprised by how much I  had forgotten about what had transpired during my fieldwork. I found it disconcerting that my notes presented a different set of personal relations on the event (between institutions, processes, patterns, norms, modes). It was then that I  came to realize that the lobbyists, secretaries, officials, executives, experts, and lawyers whom I had come to know had always appeared aware of what others represented to them as an interest.

Events Collectives  339 In Arctic energy development, events collectives emerge through a variety of high-level persons in industry and government who are involved in making speeches about current events. They become publicly visible in ways that create greater proximity to a power holder. The star attraction of the persons involved in making pronouncements and the actual project for which all these persons call on themselves to make pronouncements is crucial—the actors want to distinguish themselves as heroically associated with what is at stake in such a promise, with the concentric circles, press releases, and morning meetings that all are geared toward creating and managing the experience. The Alaska pipeline, a mega project, as the particular promise around which persons are compelled to hold such events, is a project that has the capacity to galvanize the separate interests of many competing people. The necessity of money, structural position, and an outlet to stage an audience surrounding a project requires the mobilization of desire by a professional team who can assemble, mobilize, and perform events oriented toward knowledge, fame, and honor (versus a court of law that creates subjects of guilt and innocence). Events, both discursive and carnivalistic, were something of a spectacle— a constant exaggeration. In fact, the whole Arctic pipeline idea is one of exaggeration, “unconventional,” in industry rhetoric. In a sense, one could say that time stands still during this period while ignorance and confidence are in tension, a period of tensions. It is the assemblage of events that represents the fully developed form of the collective meaning—as it gathers its own self-sufficiency occurring within a particularly self-enclosed period of time.

Chapter 17

Reserves, Secrecy, and the Science of Oil Prognostication in Southern Arabia Mandana E. Limbert, Queens College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York On April 8, 2004, the New York Times reported on an oil scandal in the Sultanate of Oman. Royal Dutch Shell, which owns a 34% share of Oman’s seminational oil company, Petroleum Development of Oman (PDO), suddenly announced that it had overstated Oman’s proven reserves for 2000 by 40%. These 2004 Shell revelations were not isolated to Oman but included overstated reserves for Nigeria and Australia as well. But Oman’s figures were the most damning for Shell, ultimately leading to the highly publicized and dramatic resignation of Sir Philip Watts, the company’s chairman, and Walter van de Vijver, chief executive of exploration and production (Cummins and Beasant, 2005). In response to the scandal and as a result of its investigations, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revised its own standards for reporting oil projections. The new regulations, issued in December 2008 and called the Modernization of Oil and Gas Reporting, transformed reporting and disclosure requirements that had been first developed in 1933 and 1934 and then revised in 1978 and 1982. In short, the new guidelines and definitions replaced both “certainty” tests with “reasonable certainty” ones and the language of “proved” or “proven” reserves with “developed” and “undeveloped” ones. In the name of accuracy, the SEC was recognizing uncertainty. At the same time, the SEC was providing for some leeway, protections against failure, and hedging. In addition to the global effects of corporate scandal and the revision of reserves reporting, the revelation of the overstatement meant for Oman that at a rate of production of approximately seven hundred thousand barrels per day, Oman would have about sixteen years of oil remaining,

Reserves, Secrecy, the Science of Oil Prognostication   341 rather than twenty-two as previously projected. In other words, according to the corrected projections, Oman would exhaust its oil supplies by 2016. Even though the difference between the previous projection of twenty-two years and the revised projection of sixteen is only a difference of six years, depletion, which had already suffused Oman’s oil talk for decades, suddenly seemed much more immanent and dire. Drawing from the work of Reinhart Koselleck (2004, 2008) and recent discussions of conspiracy, I explore projections, prognoses, and temporal horizons shaped by depletion calculations and reserves reporting. In particular, in this chapter I examine how, in the wake of this scandal, a new prognosis regime has emerged in Oman. Whereas earlier oil projections were categorized in more absolute terms of proven or not proven and in more certain terms of quantity in the ground, in the new prognosis regime projections are divided into a range of probabilities and possibilities, shored up with detailed narratives of engineering feats, discoveries, and new dazzling technologies. I argue, however, that recent interventions to enhance accuracy and science in oil forecasting have been accompanied, paradoxically perhaps, by greater disbelief in state and oil-company transparency and greater expectations of a hidden truth. Further I have come to understand that some people in Oman, despite the dire projections of immanent oil depletion, believe that what is being hidden is in fact more oil, not less.

Omani Depletion Deferred and Recalculated Although this disclosure of depletion and potential fraud was considered at the time to be Britain’s largest corporate scandal in twenty years (B. Taylor 2006), for Omanis that I know, though the specific numbers were disturbing, the revelation itself was no surprise. “The number of years of oil remaining” as a frame of reference for the nation’s future and its economic stability had been for decades a frequently cited temporal horizon. Since the early 1970s the number of years until depletion has been an officially and popularly expounded figure, hovering consistently around twenty years (Limbert 2008). This constantly deferred horizon of depletion has not been confined to official Omani pronouncements, but has been evident in foreign publications about the country as well. The CIA Factbook for Oman from 1999, for example, put Oman’s reserves at twenty years, and the U.S. Department of Energy in 2005 provided the same number. Interestingly, an IMF report entitled “Oman Beyond the Oil Horizon: Policies Toward Sustainable Growth,” also published in 1999, projected sixteen years. This constant deferral, which has been espoused within the country as well as outside, has not gone unnoticed by Omanis themselves.

342   Mandana E. Limbert As an Omani friend told me, “Ever since I was in elementary school, we were told that there were twenty years of oil remaining. I’m now getting my doctorate and I am still being told that there are twenty years of oil.” When I pushed my friend further on this, asking what she made of the constant deferral, she simply shrugged her shoulders. The years 2003 and 2004 were not only the years of the Shell scandal but were also the years in which oil production really seems to have started to drop in Oman. Despite optimistic projections in 2004, oil production has steadily declined. In a media briefing in 2004, John Malcolm, the managing director of PDO at the time, noted the dramatic drop in the production of oil between 2000 and 2004. According to PDO, in 2000, oil was being produced at about 800,000 barrels a day (bb/d), whereas in 2004, oil was being produced at a rate of about 661,000 bb/d. At the end of his 2004 briefing, Malcolm projected that, by 2010, oil production would return to 800,000 bb/d levels. Instead, PDO has reported a steady decline; since 2007, it has been producing around 550,000 bb/d. Such declines suggest that the supplies and reserves are both more limited and more difficult to extract than before. “Enhanced recovery techniques” and “horizontal drilling” are two of the phrases used by engineers and financial managers to explain to the public how Oman’s difficult oil extraction future may be extended. It should also be noted that there have been, on occasion, significant revisions to the twenty-year projection. For example, in 2005, a year after the Shell scandal, when Shell was renegotiating its concession with PDO for a new forty-year contract, the respected trade magazine, Alexander’s Oil and Gas Connections, publicized that the minister of oil and gas, Mohammad bin Hammed al-Rumhy, had suddenly announced that “Oman will be producing for another forty years.” Not surprisingly, the sudden doubling of the projected years to depletion did not go unnoticed. And some people observed the strange coincidence that Shell’s concession was itself extended for forty years. Still, despite the minister’s proclamation in 2005, officials within Oman and outside have continued to refer, most often, to twenty years, or thereabouts. Such official and everyday references in Oman to depletion, supplies, and the future often appear in my conversations with Omanis about the past. Ever since I  began traveling to Oman in 1993, many conversations about the dramatic changes that have taken place in the country since 1970, the year that Sultan Qaboos al-Bu Saidi ousted his father in a nearly bloodless coup and began the dramatic transformations that made modern Oman (thus marking its official renaissance), turn to conversations about limited resources and future depletion. The inseparable link between Oman’s successful past transformation to a modern state and its expected future austerity or demise produced a field of temporal imagining that I have described as a circumscribed modernity rather than an open-ended

Reserves, Secrecy, the Science of Oil Prognostication   343 teleology (Limbert 2010). Unlike in the rhetoric of most developmentalist states, as described by James Ferguson (1999) and others, Oman’s modernity has been described, I have argued, as an anomalous time, a moment of wealth in between times of poverty, rather than a step or stage in a linear trajectory of continued development. This glorification of the present and of successful modernity in between times of hardship has worked to emphasize the particular accomplishments of the current sultan. However, oil projections also have implications for people’s expectations about the true, the knowable, and the transparent. Did my friend’s comments and shoulder shrugs about the constant deferral of depletion reflect her belief that oil would in fact continue to be available? Is the truth that oil will run out even sooner than what is being publicly acknowledged, and that we are being kept in the dark? Or did she understand the future, no matter how concocted by governments and corporations, to be beyond the grasp of either—and something only God would know? With regard to the fact that Shell would have to revise its figures, another friend, a petroleum engineer at PDO, simply said that the numbers are quite meaningless since “the whole operation is in Shell’s hands (and pockets) anyway.” These comments, in different ways, not only highlight the link between experience and imagination or expectation, as Reinhart Koselleck (2004) once argued, but also between what is considered knowable and what may be hidden. The shift from a language of certainty about future depletion to a language of possibility and probabilities in the name and aim of greater scientific accuracy seems to have had some unintended and paradoxical consequences. Primary among them is the “certainty” of hidden truths, opaqueness, and obfuscation. In other words, earlier expectations of near-certain “doom” and depletion have transformed into a language of probabilities, but with the expectations of hidden truths, corruption, and conspiracy. After forty years of deferred projections, it may not be surprising that many Omanis are more cynical about oil projections. Perhaps such cynicism has sedimented to such a degree that disbelief proliferates despite greater claims to accuracy and transparency. Or perhaps it is precisely because of the greater claims to accuracy and transparency that disbelief sets in. In other words, the more PDO, Shell, and the Ministry of Oil lay claim to geological accuracy and transparency—even if the news is dire—the more people expect that there is something to hide.

Experiences, Expectations, and Oil Prognostications Though most of his work examined histories of concepts, Reinhart Koselleck also explored the relationship between experience and imagination,

344   Mandana E. Limbert not as historical concepts themselves, but as “indicative of a general human condition” and as what he called “anthropological givens” (2004, 257, 259). And though Koselleck was particularly interested in European historiography, his attention to the relationship between the space of experience and the horizon of expectation provides a useful heuristic for considering changing perspectives within Oman—for example, of its projected oil-less future, and the ways this future has been imagined given Omani experiences of pre-oil life. Koselleck would also include memories, habits, doctrines, and institutions associated with Oman’s religio-political conditions. What is transmitted through these memories and habits also intersects, shapes, and is shaped by aspirations and expectations. Koselleck’s argument is not, however, confined to explicating the asymmetry between experience and expectation, between the layered totality of the past and the narrow horizon of the future. Rather, his primary interest is the changing relationship between experience and expectation, especially during Neuzeit (new time or modernity) when, he argues, the difference between the two is increasingly expanded. For Koselleck, ideas of prophecy and the seasonal rhythms of peasant society helped shape an often seemingly smooth transference between experience and expectation, such that expectations that were not circumscribed by experience would be relegated to the hereafter. With modernity, however, the future is understood differently. It “is thought to be open and without boundaries. The vision of last things or the theory of the return of all things has been radically pushed aside by the venture of opening up a new future: a future which, in the emphatic sense of the notion, is totally different from all that passed before” (Koselleck 2008, 120). And, as Koselleck argues, with notions of progress and prognosis, the future would not only be different from the past, it would also be better. For Koselleck, such openness of the future does not mean that the future would be unimaginable or unrecognizable, even if new. On the contrary, the openness would be organized, understood, or managed into possibilities, even a hierarchy of probabilities. Koselleck posits that modern futurity as both “open and without boundaries,” but also “finite.” He writes: “Hence time continually emanates from the prognosis in an unforeseeable, but predictable, manner” (Koselleck 2004, 19). The art of prognosis or the management of relative possibilities accompanies, therefore, the modern shift to unknowns and away from the certain futures of prophetic apocalypse. In exploring the politics of anticipation, Gary Wilder (2013, 3) has similarly described Koselleck’s argument as emphasizing the dual character of progressive time, “as both total, directional, meaningful and contingent, undetermined, open-ended.” Koselleck’s European perspective that manifests as well in a clear temporal break around the seventeenth century creates, for anthropologists,

Reserves, Secrecy, the Science of Oil Prognostication   345 much pause, as does, of course, this seemingly clear distinction between premodern and modern worlds. However, his argument about the powerful effects of ideologies of progress on both expectations and perspectives on the past are rich grounds for ethnographic work on notions, practices, and tensions of development as well as history. With the growing acceptance of “progress” as the primary form of imagining the future, the past comes to be understood as that which has not yet progressed or as that from which we have progressed. Such disjunctures and shifts between experience and expectation resonate in Oman as forecasting and planning have become central to understandings of oil reserves and, by extension, the national future. At the same time, however, a number of local factors complicate Koselleck’s neat model. In brief, oil-company and ministry of oil statements about depletion have continued to dampen expectations of open-ended future progress, though as is suggested here, perhaps this is waning. Second, expectations of or desires for a returning theocracy could hardly be understood as a vestige of some premodern religio-temporal messianic horizon. However idealized as pure and ancient, an Omani theocracy would also be understood as deeply worldly. And, third, for many Omanis, it is only God who can legitimately make claims about the future, both small and significant. Thus, even when prognoses are made, they can be predictive only to a certain extent. Here, however, remains the question of what people make of the prognoses and plans. How are the forms of prognoses and plans changing and what do Omanis make of them? As Jean and John Comaroff (1999, 2006) and others (Geissler 2013; Zaloom 2003) have argued, an increasing infatuation with scientific precision, presumed rationalization, and numbers has been accompanied by growing abstraction and, perhaps paradoxically, “mystification.” Similarly, as Laura Kunreuther (2014), William Mazzarella (2006), and Todd Sanders and Harry West (2003) have pointed out in different ways, it is the very claim to transparency (in politics) that produces expectations of conspiracy. Thus, while oil and gas projections employ the language of risk and employ advisers to manage that risk (Mason 2007), conveying to these advisers and the industry a significant amount of authority, this presumed authority is also checked by expectations of opaqueness and secrecy. In Oman, increased “scientific” knowledge and information pertaining to oil and proven reserves has similarly produced both more detail as well as more abstraction and opaqueness. The increased transparency of scientific knowledge production and of public access to oil prognoses has prompted more uncertainty, rather than less. Increased transparency has produced increased disbelief, rather than a sense of respect for precision in the geological sciences and faith in the institutions and individuals that report them.

346   Mandana E. Limbert The Rhetoric of Oil and the New Science Center Every year, PDO issues its official annual report. The report, like most self-referential company documents, is always positive. It projects an image of a successful, organized, and caring company. Not surprisingly, references to negative events—accidents, spills, failings, deaths, lowered production levels—are downplayed and framed within the context of future potential reversal or reorganization and study. While annual reports are highly partial representations of oil company activities, often read with some skepticism, they are also the formal and public syntheses of a company’s self-image as well as the official presentation of its workings and ideals. For my purposes here, what is most important is how the notion and the representation of the “proven reserve” appears (and disappears), since it is this category that provides for Oman its future economic (as well as social and political) stability. It is also this particular category that has served as the basis for the temporal horizon of depletion. For many years, in its annual reports, PDO presented a figure of “reserves” or “proven reserves” as a definitive number, easily accessible to the reader and presented either in the last sentence in a section entitled “Reserves” or in the last sentence of the first paragraph in the same section. It was a number that was consistently highlighted in the official publication and a number that hovered a little above five billion barrels. For example, in 1996, we read at the last sentence of the first paragraph on “Reserves”: “Reserve growth exceeded the volume of oil produced by 23  million barrels, leaving total oil and condensate reserves at a record level at the end of the year, standing at 5,135 million barrels” (10). And, again, in 2000: “After allowing for the production of 331 million barrels of hydrocarbon liquids. PDO’s reserve base increased by 118 million barrels in 2000, standing now at 5.624 billion barrels” (9). And, again in 2002: “At the end of 2002 black-oil and condensate expectation reserves thus stood at 5.352 billion barrels” (18). Documents from the class action suit against Royal Dutch Shell filed in the District Court of New Jersey in 2007 for what came to be known as the “Shell reserves fraud” include the publication of confidential e-mails from PDO as well as a videotaped deposition by John Malcolm.1 They reveal that the numbers presented as proven reserves in the annual reports as well as other official projections were not accurate. Nevertheless, the point here is that the numbers, however inaccurate, have been presented in accessible language and form, with attention focused on clearly presenting proven oil reserves in the ground.

1. and

Reserves, Secrecy, the Science of Oil Prognostication   347 Suddenly, in the annual report for 2003 (which was actually published in 2004, the year the scandal broke), the language and categories changed. There have been, since then, fewer references to actual figures of billions of barrels of reserves. Instead, since 2003, PDO has presented a pie chart with percentages of its “Black-Oil Resource Base.” Instead of proven reserves, in 2003 the categories and figures became: “remaining oil in place (70%),” “cumulative production (14%),” “developed reserves (4%),” “undeveloped reserves (5%),” and “scope for recovery (7%).” It should be noted that when the 2004 Shell scandal broke, the overstatement of 40% of proven reserves did not mean that Shell and PDO had fraudulently calculated existing oil where there was none. Rather, the scandal was that this oil should have been categorized differently, as “scope for recovery.” This is a somewhat intermediary and relatively vague category of oil in the ground, which PDO defines as “a classification of hydrocarbon resources when their development options are not yet firm enough to classify them as reserves” (PDO 2000). In other words, these are “possible” or “probable” reserves that may be too difficult or too costly to retrieve, rather than simply proven reserves. It should also be noted that the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (which monitors companies listing on the New York Stock Exchange) does not accept the language of possible, probable, or proven reserves in estimates and predictions, though the SEC does recognize that these notions are central to the category of “scope for recovery” and “developed” reserves, categories that have regularly come to be used since the scandal. Though the new pie charts are presented clearly, it is significantly harder to dissect how much total oil they are believed to be dividing. Indeed, the pie charts simply present the categorical  percentages of what might be available, rather than percentages of an amount that is believed to be “in the ground.” As is evident in the following passage from the first revised annual report, the entire discussion of future oil availability focuses on barrels added, or what is called “booked,” in various fields, as well as—ultimately—of the value of exploration rather than a total in the ground: Black-oil reserve bookings were disappointing in 2003, amounting to a total of 35.4 million barrels, all of them acquired from near-field exploration. Gas and condensate reserve bookings, in contrast, were pleasing. A new field, called Fakhr, and the Burhaan West field extension have yielded a total of 0.83 trillion cubic feet of gas and 86.2 million barrels of condensate for the Company’s reserves. All in all, five seismic surveys were completed in 2003, with two more still underway at the year’s end. A  total of 14 exploration wells were drilled and completed in 2003, 10 of which were intended to strike oil

348   Mandana E. Limbert and four were intended to strike gas. Although they may not all have yielded commercial discoveries, these wells provided data showing significant scope for additional reserve bookings. Follow-up exploration activity has been planned for 2004 and 2005. In any case, the Company’s commercial success rate of oil and gas exploration wells (42% in 2003) and unit finding costs ($0.52 per barrel of oil equivalent in 2003) are in line with recent trends demonstrating high value for low cost.

Oil bookings and value rather than the total amount of oil or gas in the ground dominate the section on reserves, unlike in earlier reports. However inaccurate the previous numbers may have turned out to be, they provided a definite quantity that was said to exist under Omani soil and that could eventually be harnessed for sale on the global market, if not for domestic use. The report excerpted here instead provides more detail about engineering work, specific fields, and accumulations of oil as well as information about disappointments, but it offers no sense of the future availability of oil for the national economy except in terms of a percentage of an undeclared total. By 2012, not only had the language of “proven reserves” disappeared, so too did the pie charts and a highlighted discussion of reserves, even those that were simply “booked.” Instead, the reports for 2012 and 2013 provide more detail (and glossy pictures) about the engineering involved in exploration and production in specific old and new fields. Reports on engineering technology and scientific work have come to dominate the annual reports, while reserves reporting (however modified) has disappeared. In addition to the introduction and removal of pie charts and engineering feats, PDO—with much initial fanfare and publicity—established in 2003 a formal study center, with a new building, to “deepen the Company’s understanding of its reservoirs” (PDO 2003, xx). Thus, the same year as the annual report stopped issuing actual figures for proven reserves (and its post-2000 category of “scope for recovery”), it also aimed to provide more accurate and detailed analysis of reserves through its much-touted study center. Though the study center, which aims to apply more exact science to both reserves and to techniques for recovery, has received little attention in Oman, its very presence is often referenced in news reports about Oman’s oil research  projects for enhanced recovery technologies and protocols. The study center, however, not only focuses on detailed longitudinal studies of Oman’s maturing oil and gas fields, which were publicized initially as pie chart percentages in the annual reports. It also, and perhaps even increasingly, has focused on developing techniques for near-term emergency responses and information. As a paper presented at the 2009

Reserves, Secrecy, the Science of Oil Prognostication   349 MEOS Technical Conference and Exhibition argues, the study center provides updated field studies and plans through the use of teams—known technically as “hit-squad teams”—that quickly correct and revise field studies when necessary by studying a developing problem and quickly providing a solution. Using the hit-squad teams, the study center is meant to work quickly and efficiently, providing as much up-to-date information as possible, through “fit-for-purpose” studies, and a new development plan when needed. As the authors of the 2009 report promoting the near-term emphasis of the center note: “The fast turnaround time from problem identification to implementation of the solution demonstrates the value of the Hit Squad concept” (Garimella et al. 2009; PDO 2009, 8). Efficient and fast results to manage near-term problems are, therefore, as much if not more of the focus of the center as the long-term forecasts of Oman’s future economic sustainability. The new discourses and the institutions of Oman’s oil industry in the immediate years following the Shell scandal suggest shifts in the ways prognoses are being framed. More accurate categories and details about specific fields that reveal little about the overall quantity of oil in the ground have been accompanied by a study center that purports to expand, centralize, and make more transparent its attention to longitudinal studies of reserves. Instead, the study center focuses on how to respond to or “attack” immediate problems. This shift in oil discourse and prognoses toward what might be called “transparent opaqueness,” is accompanied in Oman by more disbelief about officials and formal claims of future depletion and oil reserves, rather than less.

“They Know” In December 2011 and December 2012, on my last trips to Oman, I had conversations about oil and Oman’s future that were quite unlike conversations that I  had had before. Until these trips, the vast majority of conversations that I  had about Oman’s future were focused on Oman’s very limited supplies and the specific number of years remaining. Though officials and publications inside and outside Oman occasionally would diverge from the standard twenty-year projection and declare that there were sixteen or forty years of oil remaining, most Omanis I know and most national and foreign publications would continue to state that there were twenty years remaining. As also noted, this number—twenty years—was one that was consistently deferred. Such expectations of future depletion have manifested in Oman in many ways, but especially as people project a future of poverty. As I have described elsewhere (Limbert 2010), one elderly and wealthy man that

350   Mandana E. Limbert I knew, for example, built a palm-frond hut in his back garden, explaining to me that he did this because his children had no understanding of where they came from. I should note that his children would not have grown up in a palm-frond hut because their family had been wealthy merchants with connections since the nineteenth century to India, East Africa, and even the United States. Still, the point was that their society had been poor. His main incentive, however, for building the palm-frond hut in his garden was not to educate his children about the past. He said he built it because “this is where we came from and this where we will return.” In 2010, the brother of the same man published an editorial in a local newspaper with the title “When Our Oil Is Exhausted.” Another elderly woman, who became a dear friend in Bahla, the town where I  have spent most of my research time in Oman, and who has since passed away, once, when describing how she had been born in East Africa and had made her way to Bahla in the 1950s, where she was absolutely miserable, said, “who would have ever guessed that Oman would be rich and Africa would be poor.” Suggesting, by extension, that one never knows—that one day Oman may be poor again, and Africa rich. Commonly-expressed sentiments about the unknowability of the future and expectations of future demise were coupled with talk of return to a theocratic state and the sultan’s lack of an heir. In these conversations and many more the future was either expected to be one of poverty or one where no one could predict what would happen. As Koselleck might point out, in these examples, expectations would closely resemble experiences. On my more recent trips to Oman, such projections about the future were different. I  provide three examples of actions and comments that were quite different from earlier responses. Each also suggests a slight variation on a shifting discourse about people’s understandings of Oman’s oil futures. One young man, who I  know well and who was well versed in the twenty-year projection narrative, was—for the first time—exceptionally dismissive of such expectations or concerns, even while the daily production levels dropped. Until the late 2000s, I  spoke with this young man regularly about Oman’s future depletion and his concerns about the nation’s future. By 2012, however, he had decided to begin his own business venture, with the hope that the profit from this would continue indefinitely. This is not to say that he suddenly believed that Oman’s oil was sustainable in the very long term, but that the projections and concerns of potentially near-term doom had dissipated. This friend was so confident in his business possibilities that he was willing to forsake a well-paid and stable position for a much riskier venture, all the while supporting his quickly growing nuclear family as well as his parents and siblings. While it is possible that he wanted to take advantage of available profits before they

Reserves, Secrecy, the Science of Oil Prognostication   351 disappear, he had also regularly been more cautious in other personal and family decisions. Though he was not particularly nervous about this venture, he was worried about telling his mother. On the one hand, one could similarly argue that his mother would oppose the risky venture simply because she would want to ensure his stability and success, as many mothers might. On the other hand, his mother, who was old enough to remember the time before Sultan Qaboos and the preoil era, and who has loved speaking to me about the world “before,” was also much more concerned about imminent and potential depletion. Two other men, when asked about Oman’s oil prospects, were also more dismissive about the question than I had ever witnessed. The first one, in what one needs to admit was a less than convincing response, when asked about what would happen when Oman’s oil was depleted, said that the country was rich in other metals such as copper and that the sultan was saving these resources for after oil’s depletion. Given the sultan’s age, it is not likely that he would be alive to witness the depletion and thus be able to shift the country’s economy to these other metals. Nevertheless, the man had an answer about future sustainability and economic diversification that was much less concerned than in the conversations I had had years before. Such responses about other metals, I should note, were not completely uncommon in the early 2000s and late 1990s either. However, while previous comments were often clearly unrealistic, and phrased as “they say,” this time the response, even if not fully believed, was presented as if it were true. The power of acting “as if,” as Lisa Wedeen (1999) has noted, could help shape a reality-effect, whether believed or not. When reporting that “they say there are other resources,” the first man was clearly distancing himself from the claim about resources, thereby providing a space for doubt and removing himself from a potentially dishonest or inaccurate statement. The second man I spoke to about oil quantities and reserves provided yet another kind of response. When I asked him about oil, saying that I had heard that Oman had a limited supply and wondering what he thought of the situation, he said, simply, “Oh, there is oil. There is a lot of oil.” Then, he paused, and said: “They know.” With “they,” this man seemed to be collapsing a host of actors, including engineers and oil company officials, into one group, as well as anthropomorphizing state entities and corporations. Not only was the young man saying that oil supplies were not in fact limited but he also said, “they know,” suggesting that they know but are keeping the information secret. Knowing, keeping secret, and saying that there is plenty (despite all evidence of limited supply) opens a distinct view of Oman’s future, never mind of the state and oil industry. My other friend’s comment about “Shell’s pockets” was expressing a similar view,

352   Mandana E. Limbert one in which oil companies and the Omani state are not simply projecting a doomed future but one in which the state is hiding its knowledge of economic stability. In fact, one could suggest these young men were drawing a connection between oil reserves and the reservation of truth.

Futures Recovered Discussions of oil futures are often highly technical, or at least they are in the financial world. But discussions of the future of oil reserves are often quite straightforward: proven reserves, scope for recovery, enhanced recovery techniques, and horizontal drilling, as well as peak oil, have been, perhaps, the most common phrases used to frame the future of oil. And these phrases are hardly unintelligible to the nonexpert. However, in the case of PDO, it seems clear that the more detailed the prognostication, the less “information” is actually made available. Reserves, which are presumably the cornerstone of a nation’s future economic viability and stability, seem in this case to be not only highly fungible in their consistent deferrals but also increasingly opaque. In addition, with nearly forty years of twenty-year projections, there seem to be differing and shifting responses. Views that the future is unknowable or that only God knows the future and that the future is most likely going to look like the past are now being met with increasing claims that the state’s (and oil company’s) projections are supremely untrustworthy and, further, that there is little about which to worry. One wonders whether encouraging people to live “as if” other resources could provide the same economic fantasies and instances of wealth as oil, even in the face of obvious limits, may have been successful to a certain extent. It is potentially here where a greater disjuncture between experience and expectation, as Koselleck saw it, seems evident. Certainly, hidden and untrustworthy political and economic motives and agendas were part of every local regime. However, such pasts have not been “experienced” as having been based on deception, which is instead considered to be a distinctive feature of contemporary life where corporate scandals, among other everyday rumored examples of corruption, are believed to be rampant. The future, therefore, comes to look very different from the past and can thus, to some extent, be prognosticized as “better,” an expectation that I had until recently never heard people either describe as potential or dare speak of for concern about making a personal prediction. Though the future also holds a share of unknowns, there seem to be fewer palm-frond huts and more risks in business as well as claims that “they” do in fact “know” that there is abundant oil.

Reserves, Secrecy, the Science of Oil Prognostication   353 Furthermore, the presumption of secret knowledge held in the oil industry, refusing to admit stability, turns many questions around. No longer are we asking: How do state and industry manipulate numbers because they do not know or cannot know? Now, the state and the oil industry are presumed to manipulate information not simply that they do know, but that they know to be better than they are publicizing. Indeed, the actual scandal of overprojecting the proven reserves would appear, in this logic, to be an attempt to cover up the fact that those proven reserves were, instead, not overprojections at all. What is one to make of such “oil talk?” In some instances, the future is probably unstable, and the present becomes the ideal. In others, the future is hopeful economically, but with even greater mistrust of the oil industry and its state partner. In either case, however, what seems most evident in the last several years in Oman, a country with forty years of experience with depletion talk and a much longer experience of extreme poverty, is a shifting dynamic of oil expectations. Oil expectations are meant to be both more transparent and scientifically accurate, while they simultaneously become more opaque, less trustworthy, but—somehow— also more hopeful.

Chapter 18

Vicious Transparency Contesting Canada’s Hydrocarbon Future Anna Zalik, York University

Just days prior to the May 2011 Canadian elections, the second largest oil spill in Alberta history occurred on Lubicon Cree territory. The consequences of the spill from the Plains Midstream Rainbow pipeline received negligible national television coverage until after the vote.1 The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, increasingly threatened with dissolution by the ruling Conservatives, seemed to acquiesce in its lack of national coverage on the issue. The election produced a Conservative majority government, one that was tainted with voting irregularities. In February  2014, Canada’s Postmedia—which owns a range of Canadian daily newspapers including the National Post—laid off a number of its journalists, including critical environmental and energy correspondent Mike DeSouza. The same day, the Vancouver Observer posted a presentation detailing a deal between Post Media and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) to promote the country’s energy sector.2 In March 2014, the Alberta education ministry announced that major oil companies would take part in redesigning the provincial elementary education curriculum (Abrams 2014). In recent years I have been frequently asked by colleagues in the Americas “what happened to Canada?” In a rush toward intensive commodification 1.  A year later, another serious Plains Midstream spill that largely affected white farmers in southern Alberta received more attention—in marked contrast to the structural racism affecting the Lubicon Cree. See Melina Laboucan Massimo’s photo essay at http://www. 2. See tionship-oil-industry-lays-de-souza.

Vicious Transparency  355 of natural resources since 9/11, the activities of Canadian extractive industry have become the target of criticism from transnational environmental activist groups. Reflecting a political economy of oil and state akin to the close ties nurtured between Texas oil scions and the George W. Bush regime, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has a long-standing association with the Alberta oil patch. The rise in commodity prices post-9/11 and the subsequent boost in relational parity between the Canadian and United States dollar increased the role of foreign oil and mining investment by Canadian firms in the country’s economic fortunes. Reversing a 30-year trend, beginning in 2005 the Canadian currency has been close to par with the American and in late 2007 exceeded it in value for the first time since the 1973–1974 OPEC embargo. Further, despite recent fluctuations, the 2008 financial crash buttressed this trajectory, assisted by an upsurge in prices for gold, oil, and gas—conditions that have contributed to the ongoing expansion of the extractive industries sector. Reflecting on the Canadian oil and gas sector from the perspective of two periods—after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and under the Harper government—this chapter examines stakeholder contestation over the future of the Canadian hydrocarbon sector. It documents an increasing interrelationship between the interests of the oil and gas industry and the erosion of governance mechanisms associated with liberal democracy—tying that erosion to the regional and sociohistorical specificity of the Canadian extractive regime, rather than to a fetishized “resource curse.” The chapter pivots on contested knowledges and the delegitimation of oppositional knowledges (e.g., those of domestic and international environmental activist groups) involved in Canadian extractive industry, particularly as these pertain to the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. Despite government and industry attempts to increase financial, environmental, and regulatory transparency in the transnational governance of extractive industry, these attempts in Canada have largely served to benefit proponents of expansion, suggesting a new openness around competitive industry, while tax-based, government support for independent science has deteriorated and corporate influence over the media has increased. Informed by field research  in three Canadian provinces conducted since 2008, I  argue that knowledge production is a significant arena of legitimation, but that this is shaped by the logic of the so-called rule of capture in the oil and gas industry, which impels oil and gas firms toward rapid production of reserves. The oil and gas firms working under this logic in turn enroll transnational finance to secure their projects. This serves to compromise regulatory regimes that, to be effective, would require precautionary, careful research, while shutting down dissent by activist organizations and First Nations. This is a logical outcome of the

356  Anna Zalik intersection of the rule of capture, which has a longer history in the oil industry (Daintith 2012), with the conditions of neoliberalism that have shaped competition between federal and provincial governments for mineral rents in the era of “free trade.”3 As I  describe below, under conditions of competition in the oil and gas industry, the principle of capture legally promotes a form of gluttony and rapaciousness as an essential precondition for the timely development of natural resources (Daintith 2010). The rule of capture prompts rapid, fragmented approaches to resource development so as to ensure market access. In seeking to capture resources, industry actors competitively influence the regulatory context and frame the terms of debate to constrain epistemic communities opposed to the the energy outcome they seek (see both Limbert and Mason, this volume). Such actions promote the rise of future hydrocarbon economies that safeguard high demand for their products and materially embed financial interests in ongoing tar sands production through intensive investment in transportation infrastructure, namely pipelines. Although the relative labor intensity of tar sands bitumen mining compared to conventional oil and gas could set the stage for a robust, democratic labor movement (Mitchell 2011), this is attenuated in the Canadian oil and gas sector due to the temporary, migrant workforce called for by industry and by state restrictions to labor’s organizing potential prefigured by the terms of the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA. I first consider how contemporary struggles over the regulation of the tar sands are rooted in the neoliberalism of the Canadian resource sector during the NAFTA period. A neoliberal trajectory molded the contours of national energy policy in Canada from the 1990s onward and provided the basis for the acceleration of extraction that followed the post-9/11 and post-2008 commodity booms. I then consider how actual weakness of transparency in practice in the extractive industry emerges from the rule of capture. Even under conditions in which there is a proliferation of legitimate concerns and oppositional knowledges by a range of actors via new media, the industry’s push to capture resources and markets militates against conservationist approaches to resource extraction, leading to active suppression of regulatory protections. This has been the case for much of the life of the global oil industry. In Canada under NAFTA, this tendency is amplified through clauses that in part denationalize control over exports to the United States and subject socioenvironmental regulations to the 3.  Research  has included interviews, observation, and document analysis. The author thanks the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for a grant concerning “Regulation on Canadian Oil and Gas Frontiers” and York University for its support of this fieldwork.

Vicious Transparency  357 terms of private contracts. Following this discussion, I review battles over knowledge in the Canadian energy sector. Here, I  consider how proponents and opponents of the tar sands marshal notions of “ethical” oil and a critique of Canadian imperialism, respectively. First Nations and civil society opponents have faced further restrictions on their ability to enter into formal debates, including limits on their participation in public reviews and outright criminalization of protest activities. Thus, transparency discourse in the oil and gas sector masks ongoing gaps in both the production of, and access to, data necessary for independent oversight.

Neoliberalizing the Canadian Oil Industry Amid the recent restructuring of continental energy markets, NAFTA’s negotiation and ratification played a pivotal role. Prior to NAFTA, Canada’s relatively short-lived experience with a nationalized petroleum industry, under Petro-Canada, was influenced by the increasing domestic control that OPEC states asserted over their oil sectors in the early 1980s. Following the first oil shock, Petro-Canada was created in 1973, arising from liberal-Left calls for resource sovereignty at the federal level (Fossum 1997). Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program (1979–80) asserted federal sovereignty over prices and supply after the second oil shock, and was thus unpopular in the Alberta oil patch. But by the 1980s Alberta was assuaged through Prime Minister Mulroney’s Western Accord and the creeping privatization of Petro-Canada (Pratt 2007). In the early 1980s the Atlantic Provinces, Newfoundland, and to a lesser extent Nova Scotia (Clancy 2007) were able to secure greater royalties from the federal government following their offshore boom (Baier and Groarke 2003)—signaling the pendulum shift back to the provinces in the regulation of industry and the devolution that marked neoliberal policies. Subsequently, the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement (1988) was key to sealing oil industry interests in the Canadian regulatory structure, paving the way for deepening U.S. control over Canadian output and export-centered energy development. Thus, while Canada’s role as an exporter to the United States has an extended history, both the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA were lynchpins in the dilution of Canadian resource sovereignty in the interests of American energy supply (Pratt 2007; Griffin Cohen 2007).4

4. These dynamics remain contested, with opposition intellectuals arguing that export-oriented growth, an extension of Canada’s “staples history,” has hurt socioeconomic wellness.

358  Anna Zalik The Canadian tar sands may now be considered a classic example of regulatory capture provincially and federally—an alliance between the Alberta provincial government, oil industry interests, and Harper’s Conservatives, the latter enabled by NAFTA. Especially prior to the 2008 financial crash, a key target for oppositional critique was NAFTA’s proportionality clause (Pratt 2007) both in the Western Provinces and nationally (Laxer and Dillon 2008; McCullum 2006; Clarke 2007). The proportionality clause effectively prevents the assertion of national resource sovereignty by mandating that Canada maintain and not decrease the share of its energy exported to the United States,5 which may be read as an extension of the principle of capture to the control of commodity markets under neoliberalism. With regard to royalties and environmental protection, NAFTA has had serious consequences under Chapter 11 (see Clapp and Dauvergne 2005; Wold 2008). Some analysts have suggested that any attempt to increase provincial royalties in Alberta could be subject to legal action under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 or Chapter 6 (Roth 2009). Today, opponents to the current royalty structure highlight the inordinate profits received by private and foreign companies in the Alberta tar sands development (Boychuk 2010; Parkland Institute 2011; Carter forthcoming). Accordingly, Canada has become the top exporter of oil to the United States, above Saudi Arabia. The strong Canadian petrodollar has fortified the country’s extractive sector, both domestically and overseas. While Canadian mining capital benefits from the high-valued currency abroad, the rising dollar makes domestic manufacturing less competitive; accordingly, this currency value reinforces the fortunes of oil, gas, and mining in the broader economy. Such “Dutch disease,” as depicted by government critics, remains highly contested between the government and opposition parties who marshal figures concerning job losses and gains contrarily. Simultaneously, democratic erosions—a recent one being new voting restrictions (Bryden 2014)—are telling for the insight they give to forms of power associated with extractive sector dominant capital (Nitzan and Bichler 2009). Such traits are frequently associated with rentierism or the resource curse, but they are better theorized through a lens that avoids such reification of state institutions (Watts 2004b). Rather, these dynamics are relationally produced through a hydrocarbon-driven capitalism and its mutually constitutive cultural institutions. Here contestations over power/ knowledge are more and more prominent. A key example of the erosion of Canadian democratic institutions was evident in electoral irregularities in the most recent federal election. In 5.  NAFTA’s Chapter 11 prevents provinces and states from increasing labor and environmental protections. The “proportional sharing clause” is found in Article 605 of Chapter 6 on energy, and also in Chapter 3 under market access (Article 305).

Vicious Transparency  359 2011 Harper’s Conservatives achieved their first majority government in the Canadian Parliament, based on receiving 39.6% of the popular vote. Harper represents the right wing of the Conservative Party, with a base in Alberta; Harper is himself Member of Parliament for Calgary Southwest, the economic center of the Canadian oil industry. Collectively, parties to the left of the Conservatives received 59.4% of the popular vote. But given that the governing party holds well over 50% of the seats, the results provided carte blanche to pass and repeal legislation. Within a year of this election the so-called “robocall scandal” broke, revealing that opposition supporters in swing districts (“ridings”) received calls from the governing party directing them to the wrong voting station.6 This prompted investigations by civil society as well as by Elections Canada, the federal armslength agency responsible for administering and monitoring elections in Canada, and led to concerns regarding the latter’s powers of oversight, a problem worsened under the Harper government’s proposed Fair Elections Act, which further restricts voting rights (Bryden 2014).7 Yet public interest arising from these events has been muted by federal powers over national information and media—as evidenced in ongoing budget cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation8 and the muzzling of federal scientists (Munro 2013; CBC 2012). The Harper government has thus been critiqued for decidedly antidemocratic tendencies even by conservative commentators (Coyne 2012, 2014). Indeed, with regard to control over information and democracy, relatively conservative sources such as the Economist have written that the Canadian prime minister “has acquired a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules.”9 This dynamic, as we will see in the next section, follows logically from a competitive, global industry coupled with a state regulatory system that seeks profits via subsoil leases. As per the opening vignettes, in the drive to secure leases and markets first, competing firms and their collective representative, CAPP, actively lobby for rapid extraction and to suppress undesirable information.

6.  First aired in February 2012, by March  the scandal prompted nationwide protests. See Despite legal challenges a February 2014 federal announcement further restricts oversight by Elections Canada. See also CBC, August  21, 2012, robocall-complaints-rise-to-1-394-specific-occurrences-1.1286634 7.  The act was announced in mid-February 2014, immediately revealing tensions between the government and the electoral watchdog. Elections Canada indicated that changes to the act—notably the rescinding of third party’s ability to vouch for voters—could disenfranchise thousands of people, disproportionately aboriginal, seniors, and youth. The act also considerably increased the permitted budget for election campaigns. 8. See 9. “Time to Flip,” The Economist, July  7, 2012, 58303.

360  Anna Zalik Captured Transparency This repression of debate stands in contrast to what business strategist Mia de Kuijper, Dean of the Duisenberg School of Finance in Amsterdam and former Royal Dutch Shell executive, identifies as a new “star driver” shaping the global economy: transparency. According to de Kuijper, transparency is “a state in which the cost of information is approaching zero . . . in which cheap connectivity is so abundant and easy, one might consider it infinite” (de Kuijper 2009, 42). Critical geographers have been trained to understand transparency, spatially or otherwise, as an illusion.10 On this point de Kuijper’s own caveat is revealing: “My use of the word transparency is meant to emphasize the fact that information will travel instantly and without obstruction, equally clear and perceptible to everyone. I am not describing the sort of transparency that is demanded when critics insist that windows into business or government operations be held open in order to enforce accountability” (ibid.). Thus, organizations such as Transparency International, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Publish What You Pay, and Revenue Watch all employ the term in the form that she does not intend. In contrast, “perfect information,” which de Kuijper discusses at length, is defined as “the immediate availability of, and connection to, all existing information regarding anything and anybody, at extremely low cost” (46). Significant here is what de Kuijper describes as the era of “interdependent decision making” in which flattened access to information changes competitive relations between firms. That is, relationships between firms become less hierarchical, although those that operate as power nodes (an important target for her analysis) will be able to extract a larger portion of profit from non-power-node firms, but the latter firms will only allow this “in exchange for positive sum benefits” (109). She explains: In transparency, the spatial relationship will be entirely different from the past. In the age of perfect information, any smaller cube, or focused company, may have a relationship with any other . . . in transparency, the universe of potential business allies is the same multidimensional universe as the universe of potential competitors. . . . In transparency, competition will be an integral part of all business arrangements. One must not harbor rosy notions of a federation of companies in a distributed business model as a “co-opetition” [cooperative competition] party or a cooperative constellation. Within a distributed business 10. The notion of transparent space—as  per Henri Lefebvre’s work—can be merged with various elements of socialized space that obscure the material relations undergirding an apparent transparency, perceptibility.

Vicious Transparency  361 arrangement, the fight for collectively available returns—even those that have been jointly created—will be vicious. (109)

De Kuijper’s point here squares reasonably with critical political economy in that she argues for the role of corporate power in securing a given firm’s capital. Indeed, the “vicious” principle of development that she identifies as a defining feature of the future of industry (Zalik 2010) is the opposite of access to information and relies on an underlying acceptance of a kind of sociopolitical Darwinism.11 This emerges from the longer history of the “rule of capture” (Daintith 2010) in the oil and gas industry, to which I now turn, and which clearly shapes the global market into which “unconventional” oil such as tar sands flows. As a legal principle associated with groundwater and “wild nature” (see Low 2009), the capture principle legislates overexploitation, a problem that has been well recognized by industry. In the first thirty years of the twentieth century, key oil industry proponents in the United States described how the rule of capture promoted haphazard, inefficient, rapid development, discouraged resource conservation, and, by promoting overproduction, lowered prices (see Henry Doherty, cited in Daintith 2010, 241). As a practice that fueled, and was fueled by, global imperialism, the rule of capture is associated with the explorer/colonizer, the individual settler, and the so-called first mover corporation that employs being first to its advantage. Although the United States sought to curtail the inefficiency arising from competitive extraction through the unitization of resources among neighboring landowners, the push to capture resources from shared liquid or gas deposits remains a dominant force in the exploitation of nature under capitalism and clearly under the coloniality shaping Canadian oil frontiers (Blomley and Pratt 2001). Indeed, recent Canadian jurisprudence demonstrates that the principle persists between competing lessees, which in turn influences the context in which the Crown’s agenda favors rapid development.12 Thus lessees and provinces seek to develop or produce reserves (or both) in neighboring deposits “first,” instigating rapid development of shale gas on neighboring tracts where concessions are held by competing firms (Low 2009).13 This “use it or lose it” approach promotes overproduction and a race to 11.  The futures market, arguably, reinforces this dynamic by forcing not only actual rapid extraction by firms but also the broad perception that such extraction can and will occur. 12.  In a few sites, surface owners own subsurface minerals (freehold), for instance on former Canadian Rail and Hudson’s Bay Company lands. In some cases surface owners hold exclusive rights to the subsurface, in other cases they are held jointly (the latter is known as split title lands). But largely they are held by the Crown. 13.  Low (2009) identifies its first application in Canada as occurring in 1953, dating back to an English groundwater case of 1843 (Low 2009, 800n3 and 801n10).

362  Anna Zalik secure markets. By extension this also drives, through lower prices and thus the persistence of inefficient technologies, hyperconsumption of fossil fuels. In both Canada and the United States, the rule of capture is likely to have been partly associated with the 2011 fall in natural gas prices. Yet the intensification of the shale gas fracking industry in the western United States and Canada was in part shaped by regional resistance to the development of LNG terminals, which shifted the energy industry’s focus away from importing gas from elsewhere and toward a rapid roll out of North American supplies (Zalik 2008). The strength of resistance movements to reshape energy infrastructural futures has raised alarms among those with industrial interests. In Canada, recent pipeline protests impinge on firms’ profits by questioning approvals on existing leases and undermining confidence in a future market for high-carbon fuel sources. One result is the suppression of these protests, including surveillance of opponents, increasing restrictions on public participation in review processes, and defunding of oppositional NGOs. Here one sees the kind of transparency in practice that de Kuijper refers to. It is not the kind of transparency associated with public access to information, but rather that shapes an intensification of interfirm and interjurisdictional competition for markets. Under these conditions, oppositional information and knowledges are a means to resist such markets, as industry and government move to counter such opposition. Over the past five years a considerable critique of Canada’s self-representation as an adherent and advocate of global equity has emerged, including studies emphasizing Canada’s imperial actions and pretensions (Gordon 2010; Klassen and Albo 2013). These works build on literature in Canadian critical race theory directed at Canadian multiculturalism as a veneer for ongoing racism (Thobani 2007; Razack 1998). Canada’s 2008 abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol was identified by liberals as marking the death of the country’s reputation for internationalism. Just as Canada’s progressive image abroad contributed significantly to multiculturalism’s hegemony domestically, formal multiculturalism also obscures deep coloniality between the Canadian “Crown” (referring to a power pertaining to the provincial or federal government, associated with subsoil rights usually held by the province), Canadian society as a whole, and aboriginal/First Nations (Bannerji 2000; Lawrence 2004). For some years, Canada’s refusal to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was held up as intransigence on fundamental respect for First Nations’ territorial rights. The Harper government, in a characteristic media strategy, signed on to the declaration in late 2010. Yet tensions between the federal government and First Nations were amplified in 2012 with the former’s rapid overhaul of environmental legislation; even prior to this overhaul, a range of indigenous and human rights organizations

Vicious Transparency  363 had pointed directly at inherent violations to the aboriginal right to free prior and informed consent that ensued from natural resource projects in Canada.14 Long-standing colonial relations with First Nations and extraction in Canada have become major rallying sites for social and ecological movements—including liberal environmental groups and more radical resistance movements (Agyeman et al. 2009). Increasingly, critical scholars have revealed how industrially produced “traditional ecological knowledge” aims to mute First Nations’ concerns regarding their land and is frequently both instrumental (Caine and Krogman 2010) and inaccurate (Westman 2006). Allied with such struggles, the continental coalition opposing the Keystone pipeline forced a mediated shift in Canadian energy policy, with Prime Minister Harper pursuing oil exports to Asian markets, a result of increasing ambivalence toward tar sands development by North American energy consumers. This has involved an attempt to reverse existing east-west pipelines so as to identify West Coast ports from which to export tar sands crude. Concurrently, given its targeting for offshore oil and gas development, an interprovincial coalition in the Atlantic has mobilized against drilling in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.15 Even in Alberta, where the tar sands are primarily located, surveys have demonstrated significant concern regarding oil industry development and strong support for a moratorium on further approvals.16 Oppositional strategy has employed formal, constitutionally endowed aboriginal land rights as a judicial last stand and opportunity for joint mobilization (Daly and Napoleon 2003).17 Continental institutions have served as venues for struggle by aboriginal groups, including the Commission on Environmental Cooperation of NAFTA, in which claims are assessed, in principle, based on formal legal procedures.18 Contestations over the legitimacy of competing stakeholder knowledge is front and center in these conflicts. Under the rubric of the “ethical oil” campaign, conservative commentator Ezra Levant, a staunch Harper supporter, has argued that Canadian tar sands is far preferable to 14.  Among others, see Amnesty International 2012. 15.  For specifics, see and, among others. 16.  In 2007, 71% of Albertans expressed support for no further approvals of tar sands development. See 2011 Pembina Institute poll results at lease/1445 and a 2008 Leger marketing poll at news/story.html?id = b6a175ea-b3d9–4645-afdc-050bb6c4724d. 17. See Beaver Lake versus the Crown at and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) versus Shell at http://acfnchallenge.wordpress. com/category/shell/. 18. See September  2010 submission to the Commission on Environmental Cooperation of NAFTA regarding Alberta tailings ponds at 10–2-RSUB-PUBLIC_en.pdf.

364  Anna Zalik other global sources of oil, employing various orientalist tropes (Levant 2010; Andragi 2011; Nikiforuk 2010).19 The Canadian oil, gas, and mining industries, through key lobbying groups such as CAPP and the Prospectors and Development Association of Canada, face off against opponents. They employ media campaigns to downplay the territorial extent of tar sands impacts and advance figures regarding aboriginal benefits that critics describe as misleading.20 By contrast, opposition data on environmental impacts, including an integration of lifecycle CO2 emissions and water used in bitumen extraction, undergirds a broadening global movement against the use of unconventionals. Such an approach squares with that of total carbon footprinting (see Knox, this volume). Thus a kind of epistemological battle concerning tar sands expansion has emerged, leading to the repression and criminalization of those opposing further development. The Harper government’s approach to regulating extraction suggests, in its own right, a significant legitimation campaign, inclusive of dismantling environmental protections and defunding oppositional NGOs (Nolin and Stephens 2010). For some years, academic institutions have received considerable corporate sponsorship from the oil and mining sectors (see Gustafson 2012; Mason 2013). In 2005, the federally endorsed Extractive Industries Review sought business, government, civil society, and academic input on the Canadian extractive sector. When the outcome of those roundtables appeared insufficiently business-friendly, the Devonshire Initiative and Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor were created (Coumans 2011).21 The Devonshire Initiative is named for the street housing the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies. The Munk Centre is named for its main donor, Peter Munk, the CEO of Barrick Gold. Barrick notoriously put a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP suit) on two books, Noir Canada (2008) and Imperial Canada Inc. (2011), involving Professor Alain Deneault as coauthor, concerning the activities of the Canadian mining industry in Africa and globally. Barrick’s reputation has been seriously tarnished by killings at its operations in Tanzania and gang rapes at its Porguera mine in Papua New Guinea, both documented by Protest Barrick and Human Rights Watch and covered in the mainstream Canadian press. A major 2011 endowment to expand the Munk Centre led to significant student opposition and critique of the agreements signed

19.  See, which led to a series of oppositional pieces exploring “unethical” oil as per Andragi 2011. 20.  The Alberta oil sands PR material asserts that 10% of the oil sands workforce is aboriginal. 21. See

Vicious Transparency  365 between the university and the donor (Coumans 2011; Hamel and Valleau 2011).22 The federal minister of international cooperation, Bev Oda, who supported the Devonshire Initiative, also notoriously defunded the ecumenical NGO Kairos, which has been highly critical of government policy.23 Broad support toward legitimating the activity of the extractive industry forms part of a Canadian International Development Agency initiative called Building the Canadian Advantage, which promotes partnerships between large NGOs and mining companies. This consent-oriented project has been accompanied by a brutal approach to the oil industry’s domestic opponents—further defunding of NGOs and discourse that criminalizes First Nations opponents. In 2012, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver suggested that those intervening against controversial pipeline proposals in British Columbia were enemies of the state (Payton 2012; Lemphers 2012). Such suppression of information arising from liberal environmental critics, not to mention more radical ones, was legislated shortly afterward when environmental organizations engaged in advocacy on controversial projects saw their charitable status threatened.24 In part because of concerns about this possibility, renowned and outspoken Canadian biologist David Suzuki resigned from the board of the foundation that carries his name. Such actions made the NGO sector vulnerable in a period coinciding with sweeping government modifications of Canadian environmental legislation. In June 2012, the federal omnibus budget Bill C-38 overhauled the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act so that the federal government could expedite large energy projects, notably pipelines, regardless of the outcome of regulatory hearings, devolving various procedures to provinceonly review (Gibson 2012). In response to this and to the subsequent bill affecting waterways (Bill C-45), the Idle No More movement emerged, perhaps the largest First Nations uprising in Canada in the past century. By the fall of 2013, the protest of the Elsipogtog First Nation against a fracking project in New Brunswick saw violent suppression, while environmental NGOs legally challenged new environmental review processes on 22. See,, and www.solidarity 23.  On the Kairos defunding, see kairos-timeline.html. The former Canadian International Development Agency, which the Harper government merged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2013, supports Canada’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Strategy for the Canadian International Extractive Sector (see eng/CAR-929105317-KGD). Oda resigned after personal spending scandals in 2012. 24. Greenpeace and various First Nations have been described as extremists. See

366  Anna Zalik the grounds that they contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Also by fall 2013, public hearings concerning the reversal of Ontario’s Line 9 pipeline were shut down following major public protests. As we shall see, this active suppression of public debate and dissent is complemented by more subtle restrictions on access to information, with implications for substantive transparency and for the constitution of energy futures.

Transparency and the Contestation of Energy Regimes under the Rule of Capture In recent years NGOs, journalists, and critical scholars have submitted Canadian Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests concerning the oil industry’s environmental impacts, its lobbying of the federal government, as well as the public subsidies and permissions its receives (Fraser and Ellis 2009; Stewart 2012; Cayley-Daoust and Girard 2012). Among these were a number I  jointly submitted with Kimia Ghomeshi concerning financing support for the activities of Canadian pipeline companies Enbridge and TransCanada through the national export-import bank, Export Development Canada (EDC).25 As corporate overseers of the Northern Gateway and Keystone projects, respectively, these companies have been the target of considerable global mobilization against further tar sands development. The Keystone pipeline has faced effective resistance by a coalition of U.S.-based environmentalists and resource nationalists. Among the points raised by U.S. opponents to Keystone are potential increases in fuel prices at the pump in the Midwest, which they argue would result from curtailing the current “oversupply” of Canadian fuel to the U.S. market, a view that squares with that of the Canadian oil industry lobby concerning the need for pipeline access so as to improve the “discounted” price they are currently garnering. The EDC provided funding to the Keystone pipeline in 2009–10 and supports TransCanada’s activities in the United States through facility loans for “general corporate purposes” (Ghomeshi and Zalik 2013). Our ATIP requests, submitted in 2012, sought details on the specifics of applications for the millions of dollars of EDC financing to Enbridge and TransCanada. Although unsurprising to financial insiders, the results yielded numerous pages of redacted information that included no clear details on the location or activities to which the funds would be ­channeled—which was our main area of interest—and neither ratings nor

25.  ATIP requests submitted by Ghomeshi and Zalik.

Vicious Transparency  367 narrative on the results of corporate environmental risk reviews. The cited explanations included various elements of the Access to Information Act as well as from the Export Development Canada Act itself. These concern privileged client information, comparable to that guiding most private corporate financing. The results of these ATIP requests underlined fundamental principles of commercial operations and the privileging of what I  call “intercapitalist” competition, an extension of the rule of capture into institutions nominally charged with the democratization of information. Export Development Canada, which operates as an investment bank, has disclosure obligations that differ from those of other government agencies.26 As explicitly described in the previous section, the defunding of modestly critical NGOs, the curtailing of public participation opportunities in regulatory hearings, and the push toward “exploiting first” so as to access markets first constrain the possible influence of oppositional knowledges. These dynamics constitute “regulatory capture,” as depicted by the Canadian Association of Energy & Pipeline Landowners Associations27 and are prefigured by the export market orientation shaping Canada’s so-called “staples” trap (Watkins 1963), further enshrined under the U.S. FTA and NAFTA. Thus, possible attempts to dull the push for reserves and market access by restricting overall production for use within Canada is circumscribed via NAFTA’s proportionality clause. That is, neither provincially nor federally is it possible, under the terms of NAFTA, to adopt a conservationist policy. Given the requirement under NAFTA to continue proportional supply to the United States, production must be sustained at a level that can feed both the United States (at the same proportion) while also supplying Canadian energy needs. This topic arguably warrants more public attention than it has received. This capitalist imperative drives regulatory overseers, “Crown” representatives, to withdraw resources in a manner that allows them to access markets at the best price (which is understood discursively to be about securing markets first, i.e., prior to “oversupply”). The western Canadian provinces engaged in oil and gas production—Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan—are consequently in a race to the bottom, both in terms of revenue policy and environmental protection, so as to secure operators to extract and sell their resources largely to external markets, until recently primarily the United States. Under such conditions, pipeline construction as a basis for market access is central to capturing reserves and marketing them. Variant forces 26.  Key provisions cited for redaction included 18.1 of the Access to Information Act as well as Export Development Act in 24.3 concerning privileged information. See Ghomeshi and Zalik 2013. 27.  See

368  Anna Zalik are at work here. Competing firms strategize to sustain their production so as to ensure share value, a value itself produced on the base of partial knowledges and presumptions held by traders, which in turn requires buyers for one’s product. Constraints on sales and “lost” profits are referenced publicly as a major threat if pipeline projects do not proceed. But these points do not go uncontested. The billion dollar investment in construction of these pipelines, like the outcome that would have arisen had LNG import facilities on the North American West Coast been installed (Zalik 2008), in itself creates another financial imperative for use and profitability. By investing in pipelines through EDC and commercial banks, the expansion of Alberta tar sands extraction is tied to global financial interests, including the retirement savings of many Canadians and non-Canadians. Here debates concerning the markets themselves ensue, based as they are on future projections of supply and demand. For instance, with regard to the Keystone project, the Communication Energy and Paperworkers’ Union of Canada offers this analysis: “The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers own research shows that our export capacity will exceed Western Canadian projected production until 2025, and after 2025 Northern Gateway will add significant additional surplus capacity to that created by Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan (TMX). In the process, the pipeline will cause profound damage to the environment, cost more than 26,000 Canadian jobs, and put Canada’s own energy needs at risk” (Coles 2012). A dialectic arises from these pipeline projects, and indeed contestation over the Canadian tar sands in general, involving futures markets in unconventional oil. Opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which has received less attention in the United States, had been prominently led by British Columbia First Nations. The indigenous territories covered by the project, opposition to oil tanker traffic on the coast of British Columbia, and the poor safety record of Enbridge pipelines in Michigan and elsewhere have harnessed a broad coalition. As with the Keystone pipeline, blocking the Enbridge Gateway project has the potential to alter the future of the Canadian oil industry—by restricting market access and reshaping (and from the perspective of its opponents, curtailing) the possible export of product.28 Since April 2012, activist commentators have effectively emphasized that, due to concentrated media attention to both the Keystone and the Northern Gateway projects, the Canadian government sought to slip a reversal of the existing Enbridge Line 9 pipeline,

28. Industry concedes that pipeline delay would slow down but not stop production (Snow 2012).

Vicious Transparency  369 and more recently the Energy East pipeline, through the backdoor (Vasey 2012).29 This latter line, underutilized according to its proponents, currently moves oil from eastern refineries westward and has been in operation since the 1970s (Scott 2013).30 Current proposals aim to use it to transport crude from Alberta through refineries in the Sarnia region of Ontario, Canada’s “chemical valley,” for export through eastern Canadian ports. As protests against Line 9 mounted, the projected reversal of the Energy East pipeline emerged, both of which were portrayed as means to keep jobs at home through the use of Canadian refineries, as opposed to export via Keystone. Notable here is how the spatial fix sought by industry is so quickly reconfigured in response to social challenges in its operating environment. In the interim, dangers associated with transporting undiluted bitumen by rail reveal themselves, exemplified by the tragic Lac-Mégantic derailment in the summer of 2013, which killed forty-nine people in Quebec (Gilbert 2013). Industry lobbying for deregulation also emerged following that disaster. Yet assessing the specifics of environmental impacts, or even the jobs generated, via Export Development Canada financing to pipeline companies is not accessible to the general public under basic corporate competition protections. In the kind of transparency shaping firms, to recall de Kuijper’s description, “competition will be an integral part of all business operations . . . and the fight for collectively available returns will be vicious” (2009, 109). Accordingly, this chapter argues that in the context of mounting popular resistance to the expansion of the hydrocarbon economy, the competition for reserves and markets shapes interests whose immediate purposes are served by suppressing knowledges critical of their activities. This has clear implications for public dissent in the regulatory process in nominally liberal democracies like Canada. The relations between those resisting the expansion of the frontier in unconventionals and those seeking to promote extractive industry collectively shape energy futures in which powerful business interests, alongside their shareholders, have a stake. As we have seen, Canada’s role in a continental energy market that strategically “fuels fossil America” (McCullum 2006) has shaped the rise of the Canadian extractive sector both domestically and overseas. The specific

29. Ron Plain of Aamjiwnaang First Nation mentioned this in a public forum on March  20, 2012, and it appeared in a major Canadian newspaper two days later (Vander Klippe and McCarthy 2012). By May, Haudenasonee activists and environmental justice groups disrupted hearings in protest. See Tim Groves in the Dominion 2012 at http://www. 30.  Operational to Ontario until the 1950s, it was extended to Quebec in the 1970s.

370  Anna Zalik capitalist imperative toward resource capture put in motion by extraction has been temporally associated, in Canada, with diminishing substantive democracy in formal government. As the struggle over energy futures persists, the demand—and perceived demand—for hydrocarbons will both drive and be driven by the persistent residue of the rule of capture.


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