Accepted paper:

"There's no single Arctic": Knowing nature in oil operations


Elena Parmiggiani (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)
Eric Monteiro (Norwegian Uni. of Science and Technology)

Paper short abstract:

We present an ethnographic study of one Scandinavian oil company’s knowledge infrastructure for subsea environmental monitoring in the Arctic. We discuss how the company’s effort to know nature is entrenched in technological and political discourses surrounding oil and gas in the Arctic.

Paper long abstract:

One fourth of the world's undiscovered petroleum resources are believed to be hidden above the Polar Circle, but our knowledge of the Arctic natural ecosystems is still scarce. To ensure safety and efficiency, oil companies are implementing real-time systems to monitor the health of the marine environment during all operational phases. In the words of a US diplomat, however, "There's no single Arctic": despite the attempted separation between epistemological and political matters, data about the varied Arctic environment are being produced by several actors. Knowledge is thus generated through not only specific configurations of remote access technologies, but also the entanglement of heterogeneous cultural regimes and sociopolitical controversies among different industrial players and with the environmental NGOs. Based on an ethnographic study of a real-time environmental monitoring initiative by a Scandinavian oil company, we reflect on our effort to unpack the way data about the environment get constructed and become a basis for knowing. We highlight the trajectory of the company's initiative to become not only a consumer, but also a producer of data about the Arctic. We show how, in this process, the Arctic is quantified into multiple facts through the concerted mobilization of an interconnected knowledge infrastructure, comprising arrays of sensing devices and procedures to select, measure, and model selected parameters. We show how these approaches to know the Arctic environment are deeply entrenched in the political economy surrounding the relationship between industrial operations and environmental concerns.

panel T085
Infrastructures, subjects, politics