Individual Submission Summary

Direct link:

Disclosure Conflicts: Crude Oil Trains, Frack Chemicals, and the Politics of Transparency

Sat, August 20, 8:30 to 10:10am, TBA


This paper introduces the concept of “disclosure conflicts” to describe a feature of many social struggles over industrial pollution and corporate wrongdoing. Disclosure conflicts occur when civil society groups demand the release of factual information pertaining to industrial activities or product safety. There is a growing literature on environmental governance through transparency and on the production of “ignorance” about environmental hazards; however, there have been few studies that seek to analyze the dynamics of disclosure conflicts and how they shape public engagement in debates about environmental risk. This paper analyzes and compares two public conflicts over the disclosure of information about the shale oil and gas industry in the United States. The first concerns the chemicals used in the process of fracturing shale rock. The second concerns the risks of transporting crude oil by railroad. The two case studies suggest a need to revise current understandings of information disclosure regimes as regulatory mechanisms. Disclosure conflicts have become a central feature of debates about fracking because both industry groups and environmental activists understand that disclosure policies can amplify or stifle subsequent waves of public protest. Disclosure policies are not simply the result of compromise among interest groups. Disclosure policies are a contested resource in broader political struggles between economic elites (the oil and gas industry) and vulnerable communities.