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Transplantation and Extraction: Oil, Gas, & Seismicity in Brazil, Germany, and the American Midwest

Thu, March 31, 1:00 to 2:30pm, Westin Seattle Hotel, Vashon

Session Submission Type: Panel


How do transplanted knowledge, expertise and technology shape the science, the industries, and the public conversations about the extraction of oil and gas? We ask this question in three contexts, all involving seismicity, in the twentieth through the early twenty-first century. In so doing, we wrestle with how public understanding, public participation, and civic engagement respond to introduced techniques, instruments, and ways of investigating and defining fossil fuel reserves.
Brian Frehner investigates what happened when experts and instruments moved from the German military during the Great War to the United States oil industry in the early twentieth century. Such transfer of skill and machines met resistance, including suspicion and even subterfuge, but helped consolidate the financial strength of American oil. Drielli Peyerl examines how expert Walter Link brought knowledge and organizational models from Standard Oil in the United States to the state-run Petrobras of Brazil in the 1950s. After much-heralded work to build systems and knowledge, Link predicted that oil would be found in different locations than the Brazilian state wanted to hear. His work was met with resistance and even ridicule from the public and from fellow researchers. Such reaction illustrates that even within the scientific community differences of opinion, or different “publics,” can challenge and shape geophysical knowledge. Conevery Valencius explores how Americans in two states, Arkansas and Oklahoma, have reacted to recent seismic tremors many identified as “frackquakes.” Disparities in public reaction were shaped by the industry history and earthquake histories of the two regions, but similarities reflect shared suspicion of “non-local” scientific knowledge.
Together, these three investigations reflect on the different publics which shape reaction to transplanted knowledge, both outside and within an industry sometimes seen as monolithic. Further, the role of seismic science reveals how different publics conceptualized resources and forces under the ground.

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