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Manifold Destinies: Exploring the Environmental History of Pipelines

Sat, March 17, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Riverside Convention Center, MR 8

Session Submission Type: Panel


Pipelines may be out of sight, but are, increasingly, not out of mind. The recent battles over the Dakota Access, Keystone XL and Trans-Mountain pipelines have transformed them from invisible subterranean conduits to socially and environmentally-contentious infrastructures. Despite the need to historicize pipelines, relatively few scholars have explored the environmental history of these energy arteries. Analyzing the construction, operation, and contestation of pipelines illuminates questions of justice, energetic and social power, and profound changes to the natural world and humanity’s use of it.

This panel situates and theorizes a variety of environmental concerns pertaining to pipelines. Sean Kheraj explores competing meanings of environmental protection and impact, specifically questions of justice between First Nations and the Interprovincial Pipeline Company presented in the National Energy Board hearing on the Norman Wells pipeline in the 1980s. Tina Adcock examines the construction of the Canol Pipeline and how expertise about north(west)ern environments was situated in particular northern and southern bodies, how it was adjudicated, and how it was (or failed to be) transmitted.

Once built, pipelines always exerted a profound influence far beyond their narrow physical paths. Andrew Watson highlights how natural gas pipelines provided farmers with the concentrated energy essential for industrial-scale irrigation and the dramatic increase in the biomass productivity of High Plains agriculture. Finally, Philip Wight demonstrates how the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System incentivized “upstream” production by industrializing the Arctic and creating a powerful stimulus to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf.

Pipelines are far more than steel pipes that move oil and gas; they are carbon conduits that fuel the production and consumption of hydrocarbons and high-energy society, where capital and commodities connect people, create livelihoods, perpetuate political economies, and dramatically transform the natural world.

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