The Life and Death of Calumet: BP, Tar Sands, and Struggles Over Land in the Chicago Region

Authors: Graham Pickren*, Roosevelt University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Urban Geography, Energy
Keywords: political ecology, urban geography, fossil fuel, conservation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Inspired by William Cronon's seminal work on Chicago - Nature's Metropolis - this project examines the relations between the city of Chicago and its hinterland in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, focusing specifically on the commodities and infrastructure that enable fossil fuel production, distribution, and consumption i.e. the ‘hydrocarbon industrial complex’. This paper picks up one thread within this larger project and focuses on the tensions between land conservation and historic preservation projects in the Calumet region and the continued expansion of BP’s Whiting oil refinery, one of the largest (and oldest) oil refineries in the U.S. BP Whiting recently invested $4 billion dollars to upgrade its facilities to refine heavy Canadian tar sands oil, making it a crucial cog in the global fossil fuel production network and linking this site to climate justice struggles worldwide. More locally, though, as part of this renovation BP Whiting has begun buying property and demolishing homes in the nearby Marktown community of East Chicago under the auspices of creating more ‘green space’ near the refinery. The 200 people still living in Marktown, a historic community built for steelworkers in 1917, face the prospect of enclosure and displacement. The struggle for Marktown is framed within an ongoing debate about the legacies of industry in the Chicago region, the impact of brownfields on (re)development, and the prospects for both preserving cultural heritage and restoring ecologically sensitive landscapes.

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