Aesthetic Encounters with the Water-Energy Nexus: Design, Digital Technology, and the Contested Geographies of Oil and Gas

Authors: Douglas Robb*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Energy, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: water-energy nexus, environmental design, resource governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Water has become an increasingly important commodity in Canadian oil and gas production as a result of hydraulic fracturing. Policymakers and environmentalists have theorized this convergence between water resources and energy extraction in terms of the water-energy nexus. While the nexus concept gestures toward a more comprehensive and relational approach to resource management, its spatial coordinates remain unclear. Is the nexus located at sites of energy production, and in the material flows between resource landscapes? Or is it an abstract representation of complex socio-ecological relations, compiled from data collected through sensory infrastructures and “smart” environmental technologies? Where is the water-energy nexus, and what are the political implications of this question? Drawing upon contemporary work in critical environmental design and landscape visualization, this paper argues that our encounters with the nexus are largely mediated through digital technologies and aesthetic experiences that depoliticize environmental conflict and sustain the cultural and political logics of neoliberal resource governance. Contested geographies of oil, gas, and water- the ultimate locations of the nexus- are displaced through digitally-constructed substitutes that obscure forms of situated knowledge and foster technocratic responses to issues of environmental and territorial insecurity. This paper offers a critique of the water-energy nexus, and considers how its radical potential might be developed through engagement with recent scholarship in ontological design and creative experiments in eco-digital intermediation. In doing so, the paper seeks to distance the water-energy nexus from discourses of neoliberal environmentality, and articulate it as a distributed site for political ecological critique.

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