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Hiatus: time, speculation and expertise in the UK shale gas industry

Authors: Owen King*, University of Birmingham, Kärg Kama, University of Birmingham
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography
Keywords: Speculation, Shale Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing, Extractive Industry, Knowledge Controversies, Political Geology
Session Type: Paper
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Attempts to replicate the success of the US shale gas industry have led the UK to experience a fracking spectacle based around imaginaries of future energy sovereignty and abundant profit in the era of low-carbon economy. However, despite extensive research and public spending over the past eight years, fracking has remained a highly speculative endeavour which is yet to be proven feasible in both economic and social terms. Amidst repeated setbacks and intense public protests, all exploratory drilling projects are currently again suspended. Yet, the industry’s failure to take off is portrayed by fracking proponents and the government as merely a “hiatus”: a productive pause in time, rather than a full stop (cf. Weszkalnys 2015). This paper reports on research aimed at mapping out the shifting networks of expert knowledge, which both inform and challenge the resource spectacle in sight. Focusing on two key knowledge controversies around resource prospectivity and induced seismicity, we aim to conceptualize the “hiatus” as a specific mode of temporality through which shareholder confidence and government support are discursively sustained in the absence of active production. Drawing upon interviews and ethnographic data, we show how speculative claims for a UK shale gas bonanza analogous to the US have been confounded by events of a (literally) seismic nature. Consequently, the “hiatus” is filled by the necessity for establishing a rational consensus for “baseline” sub-surface conditions and contestation over the transition to net-zero carbon emissions.

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