Popping the carbon bubble: Toward a politics of shale oil asset depreciation

Authors: John Kendall*, University of Minnesota
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: carbon bubble, oil, finance capital, capitalism, technopolitics
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 43
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the past decade, the shale oil and gas boom has revitalized the predominance of North American oil on the global energy market. Even still, when the price of WTI crude dropped to negative $37/bbl last April, US oil producers once again demonstrated their extreme vulnerability to a myriad of extrinsic factors: everything from the coronavirus pandemic to the caprices of geopolitics to rampant and unregulated speculation. In turn, all but the very largest US shale producers now face an uphill battle to attract favorable terms of finance from an investment environment (momentarily) cold to fossil fuels. In this paper, I argue that this turmoil brewing at the intersection of oil and finance capital can, and should, be seized by the broader climate justice movement in the struggle for decarbonization. With this goal in mind, I first analyze and bolster the campaign, spearheaded by Carbon Tracker in 2011, to draw the attention of institutional investors and other financiers to the “carbon bubble”—in short, the idea that the vast majority of oil and gas assets will, for one reason or another, be unburnable and hence their value unrealizable. Further, I speculate on what more direct partisan participation in oil-based financial markets could look like. Overall, then, I argue that the climate justice movement must work to reorient its models and reinvent its tactics if it seeks to remain mobile on the grounds which it presently traverses, wittingly or unwittingly, viz. the highly diversified, networked, and technified terrain of financial markets.

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