- Subterranean Struggles: New Dynamics of Mining, Oil, and Gas in Latin America by Anthony Bebbington and Jeffrey Bury (eds.)
As an energy studies scholar, I found this both book refreshing and challenging. The refreshing aspect of the book stems from its focus on Latin America, and its engagement with a rich use of interdisciplinary concepts sitting (loosely) under the umbrella of political ecology and geography. This geographic and methodological focus is certainly to be welcomed, especially when a recent content analysis of the top energy studies journals found that geography, political science, and ecology were all under-appreciated disciplines. That same assessment noted that Latin American countries and issues were virtually neglected in those journals. For instance, out of 4,444 research articles involving 9,549 authors only 0.6 percent reported training in geography, a meager 2.2 percent of authors reported affiliations with institutions within the region, and Latin American countries represented only 3.9 percent of case studies.
Thus, scholarship exploring oil, gas, and other extractive industries in Latin America is long overdue, and as Bebbington and Bury write in their introduction to the volume, the region “has seen a dramatic increase in investment in exploring and exploiting” (p. 15) energy resources and at the “regional level one can reasonably speak of the fashioning of a new geopolitical ecology in Latin America” (p. 17). As they note, from 1990 to 1997 investment in mining exploration increased by 400 percent in Latin America compared to a global average increase of 90 percent. From 1990 to 2000, Latin America’s share of global mining investment correspondingly rose from 12 percent to 33 percent, and almost half of the world’s largest mining projects (12 out of 25) were situated in Latin America or the Caribbean. Growth in foreign direct investment in the hydrocarbon sectors over three years (2004 to 2007) was a staggering 223 percent for Brazil and 623 percent for Columbia. Looking not at the past, but to the future, of the 78.3 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest in Peru, 56.1 million hectares have been set aside as blocks for oil and gas development; in parallel, more than half of Ecuador’s and Bolivia’s Amazonian rainforest are similarly leased for oil and gas exploration. These trends, apart from making Latin America a critical part of the extractive industries “super cycle” (p. 57) do not bode well for our global climate, for the precious biodiversity found within these dwindling old-growth forests, or for the vitality of rural (and often indigenous) communities living near leased blocks or existing projects.
To cover this fascinating terrain, Bebbington and Bury organize their volume as follows. The Introduction and second chapter focus at a regional level on the dynamics of oil, gas, and extractive industries, mapping some of the major actors at work as well as key themes covered by previous scholars, with [End Page 223] a strong emphasis on the Andean-Amazonian region and on the discipline of political ecology. The book then moves to cover subnational scales (Chapters 3 through 8) with respective case studies on hydrocarbons in Bolivia, mining in Peru, the impact of mining on communities Ecuador (two back-to-back chapters), hydrocarbons in the Peruvian Amazon, and gas and mining in Bolivia. The final three chapters (9 through 11) tease out broader patterns and assess the complex ways that subnational and regional influences interact mutually.
While the topical focus of the book on Latin America is certainly a plus, it is not the only valuable contribution the book makes. Its chapters are also conceptually diverse. We see themes extending across economics and externalities, enclosure and exclusions, and the resource curse. We see a discussion about scale and where one draws physical and disciplinary boundaries, and around governance and critical stakeholder assessment. We see painful depictions of mining and human rights abuses, forays into analyzing regionalism and energy megaprojects, and...