Mining the Mackenzie

Mackenzie-Basin-GraphicThe cold water in Canada’s Mackenzie River Basin, the “Amazon of the North,” moderates Arctic climate patterns while supporting diverse biological life forms and multiple cultural forms of life practiced by different societies. Lying in its headwaters is the world’s largest mining project, the Alberta Oil Sands, where environmental impacts are pushing water management to the fore of geopolitical debates over energy, climate and human security.

This project examines two aspects of how water management in Alberta is entangled with broader geopolitical contests. The first considers how new mining technologies frustrate distinctions between land and water in Canadian law and, in an effort to circumvent these difficulties, appeal to hydrologic science as arbiter regarding mining impacts. The second is how different conceptions of geopolitical space – territory – affect the fit of hydrologic science and democratic negotiations. Two salient considerations in the Mackenzie case are First Nations claims to territorial rights that draw different (or no) distinctions between land and water and signaled changes to First Nations property and mining rights identified through access to information requests that form the entry point for this research.

I anticipate beginning this project in 2014.


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