Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lisa Breglia's "Living with Oil"

Lisa Breglia is Director of Global Affairs and Global Interdisciplinary Programs at George Mason University and is the author of Monumental Ambivalence: the Politics of Heritage. She lives in Washington, DC.

Breglia applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Living with Oil: Promises, Peaks, and Declines on Mexico’s Gulf Coast, and reported the following:
If I had to identify a single particularly fascinating and revelatory moment of my anthropological research that captures the tensions, ambiguities and anxieties of living in oil-affected areas of Mexico’s Gulf coast, it is the strange episode I relate on page 99 of Living with Oil.

One morning while traveling the 40 kilometers across the Island of Carmen from my fieldsite in the fishing community of Isla Aguada to Ciudad del Carmen, headquarters of Mexico’s intensive offshore oil operations for the past 30 years, I spotted an oil platform less than 5 km offshore. I was shocked. My mind raced as I grabbed my camera. Was I so deeply mired in the rumors circulating amongst Isla Aguada’s fishermen that the state-owned oil company, Pemex, had plans to newly open these waters to oil drilling that I was hallucinating? No. And I knew that the platform had no business sitting that close to the island’s shore.

Installations dedicated to oil extraction in the world’s largest offshore complex, Cantarell, were supposed to be confined to an area some 80 km off Campeche’s beaches. Oil production on land and within an offshore buffer-zone production was prohibited in this region—one of Mexico’s largest federally protected areas. Yet my interviews and conversations with residents of Isla Aguada demonstrated a growing anxiety over the encroachment of oil operations closer to home. Local fishermen were experiencing a severe decline in their ability to sustain a livelihood and they attributed this to the intensification of offshore oil production.

Page 99 relates the bizarre conversation I subsequently engaged in with the protected area’s site director over whether or not the oil installation was actually “there” or not—as he claimed that it wasn’t really there (!) given the legal prohibitions on its presence. I was so glad to have seen and captured that image of the oil platform that morning as it connects to many of the themes and lessons of Living with Oil, both for my study and for the everyday lived realities for people who experience the impacts of fossil fuel extraction. The presence of the offshore oil industry necessitates a search for a new way of making a living on Mexico’s Gulf coast. But alternative livelihoods also require a sustainable natural environment. No wonder the sight of an oil platform from the pretty, white sand beach is an ominous sight indeed.
To see the photo of the platform and other pictures and updates of Living with Oil, visit Lisa Breglia's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue