Contesting infrastructure: political claims along pipelines

Regions: North Slave Region

Tags: social sciences, governance, socio-economics, aboriginal rights

Principal Investigator: Neville, Kate J (2)
Licence Number: 16240
Organization: University of Toronto
Licensed Year(s): 2018 2017
Issued: Feb 15, 2018

Objective(s): To better understand current controversies over pipelines in North America by examining the historical context of pipeline regulations, financing, and public debate.

Project Description: In this project, the research team aim to better understand current controversies over pipelines in North America by examining the historical context of pipeline regulations, financing, and public debate. The team plan to focus on the 1970s debates over pipelines in the Canadian north, as a pivotal time for oil and gas infrastructure in Canada, and with the Berger Inquiry presenting a major challenge to previous federal processes of northern development. The team plan to place more recent debates over the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal (Alberta/BC) into historical context through this analysis.

The overall objectives are:
1) to track finance and corporate ownership for the proposed northern pipelines of the 1970s as well as for Northern Gateway. Through this, the research team will develop novel datasets to reveal the complex global financial flows and corporate networks involved in pipeline proposals;
2) to use theoretical concepts about information flows and material objects to understand how pipelines themselves shaped the debates over oil and gas in the Canadian north and west. Through this, the research team aim to contribute to scholarly debates in international political economy and social movement scholarship, with ideas from political ecology; and,
3) to map the networks of stakeholders publicly involved in debates over pipelines in the 1970s and the more recent Northern Gateway pipeline, to see how alliances and interested players have changed over time in the area of oil and gas. Through this, the research team aim to contribute to better understanding the public intersections between environmental activist and Indigenous rights networks, and how these have changed over time.

The team are planning a three-part study, with a focus on historical perspectives on the regulation, finance, and public debates over pipelines. The research team plan to use current (Northern Gateway) and historical (Mackenzie Valley) pipeline case studies in Canada, using both comparative and within-case analysis of financial flows, regulatory systems, and public engagement. For this project, especially for the NWT component, the team expect the work will be focused on archival documentation and collection, and through document analysis of government regulations and mapping of corporate finance and ownership. The purpose of this external application is to inform the communities in the NWT whose records the team are relying on from the archives of this work, and ensure that the team begin the research in an open and transparent manner. While these documents are public, the research team want to ensure that those whose views, or whose communities' and families' views, are analyzed are informed about this work.

The research team welcome local input and community responses to the planned work. This project is currently designed as an archival/historical and financial/global-markets project: the current questions are designed to examine the ways in which government regulation, corporate investment, and community perspectives intersected in the 1970s around infrastructure development in the north, with a focus on pipeline proposals. Since this project is aimed at understanding the context out of which current pipeline debates in Canada emerged, the research team expect that later stages of the project and future projects that emerge from this initial work could expand to address questions that might be of current interest to communities in the north. The research team do not currently have a planned community component, but are very open to exploring with local communities how the work might contribute to current debates over infrastructure, resource development debates, and more.

The main research outputs consist of scholarly papers, and will be available to any interested NWT individuals and communities. The research team anticipate publishing at least three academic articles (which will first be presented as conference papers), on pipeline financing, the changing nature of pipeline debates/protest, and government regulation of pipelines/infrastructure. The team also plan to communicate the findings to broader policy and public audiences through online policy platforms (publicly and freely accessible websites, such as New Security Beat,, and/or Triple Crisis, We may also work on op-eds or other media commentary, and expect this could be a form of communication to audiences in NWT and beyond. The research team will also share the written work, and are open to additional ways of sharing this research, if communities/individuals in the NWT would like additional information and opportunities for input.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from February 19, 2018 to December 31, 2018.