Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Energy Consequences and Conflicts across the Global Countryside: North American Agricultural Perspectives

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Energy Consequences and Conflicts across the Global Countryside: North American Agricultural Perspectives

Article excerpt

Policy measures that address themselves to the "solution" of pressing economic problems often fall short precisely because they fail to come to grips with the everyday practicalities and diverse modes of making and defending a living. (Long 1996, 40)

To mitigate and adapt to climate change we need to stop the assault on small farmers and indigenous communities, to defend their rights to their land and territory, to see them not as remnants of our past but as the path for our future. (Shiva 2008, 46)


To focus the analysis of such broad topics as energy and agriculture and provide tangible evidence of the transformations taking place across rural North America as a result of energy development, this paper geographically and topically draws upon the perspectives of family livestock farmers and networks of farmers across North America being directly impacted by the activities of multi-national energy corporations. The place-based social and environmental changes being brought about by regional and national policies and regulations that promote unconventional energy development activities on and near grazing and crop lands makes these livestock farmers and the places they inhabit part of an emerging "global countryside," a hypothetical space characterized by a condition of global inter-relatedness articulated through and by certain rural places and peoples that are engaging with and responding to globalization at the local level (Woods 2007, 486; Figure 1).


The livestock operations that are the focus of this analysis include smaller, family farms of less than 1,000 animals who for all, or a significant part of the year, allow their livestock to graze freely. Where possible, the focus has been on capturing the perspectives of family farmers (1) and their communities (National Family Farm Coalition 2008). These family farms include both conventional and organically certified operations.

Unconventional onshore oil and gas development broadly refers to extracting hydrocarbon resources from oil and gas shale, tight gas and tar sands, heavy oil reservoirs, coal bed methane, and methane hydrates. Unconventional oil and gas resources are regional in extent, found in extremely low permeability rock or on sand, and require stimulation (known as fracturing) to produce the gas or oil. These unconventional fossil fuel resources also typically have lower rates of estimated recovery than conventional oil and gas (Energy Information Administration 2011). This type of development is technology driven, using one or a combination of advanced technologies that include horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (also known as "fracing") in the case of tight sands, coal bed methane, and shales, and in the case of oil sands includes open pit mining and hot water extraction, or in-situ steam extraction practices, such as steam assisted gravity drainage (Holditch 2006). Due to these advanced technologies, higher initial capital investment is required.

In the political and societal discourses on the exploitation of these unconventional fossil fuel resources, the full scale development of these "domestic" fossil fuels, and the capital investment required, have been argued for in political debates as promising more "secure" and independent sources of oil and gas that could free the U.S. and Canada from oil and gas supplies in more politically volatile places around the world. In addition, political and societal calls for cleaner burning fossil fuels in the face of global climate change have brought the debate over a switch from coal and oil to "clean-burning" natural gas to the fore. All of these discourses around the promotion of unconventional energy in North America have involved, most notably in the U.S., new tax incentives, new public subsidies, de-regulation, new policies and regulations, permit streamlining, and national security measures that protect the corporations and technologies involved in unconventional oil and gas developments. …

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