Accepted Paper:

Contesting technology transfer: The disputed travels of a shale oil retort  


Kärg Kama (University of Birmingham)

Paper long abstract:

This paper analyses the controversies arising from technology and knowledge exchange in unconventional energy development, focusing on the 'Enefit' oil shale company in Estonia and its recent concession agreements in Jordan and Utah, US. Drawing upon STS research on innovation and socio-technical controversies, I take issue with the unilinear vision of technology development and 'technology transfer' that is popularized by the industry, and highlight instead the precarious and contested nature of the 'Enefit' retort along its travels between the three states. The difficulties of translating the Estonian technical expertise to other locations reveal that rather than being simply the result of displacement and up-scaled production, the prospects of expanded shale oil production depend on the industry's ability to form new associations between capricious machinery, heterogeneous resource materials and shifting energy conventions, being thus prone to public interrogation and failure. Indeed, the company's interventions in Jordan and Utah have given rise to heated disputes over whether the retorting technology actually "works", whether it would be "economic" for the technology to work, and at what price and socio-ecological costs this can be achieved. These controversies evidence multi-faceted and multi-directional travels of materials and knowledge, during which both recipient and donor industries are transformed and opportunities for new energy collectives are opened up.

Panel L4
Energy controversies and technology conflicts