Accepted Paper:

A failed epistemic authority on unconventional hydrocarbons: A study of the European Science and Technology Network  


Aleksandra Lis (Adam Mickiewicz University)
Kärg Kama (University of Birmingham)
Leonie Reins (Tilburg University)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic account as participating experts, we report on the initiation and premature closure of a particular expert network, called the European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction (‘UH-Network’).

Paper long abstract:

The paper presents competing knowledge claims over the desirability and feasibility of 'fracking' and struggles over expert authority within a European Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbons. Knowledge on impacts of fracking originated from three sources: from the U.S. reports, from empirical studies conducted by the Polish Geological Institute and from civil society organizations. While, the U.S. knowledge became excluded as irrelevant for the European experience, the Polish knowledge was authorized as relevant and inserted into the network's official database. At the same time, knowledge on the environmental and health impacts of fracking produced by civil society groups was gradually excluded as emotional, irrelevant and methodologically not strict enough. The paper presents an ethnographic account of the interactions between these types of knowledge and analyses how the knowledge controversy became politicized and de-politicized in public. Here, we note that the public knowledge controversy was more narrowly played out over procedural issues regarding the network's setup and legitimacy, specifically whether it should have qualified as the Commission's 'expert groups' subject to public registration and scrutiny. The scientific controversy became rehearsed as a case of wider political controversies related to the transparency and legitimacy of advisory expertise in Brussels, while expert disputes were carefully disguised from the public view. We associate the failure to establish the network as an epistemic authority on unconventional hydrocarbons with the lack of a shared understanding of what counts as 'the political' which led to a stalemate between the simultaneous 'politicization' and 'scientification' of the network.

Panel T073
Epistemic Regimes - Reconfiguring epistemic quality and the reconstitution of epistemic authority