Offshore oil development and nature-oriented tourism offer alternate visions for how societies can live with, and make a living from, coastal environments. Across the North Atlantic region, tourism relies on unspoiled coastlines, whales, seabirds, hiking, and sea kayaking. Beyond this tourism imagery -- and normally beyond the sight of tourists -- offshore oil extraction proceeds, fueling economic growth and providing government revenue. Much of the time, offshore oil development and nature-oriented tourism do not appear to intersect and are not incorporated into the same discussions about the social and ecological viability of coastal communities in the North Atlantic. However, we argue for the analytical value of the novel concept of the "oil-tourism interface," which emphasizes the connections between modes of development that are normally seen as disparate. Oil extraction entails risks and negative impacts for local environments, but creates an economic context that facilitates tourism development.
Likewise, tourism relies on unspoiled natural environments, but also on oil-dependent systems of airplane and car travel. This research will help us understand how the oil-tourism interface is shaped through the interaction of governments, the oil industry, the tourism industry, social movements, and the media. Our results will have both academic significance and policy relevance for the social-environmental sustainability of coastal communities.
This research adopts an international comparative approach to studying the connections and tensions between offshore oil and nature-oriented tourism as pathways for social-ecological development at sites across the North Atlantic: Newfoundland and Labrador, Scotland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. These cases are linked by broad similarities of geography, relatively low population density, and democratic political systems. Yet, there are substantial differences in how well-established and economically significant the tourism and oil industries are in the different sites, which allows for the comparative work that will help us better understand the social dynamics of the oil-tourism interface.
By providing a detailed comparative analysis of the oil-tourism interface, our original findings will provide significant insights into the complexities and contradictions inherent to pursuing nature-oriented tourism and offshore oil development as parallel projects for social-ecological development in coastal environments across the North Atlantic region. By identifying best practices for tourism and oil development, this research will also contribute to the social-ecological viability of coastal communities