This project examines shifting conceptions of islands, and contributes to discussions about the futures of offshore energy and its infrastructures.
Islands and oil platforms are both important conduits for human and nonhuman place-making in the offshore world. They are, however, rarely considered together. This SSHRC Insight Grant project (2020-2025) juxtaposes the complex and currently shifting cultural meanings of rigs and islands in order to illuminate significant contemporary changes in our species’ relationship with the ocean.
Islands have long figured prominently in human imaginations, but they are becoming even more powerfully resonant in an era in which people are becoming the predominant force determining the continued livability of the planet. Oil Rigs and Islands contends that this is not only because islands are on the front lines of climate change and, sometimes, energy transition. Islands are also highly significant because, as a result of human intervention, they are increasingly less easily viewed as occupying a discrete, easily definable, geographical category. While “traditional” islands, characterized by permanence, associations with environmental uniqueness, and the housing of entrenched communities with strong local identities and attachment to place are still crucial (not least of all for their present ecological and social vulnerabilities), new types of “artificial,” “metageographical” islands are on the rise. This project is especially interested in the points at which the border between islands and the human-constructed, extractive infrastructure of the oil rig dissolves. It focuses on conceptual and material intersections between offshore oil platforms and islands at four specific sites in, respectively, the North Sea, the North Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Caspian Sea. It also examines how petroleum platform “islands” are imagined in a range of speculative genres. The theoretical frame for this project blends insights from the interdisciplinary fields of environmental humanities, energy humanities, and island studies.
Oil Rigs and Islands will further discussions about our potential environmental and energy futures, including how we should best go about decommissioning offshore oil infrastructure.