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Living with Oil

Living with Oil: Promises, Peaks, and Declines on Mexicos Gulf Coast

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  • Book Info
    Living with Oil
    Book Description:

    For decades, Mexico has been one of the world's top non-OPEC oil exporters, but since the 2004 peak and subsequent decline of the massive offshore oilfield-Cantarell-the prospects for the country have worsened.Living with Oiltakes a unique look at the cultural and economic dilemmas in this locale, focusing on residents in the fishing community of Isla Aguada, Campeche, who experienced the long-term repercussions of a 1979 oil spill that at its height poured out 30,000 barrels a day, a blowout eerily similar to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

    Tracing the interplay of the global energy market and the struggle it creates between citizens, the state, and multinational corporations, this study also provides lessons in the tug-of-war between environmentalism and the lure of profits. In Mexico, oil has held status as a symbol of nationalist pride as well as a key economic asset that supports the state's everyday operations. Capturing these dilemmas in a country now facing a national security crisis at the hands of violent drug traffickers, cultural anthropologist Lisa Breglia covers issues of sovereignty, security, and stability in Mexico's post-peak future.

    The first in-depth account of the local effects of peak oil in Mexico, emphasizing the everyday lives and livelihoods of coastal Campeche residents, Living with Oil demonstrates important aspects of the political economy of energy while showing vivid links between the global energy marketplace and the individual lives it affects.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74873-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Environmental Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Cantarell, the world’s largest offshore oilfield, lies underneath the warm, shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. From the very first drops of crude drawn from Cantarell in 1979, it was clear that the field would exceed not only the expectations of the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) but the wildest dreams of the Mexican state. The offshore supergiant would turn Mexico from a net importer into a robust exporter and, as in other resource-rich developing nations, enable the Mexican state to launch an ambitious national development program.

    While the country celebrated its oil as both a symbol of...

  6. PART 1. Peaks and Declines

    • [PART 1 Introduction]
      (pp. 23-28)

      In July 2009 Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, marked the thirtieth anniversary of Mexico’s success in offshore oil drilling. Officials used the anniversary to launch more than a week of memorial activities including an orchestral concert, food festival, and artisanry fair. The celebration culminated in speeches by Pemex Director General Jesús Reyes Heroles and Campeche Governor Jorge Hurtado Valdez. But the happy façade of the events hid profound contradictions. All on hand at the celebrations—Pemex, Campeche state and municipal officials, and residents of Carmen and the surrounding area of the Laguna de Términos—had good reason for mixed feelings about...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Mexican Oil Crisis
      (pp. 29-64)

      In an oft-quoted and very memorable line of his 2006 State of the Union speech, George W. Bush proclaimed, “America is addicted to oil . . . which is often imported from unstable parts of world.” Bush’s comment struck a chord for an energy-dependent America at the height of the Iraq war. As a nation, the United States was consuming more than 20 million barrels of oil per day. Less than 5 percent of the world’s population consumed nearly a quarter of total global supply. To fuel its high energy consumption, the United States imports a large volume of hydrocarbons...

    • CHAPTER 2 Natural Resources in the Laguna de Términos: Piracy and Profit
      (pp. 65-102)

      Peaks and declines are a part of everyday life on the shores of Mexico’s Gulf coast, shaped by centuries of natural resource exploitation. The oil industry represents only the most recent in a nearly half-millennium of endlessly repeating cycles of natural resource extraction in the Laguna de Términos. Local residents are all too familiar with the production cycles of a series of peculiar tropical commodities—a wood-based dye, hardwood timber, and natural chewing-gum fiber—known for rising to the highest peaks and declining into utter obscurity. Campeche’s well-known and lamentable booms and busts all share the same features: foreign territorialization,...

  7. PART 2. The Pesquera and the Petrolera

    • [PART 2 Introduction]
      (pp. 103-106)

      From the smallest towns to the largest cities across Mexico, the annual celebration of a community’s patron saint’s feast day is a greatly anticipated and much-lauded event. In Ciudad del Carmen, the veneration of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, the Virgen del Carmen, is no exception. The patron saint’s feast stretches across several days each summer in the blazing heat and occasional deluges of late July. The height of the fiesta is the procession of the Virgen del Carmen, a delicate, bridelike statue in a brown brocade dress, draped in a white lace mantle with her head surrounded by a huge...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Peak and Decline of Fishing in the Laguna de Términos
      (pp. 107-145)

      The rich and varied resources of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the vast, shallow Laguna de Términos have served the residents of Isla Aguada through thick and thin for generations. “Aquí, todos viven de la pesca” (Here, everyone lives off fishing), one native Aguadeño explained to me; even those residents who appeared to earn their income by other means live by fishing. “If there isn’t fish, there isn’t bread. Fishing is the source of income for everyone.” Others have insisted that “Isla Aguada es cien por ciento pescador,” 100 percent fisher, a fishing community through and...

    • CHAPTER 4 Capturing Compensation: Resource Wealth in the Era of Decline
      (pp. 146-190)

      “The only benefit that the discovery of oil brought to Isla Aguada is a few jobs for people out there on the platforms, just a couple of them in Pemex. That’s all, nothing more,” said Don Ysidro quite bitterly. A fisher in his seventies known in the community as El Pichón, he has seen the community struggle through peaks and declines throughout his lifetime. On Mexico’s Gulf coast, like other resource-rich places in the world, frontline communities perceive oil as more a curse than a blessing. Since oil was first discovered onshore, the exploitation of this valuable natural resource has...

  8. PART 3. Post-Peak Politics:: Energy Reform and the Race to Claim the Gulf of Mexico

    • [PART 3 Introduction]
      (pp. 191-196)

      July 2008. Walking the littered and pot-holed streets of Isla Aguada as the sun went down and residents stirred from late-afternoon torpor into early evening activity, I could hear the hum and occasional blare of televisions from the open windows and doors. Without fail, I would catch a snippet of a government-sponsored advertisement in support of the Calderón administration’s energy reform. One ad portrayed a middleclass young man putting gas in his car and musing about the irony of importing refined oil from the United States. Another showed a thirty-something schoolteacher with books in his hands standing in front of...

    • CHAPTER 5 “No to Privatization”: A Battle for Energy Independence
      (pp. 197-232)

      The summer of 2008 was a watershed moment for the global political economy of energy. A spike in prices driven by market speculation sparked an unprecedented oil price bubble across the global marketplace. Oil prices climbed to $147 per barrel. Surely the world’s sixth-largest oil producer stood to benefit from the price spike, perhaps by as much as $3 billion (Malkin 2008). Governors in the priority oil-affected states and in others awaited the windfall money for their states’ benefits programs and most of all for large infrastructural projects funded through the Obras de Beneficio Mútuo. But the windfall never appeared....

    • CHAPTER 6 Energy Security on the U.S.-Mexican Maritime Border: Transboundary Oil in the Deepwater Gulf
      (pp. 233-258)

      In May 2010 Mexican President Felipe Calderón paid an official state visit to Barack Obama at the White House. Calderón’s visit occurred during the immediate fallout of an unpopular Arizona immigration bill, SB1070, a law intensifying the criminalization of undocumented migration in the U.S.-Mexican border region. In their opening public addresses, both Calderón (a critic of the legislation) and Obama (a proponent of a differently focused national, comprehensive, immigration-reform policy) emphasized the spirit of cooperation necessary to lead their nations and the region toward a prosperous future. While the media helped stir public discourse into its usual frenzy by focusing...

  9. CONCLUSION: Post-Peak Futures
    (pp. 259-264)

    Cantarell was born out of apocalypse, its rich oil deposits left in the destructive aftermath of an asteroid hitting the Yucatán Peninsula 65 million years ago. The ancient impact event caused an “armageddon”—setting off wildfires and tsunamis, darkening skies with soot and ash, and causing storms of acid rain. It was enough to kill off the dinosaurs, explains Walter Alvarez in his bookT. Rex and the Crater of Doom(1997). As early as the 1950s, oil prospectors surveying the peninsula’s northwest coast began to detect the result: a 125-mile-wide impact crater known as Chicxulub. More recently, geologists have...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 265-278)
  11. References
    (pp. 279-306)
  12. Index
    (pp. 307-313)