GEOG 430
Human Use of the Environment

Huber "Enforcing Scarcity"

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Matthew T. Huber is an assistant professor of geography at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. His article, like Perkins', confronts the tensions between the regulation of natural resource extraction at different scales. Unlike the other articles for this week, his does not focus on natural gas, but rather on the oil industry. However, his analysis is central to our discussion of the Marcellus Shale, because "peak oil" is often raised as justification for extracting natural gas quickly and in maximum volumes.

You should notice similarities between Huber's article and our previous engagements with ideas of "scarcity" in Weeks 2 and 3. You will also notice parallels between the discussion of the dangers of overproduction between this article and our look at the national corn industry. Remember, geographers who study human-environment relations and natural resource management have long been interested in the different meanings of resource scarcity. Pay close attention to how maintaining overproduction or resource scarcity serves different interests, and how this conflict has influenced resource extraction.

Cartoon featuring an oil well labeled Texas blowing vast amounts of money (oil) into the air. People trying to gather all the money.
Political cartoon featured in Huber's article."Texas, by its opposition to "Federal Encroachment" in the oil fields, recklessly squanders the nation's resources."
Credit: Daniel R. Fitzpatrick.

As you read this article, consider the following questions:

  • Whose interests are served by extracting as much oil as quickly as possible? What are the costs of this overproduction?
  • How can maintaining resource scarcity help stabilize oil markets?
  • Do you experience the kind of fear of scarcity that Huber describes in his article? Do your feelings change after learning how policymakers create scarcity through regulating natural resource extraction?
  • Did you know that, in the history of the United States oil market, overproduction has been more of a threat than scarcity? Does this knowledge change how you think about the oil and gas industries?
  • What were the competing interests between oil companies, oil regulators in east Texas and Oklahoma, and the federal government? How do you think states' rights and private business interests should be balanced with the need for national market stability?
  • What do you think about Huber's argument that resource scarcity is often an effect, not a cause, of political conflict and wars? (In other words, he argues that conflicts are sometimes about trying to maintain "artificial" scarcity, rather than being driven by scarcity as a geological fact. This argument is common in other industries besides oil and gas, including the diamond industry. You can also see parallels with the corn industry, in which corn is being produced for animal feed and ethanol rather than for human consumption).