Oil and gas in the great state of Tejas : centering land tenure histories of fracking geographies within the Texas-Mexico border landscape




Wirsching, Andrea Christina

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This dissertation examines the Texas-Mexico border oil and gas landscape and the unequitable distributions of impacts and benefits these extractive activities produce. I situate my work within critical, interdisciplinary literature on the relationship between the exploitation of natural resources and wealth distribution, and the explicit problematization of inherent uniqueness of border spaces. I utilized a critical, multi-disciplinary framework drawing from political ecology, planning, and border studies, to critique and inform more nuanced vulnerability assessments and literatures across temporal and spatial scales. I argue consideration of the role of who owns what and how they obtained it in policy and planning, not just land use, is key to understanding the reproduction of oppressive and exclusive political structures and land rights regimes along the border. Using a mixed method approach to examine this exemplary case study, I integrated spatial, quantitative methods with qualitative interviews and archival document analysis to trace the historical land tenure patterns of property ownership in Webb County, as well as conduct vulnerability and risk assessments. Using governance geographies as a spatial and conceptual lens for analyses, I demonstrate how land tenure and ownership illuminate the important role of the gradations of informality, and by extension the state, is in producing social vulnerabilities in borderlands. The following themes emerged from analysis of my case study: relationship between land wealth and political power and vulnerability; tensions between land control, stewardship, and exploitation; and the value in learning from histories of land tenure and borderlands in reconceptualizing, identifying, and developing policies that aim to address vulnerability. My research suggests the confluence of physical and regulatory remnants of past colonial powers along the border region continue to be visible and influence the balance and power and distribution of public resources. Furthermore, their corresponding land rights regimes, dispossession via subsequent sovereign land grants, and generational wealth accumulation and political power from these activities, are significant in shaping this particular oil and gas producing landscape. As one of the least regulated, pro-property rights and pro-oil-and-gas states in the country, this study serves as an example of what happens when wealth and political power continues to fortify the structural mechanisms that, in the absence of regulatory controls and avenues for redistribution and remediation, effectively rendering moot a government meant to serve and protect everyone else.


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