Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Andrew Wood


This dissertation examines the regulated oilsands mining industry of Alberta, Canada, widely considered the world’s largest surface mining project. The industrial processes of oilsands mining produce well over one million barrels of petroleum commodities daily, plus even larger quantities of airborne and semisolid waste. The project argues for a critical account of production concretized in the co-constitutional relations of obdurate materiality and labor activity within a framework of regulated petro-capitalism. This pursuit requires multiple methods that combine archives, participant observation, and semi-structured interviews to understand workers’ shift-to-shift relations inside the “black box” of regulated oilsands mining production where materiality co-constitutes the processes and outcomes of resource development and waste-intensive production. Here, the central contradiction pits the industry’s colossal environmental impact and its regulated environmental relations, which – despite chronic exceedances – are held under some control by provincial and federal environmental agents, further attenuated by firms’ selective voluntary compliance with global quality standards as well as whistleblowers and otherwise “troublesome” employees. ‘It’s not rainbows and unicorns,’ explains one informant, distilling workers’ views of the safety and environmental hazards they simultaneously produce and endure as wage laborers despite pervasive regulation. In addition to buttressing geographical conceptualizations of socionatural resource production, contributions arise in the sympathetic engagement with workers, which may hold useful insights for activism against the industry’s environmental outcomes.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This study was supported by the Canadian Studies Doctoral Student Research Award in 2012.