Conflict characterizes energy projects across Canada and around the world. While claims about economics, the environment and Indigenous rights dominate headlines, energy conflicts also feature struggles over the construction of space and scale.
Building on work in energy geographies, this paper compares the spatial politics of three contested fossil fuel projects, focusing on how antagonistic parties frame issues to advance their positions, in turn shaping perceptions of scale. Drawing on reports, media coverage, and other secondary sources, we examine: the Trans Mountain pipeline in Western Canada; the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory, British Columbia; and shale gas drilling in New Brunswick.
The analysis reveals how actors construct space and scale to persuade, build alliances, and exclude people or issues from consideration. Project proponents generally ‘scale up’ claims about benefits and ‘scale down’ impacts, while opponents do the opposite – even as both strategically engage with governance at multiple scales.
The authors argue that taking spatial politics seriously can reveal power dynamics in competing representations of space, improve transparency in energy project evaluations by unveiling tacit proponent strategies, and reveal biases in impact assessment and legal processes when their mandates favour the spatial strategies of project proponents.