Please join the Mines Engineering, Design, & Society (EDS) and the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines as we welcome Dr. Cyrus Mody, Professor, History of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Maastricht University, presenting at hybrid seminar titled the There Is No Such Thing as the Oil Industry, and This Is a History of It on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 in Golden, CO.
Oil companies come in many shapes and sizes, forms of ownership, business models, etc. But a significant number of them, especially the largest firms, have long had large operations in non-oil markets and technologies. The implications of these non-oil operations for current and future energy transitions are ambiguous, since they can be (and have been) used for greenwashing, but could also serve as a real bridge toward a less carbon-intensive economy. As this talk will show, oil firms’ non-oil ventures have a very long history that could be used to help clarify those ambiguities. Oil firms have been important players in nuclear technology for almost a century, for instance; and in solar for more than a half-century. In this talk I will examine oil’s non-oil ties in three periods: before the late 1960s; during the “long 1970s” from around 1968 to 1986, a period characterized by high oil prices, a sluggish world economy, and political challenges to Western oil firms; and the mergers, acquisitions, and hostile takeovers era of the 1980s and ’90s, when the price of oil was relatively low. I argue that oil firms’ attitudes toward technologies such as solar and nuclear power, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence were shaped by the price of oil, the relationship among the oil and finance industries and the state, and changes in the perceived importance of a science or engineering degree as a prerequisite for promotion.
Cyrus Mody is Professor of the History of Science, Technology, and Innovation at Maastricht University and director of the Maastricht University science and technology studies research program. He is the author of three monographs with MIT Press, most recently The Squares: US Physical and Engineering Scientists in the Long 1970s (2022), and is a former editor of the journal Engineering Studies. His talk is based on the Dutch Research Council-funded project Managing Scarcity and Sustainability 2 (https://managingscarcity.com/), of which he is the PI; he is also one of four co-PIs of the European Research Council-funded NanoBubbles project (https://nanobubbles.hypotheses.org/).