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In March 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received a standing ovation after a speech in Houston where he stated that: “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.” In this talk I examine the historical geography of the number Trudeau quoted. It is a number that has flexed alongside decades of state-led investment in sciences and technologies that ultimately positioned the province of Alberta as a key player in the recognition of global heavy oil and bitumen resources as internationally recognised reserves (of which Alberta’s deposits rank 4th largest in the world). It is a number that also reflects targeted state efforts, especially the creation of the Alberta Oil Sands Technology Research Authority (AOSTRA) in 1974 which, for a time, laid unofficial claim to being the largest program of state science north of NASA. Situating AOSTRA amid Alberta’s longer history of state-led geoscience, I show how projects of political legitimacy in Canada are not only about numbers quoted to Texas crowds but also constituted through knowledge of, and claims to, Earth’s history.

Jeremy Schmidt is Senior Lecturer of Environmental Geography at Queen Mary University of London and author of Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity (NYU Press).

Please note that registration for this seminar will close 24 hours in advance so that the meeting link can be distributed to registered attendees.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking is required.