Integration by Infrastructuring: The Case of Subsea Environmental Monitoring in Oil and Gas Offshore Operations

Integration by Infrastructuring: The Case of Subsea Environmental Monitoring in Oil and Gas Offshore Operations

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the development of ICT solutions for performing real-time subsea environmental monitoring during oil and gas offshore operations. The research is based on a three-year case study of an international oil and gas company headquartered in Norway. The thesis is specifically focused on aspects of integration: how new tools, systems, and approaches are developed, and how existing ones are adapted to fit the existing systems and practices of the oil and gas company.
Content
The thesis has three goals. First, it analyzes how real-time environmental monitoring
emerges as a distributed, interacting, and interconnected sociotechnical network
(information infrastructure). Second, it identifies how the company’s initiatives are
currently changing the representations of subsea environmental risk in remote and
previously inaccessible areas like the Arctic region. Third, it reflects on the research
methodology to address such a spatially distributed and long-term setting.
 
On the theoretical level this work aims to contribute to the field of Information Systems
and, marginally, to Computer-supported cooperative work. It is also inspired by Science
and Technology Studies. A theoretical framework is developed connecting contributions
from these three streams of literature in order to characterize the co-evolution of
environmental monitoring infrastructures and their phenomenon of interest,
environmental risk. This evolving relationship shows that, on the one hand, the
perception of environmental risk as a problem is affected by the integration mechanisms
that generate new knowledge. On the other hand, new conceptions of environmental risk
have consequences for the maintenance and upgrade of environmental monitoring
infrastructures. I call this process infrastructuring.
 
The thesis provides a vivid empirical illustration of how the relationship between
environmental risk and integration strategies unfolds in offshore environmental
monitoring. By merging the theoretical framework and the empirical case, I argue in
favor of a flexible understanding of the development of complex systems in
organizational settings. Studies of infrastructure should account for the existence of
pragmatic approaches to face persistent uncertainty and the fluid relationship between
situated usefulness and a cross-geographical dimension. In line with existing debates in
the literature, I demonstrate that the traditionally bounded distinctions of system
design/development/implementation and of users/designers must be overtaken when
studying infrastructures. On the methodological level, this thesis therefore advocates a
deeper empirical analysis of the unfolding of infrastructures in organizational realities.

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