Abstracting Water to Extract Minerals in Mongolia’s South Gobi Province

Lecture: Institute of East Asian Studies: Mongolia Initiative | March 9 | 12 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Franck Bille, Program Director, Tang Center for Silk Road Studies

 Sara L. Jackson, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Metropolitan State University of Denver

 Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), UC Berkeley Mongolia Initiative

The Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine has become a symbol of the promise of mining to revive Mongolia’s struggling economy and to propel the nation into a new era of prosperity. Water resources are vital to the operation of Oyu Tolgoi, which is expected to be in operation for at least thirty years. However, local residents, particularly nomadic herders, have raised concerns about the redirection of water resources for mining. While the company claims mining infrastructure has little to no impact on herders’ water resources, herders regularly report decreasing well water levels. With increased mining development throughout the Gobi Desert region, mining infrastructure and regulations are transforming local relationships to water and ultimately local livelihoods. I argue that water infrastructure for mining symbolizes the movement of water away from culturally embedded contexts towards water management practices that prioritize the needs of national development and corporate profits. This analysis contributes to the under examined intersection of water and mining in the hydrosocial cycle literature and demonstrates the currency of “modern water” in the context of global mining development. The research includes interviews and focus groups conducted with stakeholders, participant observation, and document collection that took place between 2011 and 2012 in Mongolia with follow-up research conducted in 2015.

Speaker Bio:

Sara is a geography lecturer at the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science. She has a Ph.D. (2015) in Geography from York University. She previously taught English at the National University of Mongolia. Her ongoing research interests include political and cultural geographies of resource extraction in Mongolia and sustainable neighbor projects in Denver. Some of her recent publications can be found in Geoforum, Eurasian Geography and Economics, and Nationalities Papers.

 ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-2809; ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-2809