Digitized Coral Reefs
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Lophelia pertusa is a variety of cold-water coral that has colonized the world’s oceans for the last nine thousand years. The coral’s widest habitat is on the seafloor of the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS), which is also home to several oil and natural gas fields, with thousands of wells, pipelines, cables, vessels, and rigs. In 2013, a Scandinavian oil company and a marine research institute presented a web portal that displays real-time ecological data from a subsea sensor network installed next to a Lophelia reef off North Norway (dubbed Venus). Venus is the only area in the NCS where operations are currently prohibited but might be permitted in the future. This situation creates perceived uncertainty related to future business planning, on one hand, and the assessment of possible environmental consequences, on the other. In this scenario, the Venus web portal emerges as a political arena to facilitate the generation and legitimization of knowledge about real-time environmental monitoring in the oil and gas domain. The main contribution of this chapter is to characterize the politics of digital infrastructure. We trace the trajectory of the infrastructure-in-the-making underlying the Venus web portal and show how it is negotiated to simultaneously advocate the oil company’s ability to prevent environmental damage and leverage the collaboration among stakeholders that have contrasting interests in the opening (or not) of the Venus area. We discuss how the inherently open-ended capacity of the Venus digital infrastructure is leveraged through three facets of political work: the performative potential of the infrastructure’s under-specification, the evolvability enabled by the malleable nature of digital technologies, and the use of open data sharing to promote knowledge legitimization.