“Environmental History”
Selected Stories: 1950s-2010s

River Pollution

“Burn On, Big River…”

River Fires Ignite Change

Oil pollution history of
Cuyahoga River w/famous
song & national politics.

Oil Spill History

“Santa Barbara Oil Spill”

Union Oil: 1969

Offshore blowout pollutes
beaches, kills wildlife;
ignites environmental cause.

Offshore Oil Junk

“The Brent Spar Fight”


A classic environmental
battle over an offshore oil
structure in the North Sea.

Urban/Enviro History

“Highway Wars”


Interstate Highway frenzy
brought citizens to the
barricades & the courts.

Oil Disaster Film

“Deepwater Horizon”

Film & Spill: 2010-2016

Story on Hollywood film
also recounts history &
politics of real BP oil spill.

Strip Mining History

“Giant Shovel on I-70″

Ohio Fight: 1973

Shovel’s highway crossing
spurs activist organizing
& Congressional action.

Pesticides & Ecology

“Power in the Pen”


Rachel Carson’s Silent
Spring took aim
at the chemical industry.

Strip Mining Foe

“Mountain Warrior”


Harry Caudill,
author and activist,
fought for Appalachia.

Towns Wiped Out

“Buffalo Creek Disaster”

Coal Dams Fail: 1972

125 dead, 4,000 homeless
after coal-waste tsunami
crashes through valley.

Western Pennsylvania

“Petrochem Peril”

Bill Peduto: 2019

Pittsburgh’s mayor opposes
further fossil fuels/plastics
build-out in region.

Refinery Explosion

“Texas City Disaster”

BP Refinery: 2005

The BP oil company,
skimping on safety,
kills 15, injures 180.

Big Coal vs. Small Town


1971-John Prine

Strip mining history in
Muhlenberg County, KY is
covered in this story.

Chemical Plant History

“Shell Plant Explodes”

1994: Belpre, Ohio

Shell plastics plant explodes;
nearby tanks burn, pollute
river; 3 workers killed.

Coal & Politics

“Coal & The Kennedys”


JFK, RFK, Ted, Caroline
& RFK, Jr — all gave voice to
plight of coal communities.

Sexy Coal Hype

“G.E.’s Hot Coal Ad”


General Electric’s ‘hot’
TV ad casts coal mining
in an unreal light.

Pesticide Promotion

“…A Richer Harvest”

Union Carbide Ads

“Giant hand” pesticide
ads & the story of
the Bhopal disaster.

Oil Refinery Blaze

“Inferno At Whiting”

Standard Oil: 1955

Big refinery near Chicago
explodes & burns for
8 days; 1,500 flee.

2003 Explosion

“Barge Explodes in NY”

ExxonMobil Depot

A Bouchard oil barge
blast frightens terrorist-
sensitive NY city area.

Environmental Reporting

“Nader’s Raiders”


Ralph Nader’s “swat teams”
published best-selling
environmental exposés.

Autos & Air Pollution

“G.M. & Ralph Nader”


“Unsafe at Any Speed”
included reporting on
auto pollution & smog.

Poplar Pipeline Leak

“Oil Fouls Montana”

January 2015

Oil pipeline break pollutes
Yellowstone River
& Glendive’s water.

Gulf Oil Company

“Burning Philadelphia”

Refinery Inferno: 1975

Eleven-alarm oil blaze
kills eight firefighters
& frightens city.

Gulf of Mexico

“Offshore Oil Blaze”

Shell Oil: 1970-71

Oil rig blowout
kills four, burns for
nearly three months.

Big Tank Failure

“Disaster at Pittsburgh”

Ashland Oil: 1988

Oil tank collapse pollutes
drinking water for
millions downstream.

Petrochem History

“The Phillips Explosion”

23 Dead, 130 Injured

Following Wall Street stock
raids, big oil company
makes costly job cuts.

Modern Chemistry

“Plastic Infernos”

A Short History

Plastic materials implicated
in spread & severity
of deadly fires.

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Date Posted: 9 May 2015
Last Update: 20 April 2020
Comments to: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Environmental History: Selected Stories,
1950s-2010s,” PopHistoryDig.com, May 9, 2015.