Using Historical GIS to Track Contamination and Racial Exclusion in the Texas Oil Industry

Join us in a talk from Sarah Stanford-McIntyre (University of Wyoming) as part of the Exploring DH series!

Abstract: Between 1923 and 1990 over 14 billion barrels of crude oil were pulled from beneath the Texas Permian Basin, making it one of the most prolific oil-producing regions in the world. The search for oil altered the region’s desert ecology and economy, facilitating the growth of a complex industrial network connecting the isolated region to a global system of extraction. As part of this process, the oil industry generated a large, itinerate labor force, with workers crisscrossing the state, the nation, and the globe looking for oil jobs.

In this talk, I highlight my efforts to map the impact of this migration. Using digital mapping and statistical analysis tools such as GIS, Google Maps, and JMP, I demonstrate the ecological and social impact of oil production. First I use census data, city directories, and local periodicals to track the processes of oil industrialization in the region, comparing it to other parts of the state and the US. Next I use union records, court testimony, company annual reports, and other data to map the patterns of unionization and awareness of environmental contamination in the Permian Basin. With these techniques I demonstrate that while oil workers developed specific strategies to mitigate risk and avoid industrial contamination in the workplace, attention to a growing public health crisis was largely ignored by regional residents who benefited from oil infrastructure and oil wealth.

Sarah Stanford-McIntyre is the 2017-2018 Bernard Majewski Fellow and Instructor of History at the University of Wyoming. She has published on the envirotechnical, industrial, and political history of US oil production. Her most recent article on refinery contamination and public memory will appear in the edited volume Inevitably Toxic, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her current book manuscript examines corporate efforts to control desert ecology and manage workplace discontent within a quickly globalizing, and increasingly multiethnic, Texas oil industry.

Monday, April 9, 2018 at 5:30pm to 7:00pm


Norlin Library, E206
1157 18th Street, Boulder, CO 80309