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Energy Frontiers in the Late 20th Century

Sat, April 2, 3:00 to 4:30pm, Westin Seattle Hotel, Cascade 2

Session Submission Type: Panel


During the years surrounding the 1970s energy crisis, higher oil prices led producers and consumers to explore new frontiers in their search for untapped resources and opportunities for conservation. Our papers examine both geographical frontiers (the far-flung places opened to development between the 1960s and the 1980s) and technological frontiers (new ways of producing and conserving energy). Dolata’s research focuses on the opening of the Canadian High Arctic to energy exploration organized by the Canadian government and private industry. Arctic operations promised economic rewards, but also posed enormous logistical challenges and threatened to upset the ecological balance of a region that had been largely unaffected by industrial development. Klieman’s paper looks at Cabinda Gulf Oil in Angola, which attracted controversy by operating at a time of Portuguese colonialism, Marxist rule, and brutal civil war. By analyzing the methods that the company developed to deal with the resulting public outcry and boycotts, the paper not only chronicles the impact of the new "political consumerism" that emerged alongside the environmentalist movement, but also illustrates the determination of energy corporations to develop new oil reserves during this period of crisis. McFarland’s research examines U.S. efforts to use nuclear explosives to release natural gas from shale formations in the rural American West. Those experiments stopped after 1973, in large part because of environmentalist opposition, but they foreshadowed the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing techniques in later decades. Barber’s paper examines the response by a group of innovative architects to the 1970s oil crisis. They sought to limit fossil fuel consumption by designing energy-efficient houses and entire new communities in places like the Arizona desert, Prince Edward Island, and spaces excavated underground. By examining these various frontiers, our four papers will help illuminate a pivotal era in the history of energy and the environment.

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