Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Cindy Hahamovitch

Committee Member

Charles McGovern

Committee Member

Andrew Fisher

Committee Member

Thomas andrews


This dissertation describes seventy years of West Texas oil expansion and decline juxtaposed against a growing environmental and public health crisis. It tracks the experiences of industry employees, demonstrating that their understanding of oil industrialization and the environmental cost of economic success was complex and historically contingent. Rather than assuming that simple greed allowed industry personnel to ignore resource depletion and environmental contamination, this dissertation argues that a workplace culture of individualistic risk-taking coupled with industry propaganda that bred a utopian faith in technology was reinforced by the region’s punishing geography, general isolation, and the limits of industrial infrastructure. This project expands the thematic and geographic scope of current energy history scholarship, using the intertwined themes of environmental, personal, and economic risk to demonstrate the cultural contingency of energy system development. Bridging the disciplines of labor, environmental, and technological history, this project demonstrates that West Texas, along with regional innovations in oil technology and science, were central to both US petroleum development and indicative of broader twentieth-century debates about government control over natural resources and the acceptable victims of industrial contamination.



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