The Battle against “Ecology Nuts”: An Examination of Olympic Oil Refinery Proponents

—Samantha DiNatale (Mentor: Kurk Dorsey)
Samantha DiNitale

In the early 1970s, the United States was facing an oil embargo that sparked concern in citizens across the nation. In 1973, as the winter months were approaching, gasoline prices continued to skyrocket and rationing heating oil was highly encouraged. Americans struggled to adjust to such abrupt changes after having essentially unrestricted access to petroleum supplies. During this crisis, Aristotle Onassis swooped in and proposed to construct a massive oil refinery on the seacoast of New Hampshire. This plant, his team promised, would bring an abundance of fuel, jobs, and tax revenue to the area. However, a vast number of local residents were against this refinery due to its environmental and aesthetic implications. Through the grassroots activism of seacoast residents from towns such as Durham and Rye, the refinery construction was rejected. Much of the literature published today focuses on the triumphs of those who successfully fought off the industry and there is little mention of those who supported the refinery and wished to see the construction through. In order to understand how the proponents felt about the refinery and what societal conditions shaped their views, I conducted a thematic analysis of primary and secondary resources. Newspaper analysis revealed that economic factors did in fact drive the proponent’s views, but feelings of resentment towards the University of New Hampshire and those associated with it, who were perceived as elitist, was also a significant factor.

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