Environmental Policy, Politics & Policy

Richard Priest

  • Senior Faculty Affiliate, Environmental Policy Research Program
  • Senior Faculty Affiliate, Politics and Policy Research Program
  • Associate Professor, Department of History
  • Associate Professor, Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences


Tyler Priest received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996. He came to the University of Iowa in 2012 after eight years as Director of Global Studies at the C.T. Bauer College of Business, University of Houston. His primary interests are in the fields of energy, environmental, global, business and public history. He has a joint appointment in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, where he teaches a course on U.S. Energy Policy and assists in overseeing the Environmental Policy and Planning program.

Priest’s research has long focused on natural resource development and trade in the global economy. His first book, Global Gambits: Big Steel and the U.S. Quest for Manganese (Praeger, 2003), combines transnational and environmental history to examine how U.S. investments in far-flung manganese mining regions shaped U.S. strategic mineral policy and generated conflict over mineral sovereignty, trade and transportation. Global Gambits was an early work in a new wave of interdisciplinary scholarship that uses the commodity study approach as an alternative to the prevailing focus on national states and economies in studies of international relations.

In the mid-1990s, Priest turned to study the oil and gas industry. His book, The Offshore Imperative: Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in the Postwar United States (Texas A&M, 2007), analyzes Shell Oil Company’s drive to find and develop petroleum reserves in ever-deeper ocean waters. In 2008, The Offshore Imperative won the Geosciences in the Media Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, “in recognition of notable journalistic achievement in any medium which contributes to public understanding of geology, energy resources or the technology of oil and gas exploration.” Also in 2008, Priest won the Alice Hamilton Award from the American Society for Environmental History for his article, “Extraction Not Creation: The History of Offshore Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico,” published in the international business history journal Enterprise & Society. The article analyzes how the region’s unique geology and geography shaped both business strategies and extractive technologies.

Priest’s research led to a long-range effort to document, preserve and analyze the history of the offshore industry in the Gulf Coast region. He served as chief historian on three collaborative, interdisciplinary research projects sponsored by the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (since 2010, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management). The first project, “History of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry in Southern Louisiana,” collected nearly 500 oral history interviews and more than 1,000 photographs, all placed in archive at the University of Houston. It also produced an eight-chapter volume of articles. This study won the 2010 Partners in Conservation Award from the U.S. secretary of the interior for “exceptional contributions to collecting and preserving a priceless historical resource and an enduring source of pride for the State of Louisiana and its people.” Priest is the principal investigator for a forthcoming second study, “Gulf Coast Communities and the Shipbuilding and Fabrication Industries,” which examines the industrial impacts of offshore oil development across eight major Gulf Coast communities from Mobile Bay, Alabama to Brownsville, Texas. He is also the PI on a forthcoming third study, “The History of the Gulf of Mexico Offshore Oil and Gas Industry during the Deepwater Era,” which takes the history forward into the “deepwater” era that began thirty years ago. His forthcoming book, Deepwater Horizons: Managing Offshore Oil in the Gulf of Mexico, will detail the history of how the United States organized the ocean environment and created a system for extracting oil and gas from the seabed.

Priest’s expertise on the history of offshore oil has led to advisory positions and a role as a regular commentator for print, radio, online and television media. In 2010, he served as a senior policy analyst on the President’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. He lent historical expertise to the commission’s investigation of the disaster and the recommendations for government and industry reforms in its aftermath.

Priest’s work on other oil history topics include a co-edited special issue of the Journal of American History (June 2012), consisting of 22 essays devoted entirely to the history of “Oil in America.” He wrote the volume’s keynote essay, “The Dilemmas of Oil Empire,” which calibrates the decline of U.S. global supremacy with various ways in which the United States has ceded control over the world’s oil. He also co-authored another essay in the same issue, “Bucking the Odds: Organized Labor in Gulf Coast Oil Refining,” which examines interconnected issues of race, politics, and technology in the success and failure of industrial unionism in this major southern industry.

Priest’s public history and consulting work includes positions as member of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Scientific Advisory Committee, Minerals Management Service/Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, U.S. Department of Interior; member of the Advisory Committee and Chairman of the Industry Pioneer Committee of the Offshore Energy Center (OEC); and chief historian on the Association for International Petroleum Negotiators' (AIPN) history project. He also helped organize a Working Group on Energy History that led to a new H-Energy listserv among other initiatives to shape the emerging field of “energy history.”