Originally published on Wed April 10, 2013 3:38 pm
By Jacob Goldstein
Credit Lam Thuy Vo / NPR
Until well into the 19th century, if you lived in the U.S. and wanted to heat your house, fire your forge, or whatever, you did what people had done for thousands of years: You chopped down a tree and burned it.
It wasn't until the rise of the railroads in the mid 19th-century that coal became a significant energy source in this country. As industrialization continued in the second half of the century, the use of coal continued to rise, powering heavy industry (think U.S. Steel), heating urban homes, and generating electric power.
Amber Bartlett was waiting last Friday for her kids to come home from school. One of them called from the entrance to the upscale subdivision near Little Rock, Ark., to tell her the community was being evacuated because of an oil spill. Bartlett was amazed by what she saw out her front door.
"I mean, just rolling oil. I mean, it was like a river," she says. "It had little waves in it."