Graduate Student / Postdoc Seminar

Science for the Greater Good: Saving Italy from Big Oil

Speaker: Maria R D'Orsogna, Department of Mathematics, California State University at Northridge and Department of Computational Medicine, UCLA

Location: Warren Weaver Hall 512

Date: Monday, March 28, 2022, 3:30 p.m.


In 2007, Dr Maria D’Orsogna learned of proposed oil activities in her home region of Abruzzo, Italy. Century-old wineries were to be uprooted to build clusters of oil wells, refineries, and pipelines, turning scenic Abruzzo into an oil district.

Although based in California - 6,000 miles away - Dr D’Orsogna took it upon herself to raise awareness and educate the public at large. She blended her scientific training, her experience as an educator and her desire for social justice into an environmental movement that rapidly spread from Abruzzo to all of Italy. Over the years, she travelled from town to town, educating citizens about environmental and health effects tied to hydrocarbon extraction, debating Big Oil, exposing political corruption, engaging the Catholic Church, putting pressure on decision makers to act for the common good. While in California she used social networks and blogging to expose the wrongdoings of the oil and gas industry and of politicians, and to coordinate letter writings, keep raising awareness and spur action. Thanks to public uproar, spearheaded by Maria’s unwavering efforts, Abruzzo banned oil drilling and, for the first time ever, the Italian parliament imposed a no-drill zone of 12 miles encompassing all of Italy’s 5,000-mile coastline. Overall, she helped stop at least 50 oil leases throughout Italy and the construction of several refining facilities; she also helped save roughly 60,000 square miles of sea from drilling activities, earning the nickname 'Erin Brockovich of Italy'. Maria’s story is a testament of how, by engaging with the community, scientists and educators can truly make a difference.