Santa Barbara reacted with sorrow at the news that the reporter who broke the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill story died on May 10 at age 97. Robert Sollen was covering offshore oil for the Santa Barbara News-Press when “an ocean of oil” (the title of Sollen’s 1998 book) began coming ashore. He pursued the story with one front-page story after the next, documenting the attempts at cleanup, the politics, and the protests that were the birth of the 20th century’s environmental movement.
Born in 1921 in Menominee, Michigan, Sollen graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a major in political science and journalism. He started with the News-Press in 1963 and remained until his retirement in 1985. He then taught at UCSB, served as a county planning commissioner, and was active on the boards of numerous environmental nonprofit groups.