Good Documentaries on Oil

With all the discussion floating around the Internet regarding the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I thought I would mention two documentaries that, I think, do a really good job at addressing issues regarding oil production and consumption.

A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (full video here) is my favorite so far because it does not have the sob stories and emotional heartstrings heavy pulling that activist documentaries often use, which I find annoying and unconvincing.

The film deals with peak oil, how we got to it, which areas of the world are already there, which ones have not reached it yet, how we are dealing with peak oil (with more intensive, complicated, expensive and risky drilling… sounds familiar?) and the social, economic and political consequences of life after peak oil (resource wars, as only one effect).

The film itself is extremely well done, in terms of graphics, visual and other devices to explain peak oil. Even better, the people sounding the alarm about peak oil and telling us that there are basically no new significant reserves of oil to be found nor new ways of drilling are not environmental activists but people from the oil industry.

It also deals with the question of increasing consumption as China, India and other countries are avidly industrializing and mimicking Western models of development in the context of peak oil and the geopolitical consequences as rich countries try more and more aggressively to gain or maintain their access to oil (see: Sudan, Darfur, genocide).

At the same time, it shows that there are no real alternatives to oil (other sources of energy do not come close to fulfilling energy needs), so changes in ways of life are the only way to go.

This is a very rich documentary that is chock full of information even without dealing with environmental issues. It specifically focuses on peak oil, production and consumption and politics.

Crude: The Real Price of Oil is completely different. This is more on the activist side of documentaries. Crude deals with the class action lawsuit engaged in Ecuador against Texaco / Chevron for the environmental and health damage the company inflicted upon the indigenous communities. So, there are sob stories.

The documentary is more personalized as we follow the travails of the attorneys on the plaintiffs’ side, especially the young Ecuadorian attorney for whom this is the first case (his brother was tortured, mutilated and assassinated just before the court case started… by mistake, the assassins were looking for the lawyer).

It is a classical David versus Goliath story: powerless indigenous communities with cash starved attorneys versus giant global corporation with the means to drag the case for decades (as is already the case, a common pattern for oil companies).

Certainly the images of pollution and contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon are shocking. The main damage is done by the pits that Texaco dug as dumps, then covered with dirt when the company left Ecuador.

The objections from Chevron / Texaco are ones we have often heard before either from other oil companies or tobacco companies: the case is brought by lawyers who want to line their pockets; no one can prove definite cause and effect between contamination and health problems (the tobacco industry polished that one), and besides, how do you know that that black goo is oil or that it’s Chevron oil? None very convincing.

One cannot help but notice that Chevron’s attorneys in Ecuador are white whereas the Ecuadorian attorneys for the plaintiffs are obviously from indigenous ancestry.

Apparently, the lawsuit is still going on. Chevron is now suing the makers of the film to obtain all the raw footage that was shot.

Crude is a movie that is useful when it comes to the issues of indigenous peoples. I would have liked more facts / history, / how indigenous life is affected (more in details, that is) / deforestation, less “let’s follow these courageous guys around”.

5 thoughts on “Good Documentaries on Oil

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  3. fuel is a lackluster film. if you know absolutely nothing about the energy industry and need a primer into where we get our energy then give it a try. if you’ve followed the issues for a little bit, you will learn very little.

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