Documentary – The Oil Machine

Sea level photo of oil rig

Premiering last week at Sheffield DocFest, Steve Taylor-Bryant dives into The Oil Machine...

Emma Davie’s urgent documentary explores our complex relationship with the oil industry, set against the backdrop of the ongoing fight for North Sea reserves.

From the discovery of huge oil fields off the coast of Scotland to their mass privatisation during the Thatcher era, The Oil Machine highlights how oil became the invisible engine driving UK economic and public policy. In the wake of COP26 in Glasgow, demand for climate action has become a key societal concern and the pressure on both oil companies and the government continues to mount. Bringing together a wide range of voices, from industry executives and economists to young activists, Davie offers a visceral and thought-provoking interrogation into how this insidious machine might be dismantled.

The first thing I have to say after watching The Oil Machine is a huge congratulations to Emma Davie and her team for making a fascinating documentary about a hot button issue without ever getting in any way preachy. One of the big reasons that more people don’t watch films about our failing planet, economy, health, political standing and more is because often the filmmaker will shout from their soapbox in such a biased way that it's off putting for those in the audience that don’t have all the information and would like to make their own minds up how they feel about a subject. That’s not me sitting on the fence, or revealing that I lean one way or the other, it's just that I was raised to get news from multiple sources, get all the information before making my mind up on something, and also to think about how a decision I make may affect other people and in Emma Davie’s well crafted film I got everything I needed. 

I got a history of how oil has been needed to keep the lights on, from whaling boats to the discovery of the North Sea fields. I got a brief explanation as to how the oils is drilled for, transported, and refined and what that refined fuel can be used for, and I got a look at the figures financially and who stands to gain. I got all this before climate change was even brought up and had seen an interview with a high level petroleum company executive and an investment banker before I saw or heard from any kind of activist. This is how you make a documentary. I had all the information I needed from one side and now I was ready to think about the other side of the coin which Davie puts in her film in spades.

Hand drawn map of UK oil fields and pipe lines

Whichever side of the climate argument you are on, whether you are aware of the immediate dangers or sit there in apathy, there is something for all points of the discussion contained within the film. Those of you who think the United Kingdom’s energy depends on the drilling for fossil fuels in the North Sea may be interested in the segments of the film that tell how Thatcher’s government privatised the fields so we don’t actually own the oil anymore. Or you may be on the side of the argument that doesn’t understand why our current government doesn’t just halt all the production and stop giving out drilling licences, well that’s because two thirds of the fields and the oil now belong to nations like the US and China, and Russia and we would be on the hook for compensation if we stopped these nations taking what used to be ours. Perhaps you look at climate from a global economy standpoint and worry about your investments. Well you should worry, as fossil fuel returns from an investment point of view are diminishing and are now in single figure percentage returns whereas newer and greener forms of fuel are returning double digit yields on investment and only rising. Perhaps you’re apathetic because at least the big oil companies clean up after themselves and do it on their own dime. You would be wrong as the current government of our great nation have changed the tax laws in such a way that the companies can now claim tax relief on their clean up and you the taxpayer will foot the majority of the bill, and these companies are the only ones who get tax loopholes. I wonder why that is.

Throughout the film you hear from specialists in many different fields; environmentalists, financial people, scientists, people from previous governments, the union that stands up for the men and women who actually do the grunt work to remove the oil from under the sea, all of whom speak eloquently and from a place of knowledge about the past, the present and what the future may or may not look like. Before this film, I knew we needed greener energy sources and that time was against us as a species if we don’t make changes, but always assumed that things weren’t changing because of the amount of money so many people would be making from fossil fuel drilling. To then see that investors are jumping ship, that most of the oil belongs to other nations because of the acts of government, leads me to believe that now the only people making any money from this are our politicians. So maybe the way you get more people onboard with the idea of an immediate change to greener resources is not to preach about it, because that messaging system isn’t working, perhaps you show them excellent materials like The Oil Machine so they can see for themselves who it is that is harming our planet and, more importantly, who it is that is spending your money to stop any change.

The Oil Machine is an essential watch that will please those who already had this information to hand and, for the millions of people like me who didn’t know everything or were only hearing media soundbites, it is a must watch as it lays it all out in front of you and shows you factually what is happening, to whom, and why.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

Images - The Oil Machine
Powered by Blogger.