Producer: Andy Park
Designer: Gabriel Virata


Oil has had humanity over a barrel ever since the Babylonians first began setting fire to the stuff in candles 5000 years ago. It's caused wars and environmental catastrophes - but still it's civilisation's number one addiction.

Maybe it's not water and oil that don't mix, but oil and us. Oil was mentioned as far back as the bible, when Noah was said to have used basic petroleum or tar to waterproof the ark. But the first ever conflict over oil was when the Maccabees ransacked a temple in Jerusalem looking for oil to burn for ritualistic practice.

The Greeks were the first to drag oil into war. The Byzantines figured out a way to fire burning oil from dragon-shaped noses on the front of their ships. Later on, Muslims defending against the Crusaders put oil in egg shells and threw them from horseback.

The English also did some nasty things with oil in the 1500s, where emersion in boiling oil was a legal method of punishment. War is oil-thirsty work - and in World War One, British and Turkish troops were both after Russian oil in what's now Azerbaijan. Germany also invaded Russia to get around Allied blockades aiming for the same oil fields.

Japan attacked Pearl harbour in an attempt to knock America out of the war quickly and also to seize oil assets in South Asia.

But the history of oil got really interesting when the Middle East's production came online. It quickly became apparent that they had a whole lot more than America ever did and they were already rapidly running dry.

Oil was at the heart of the Iranian coup organised by the US and Britain after Iran nationalised the British-owned Anglo Iranian oil company.

Twice the OPEC nations embargoed supply to the US prompting Washington to draw up a plan to seize oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi to counter an Arab oil embargo.

The first major stoush between Gulf oil states saw Iraq invade Iran. Iraq then invaded Kuwait over oil, and the US came good on their 30-year-old plan to take Kuwait.

The US invaded Iraq, using the fallout of September 11 and the threat of weapons of mass destruction as justification.

And even today's tensions in the South China Sea between Japan and China are really more about the oil beds underneath, said to contain as much crude as Saudi Arabia.

Argentina wants the Falkland Islands back from the UK, especially since the UK started drilling for oil there.

Sudan, Nigeria, Egypt, Israel, The Philippines, China, Iran, Turkey are all locked in territorial conflicts over black gold with little sign of the oil conflicts ceasing.

So when you are filling up at the petrol station next time it's worth remembering that it's not just petrol but thousands of years of greed, war, and manipulation that are flowing into your tank.


Aired on The Feed - SBS2
Duration: 02:50 minutes
Televised date: 25th March, 2014


Featured Media/Press

- The Iris | The Five Best Moments From Addiction Week On SBS2's The Feed