video review: Crude: The Incredible Journey of Oil by Richard Smith


I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries but this one produced in 2007 by Richard Smith for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is among the very best.

Usually, the more important a non-fiction work is, the more scientific disciplines the author integrates into a coherent story. In this case, Richard Smith does a remarkable job of weaving geology, chemistry, biology, thermodynamics, climate, history, and economics into a fascinating story that follows a carbon atom as it moves about the planet over the last 200 million years.

I often marvel at, and wonder how we were blessed with such a large quantity of crude oil which we have used to build an amazing civilization. This documentary does a very nice job of explaining how crude oil was formed 160 million years ago on a hot greenhouse planet with near dead and toxic oceans. The photosynthetic bacteria that converted CO2 and sunlight into the carbohydrates that later became crude oil acted to remove CO2 from the atmosphere thus cooling the planet and returning it to a healthy environment for complex oxygen breathing life like ourselves.

Humans are now reversing this process by burning fossil carbon and returning the CO2 to the atmosphere which may return the planet to an environment incompatible with civilization. Unless, ironically, we run out of oil first, which will also cause our civilization to collapse.

What’s different this time is that humans are doing in a hundred years what took geology thousands or millions of years in the past. This speed makes the outcome more difficult to predict but common sense suggests it’s unlikely to be good.

Given that 10 years have elapsed since the documentary was produced it’s a credit to Richard Smith that it’s still relevant and accurate, although it’s a concern to see how far we have unraveled in 10 years with melting poles, record temperatures, stalled economic growth, zero interest rates, money printing, failing oil companies, and global social unrest.

It’s also a concern, but expected in light of Varki’s theory on denial, that we collectively have not yet acknowledged our predicament, let alone taken any steps to make the future less bad.

Highly recommended!

If you’d like a higher quality version than what’s available on YouTube it has been recently ripped in HD and available as a torrent here.



5 thoughts on “video review: Crude: The Incredible Journey of Oil by Richard Smith”

  1. Hi Rob. Great Doc for sure. Here is a link to a higher quality version on YouTube.

    Crude: The Incredible Journey Of Oil


  2. Meanwhile, an interview with Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of Total (June 20, 2017)

    Journalist: So, the optimal oil price of for everyone, producers and consumers, is, what, $50-60?
    PP: There is no optimal price for the simple reason that price is always a matter of supply and demand. (…) Because of population growth, demand for oil is growing and hence the need for increased investment. As production is brought online, the price will eventually go down, and investment will tail off which after time makes the price go up again. (…) I am convinced that due to the lack of investment in recent years, in three years from now there will be a shortage of oil.
    Journalist: So you are saying that because of under-investment there will be an oil shock in 2020?
    PP: Yes. (…) What people fail to understand is that there is such a thing as natural depletion, it’s about 3% per year, that amounts to approx. 3 mbd. Adding 1% growth in demand, that is 20 mbd in 5 years. That means we need to invest in the replacement of as much as the equivalent of two Saudi Arabia’s in that timeframe. (…) The reason I foresee an oil shortage is the time lag between initial investment and actual production. It takes 4-5 years to see the result of increased investment, or of a lack of investment for that matter. That is why in our sector we see these so-called “cycles”.

    In other words, it is all about supply and demand and cycles…


  3. Thanks.

    A lot of people are confused about supply and demand of finite non-renewable non-substitutable resources.

    Supply is not what we need, it’s what is available.

    Demand is not what we want, it’s what we can afford.


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