‘The Oil Machine’ film review

by Blog

Director Emma Davie’s new film, The Oil Machine (2022), sets out the entanglement between the oil and gas industry and almost every aspect of life in the UK, with expert interviewees offering a range of contrasting viewpoints on what needs to change and how the future might play out. 

The opening montage sees a range of household items placed in front of the camera: a mug, a toothbrush, a toy; whilst a child repeatedly says, “Thing is made of oil, this is made of oil…” and right from the start it’s clear the film’s mission is to explore the multitude of ways in which oil has seeped into our everyday lives, to such an extent that many of us longer even see it. 

The film sets out the history of oil exploitation in the UK, from its seemingly miraculous North Sea discovery in the 1970s, to the construction of a vast network of offshore and onshore pipelines and the growing centrality of oil investment in the City of London and in turn into pensions and assets.  

A series of interviewees including scientist Professor Kevin Anderson, economist Ann Petifor and activist Mikaela Loach set out the unsustainability of this relationship and the stark and urgent need to move away from oil dependency. The voices of workers set out the case for transferable skills and need for a just transition away from hydrocarbon-based work and in to renewables and low carbon, whilst voices from within the industry, including trade associations and drilling companies, set out somewhat different perspectives that envisage an ongoing role for the sector, relying on speculative technologies such as Carbon Capture Store. 

A key theme is the entanglement of oil finance within the UK’s financial sector that warps and subverts the UK’s response to climate change. Steve Waygood of Aviva Investors’ Global Responsible Investment team highlights that whilst previous returns from oil investment are down from a historic highs to somewhere nearer 5 or 6% today, offshore wind returns are at racing at 11%. But the sheer scale of legacy investments in the oil sector means vested interests seek to protect these, even as Ann Petifor highlights, at a time when global carbon reduction targets and increasing public concern risks turning these into unrealisable, ‘stranded assets’. 

The film is beautifully shot and soundtracked, with sound and images reflecting the giant scale and engineering achievements of the oil industry, and the producers have assembled a range of helpful resources to inform and prompt debate and discussion. The film is showing around the country at a range of events and we hope to host a Carbon Co-op screening in 2023.

Picture of an oil rig in the North Sea