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12 Dec 2006

Review – New Peak Oil Film “Crude Impact”.

ciLast week I watched the new peak oil film, **Crude Impact**, produced by Vista Clara films, which has just emerged on DVD. It describes itself as “a film about how energy use, particularly fossil fuels, has impacted the earth, mankind and other species”, and is one of a couple of new peak oil films coming out over the next few months. I had been looking forward to seeing it for some time, and I found it to be an extremely well-made film which clearly and passionately presents the argument that we are at or near the peak, which will be a transition of historic importance.

Crude Impact is a very useful addition to the peak oil DVD library, exploring areas that previous films have not yet gone into. Having said that, I did feel that the film possibly suffers from being too long. It runs for over 90 minutes, and despite my being avidly keen to watch it, I did catch my eyelids drooping occasionally. Although enjoyable, impactful and informative, I did feel that Crude Impact tries to do too many things. It attempts, within its 90 minutes, to be a film about peak oil, climate change, Third World development issues, solutions, economics and a few other things besides. Unlike the film it will inevitably be compared to, The End of Suburbia which does two things, peak oil and its impacts on the suburban pattern of living, Crude Impact spreads itself too thin and, I felt, suffers a bit as a result.

ci2The film has some great interviews, in particular with Thom Hartmann and Richard Heinberg, and some excellent archive footage. Visually it is very engaging, and the production values are very good. Although a more ruthless editor might have drawn a more focused and concise film out of what is undoubtedly excellent material, Crude Impact is a powerful and thought provoking exploration of the hold that oil has over the world.

It is revealed not as a benign power source, but as the source of most conflict, despotic regimes and of much environmental destruction. It is, the film argues, an addiction with extremely unpleasant and messy side-effects. Little is discussed in terms of what our lives might look like without it, but that is not the film’s purpose. Crude Impact focuses our minds not only on our dependence on oil, but also on all that has been done in order to sustain our habit. As such it is a very powerful tool in our attempts to break our collective addiction.

You can see the trailer of Crude Impact here and buy copies of the film here. You might also like to read Graham Strout’s review of the film over at

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26 Dec 11:28am

The following review was posted by Chris Vernon on His final comments are &#8220Crude Impact is a terrific film. I have no hesitation in saying it is the best documentary I have seen on the subject and I would feel very happy about recommending it to anyone. &#8221

&#8220The screening of Crude Impact at the ASPO-USA conference in Boston (Oct06) almost didn’t happen with Director James Wood only flying into Boston that afternoon with the film. In introducing the film Wood was humble, admitting some nerves screening the film to what he considered a home crowd.

Crude Impact isn’t just a film about peak oil, it’s far broader. In fact peak oil isn’t even specifically mentioned until two-thirds through. This is to the film’s credit allowing the relationship between oil and humanity to be developed before thinking about the future.

The cinematography, iconic images, symbolism, soundtrack and the overall production quality are absolutely top notch. This professional look and feel adds credibility to the message and I believe makes the film all the more watchable for someone to whom this subject matter is new. On the subject matter, the film is well structured covering importance of oil in human development, foreign policy impacts, human impact, uses of oil, environmental impacts, the role of the media, before moving on the peak oil itself and the impacts of peak oil for the future.

I was particularly impressed with the early linking of fossil fuels with population expansion, equating a species’ evolutionary successes with its ability to extract energy from the environment. This is one of the first points the film makes, establishing the historic importance of fossil fuels and oil in particular. Food is highlighted as a critical use of oil, repeating the 10:1 energy ratio often quoted and that fossil fuels allow more energy to be used in the production of food than the food itself contains adding that for any other organism this spells extinction.

The film does not just focus on the energy and material side of things. The human and sociological impacts of oil are also considered. Rees questions the notion of material growth pointing out how we have far exceeded what is actually needed to be happy. Two examples of the negative impact of the oil industry are covered in detail, Texaco’s activities in Ecuador and Shell’s in the Niger Delta. In Ecuador Texaco took advantage of an inexperienced government and lack of regulation to exploit reserves in the Amazon rain forest employing methods disallowed in other provinces. One statistic presented is that during Texaco’s time in the rain forest (1964-92) they dumped 18 billion gallons of waste water containing 2% crude oil into the environment, the equivalent of 30 times the oil spilt during the Exxon Valdez disaster.

In the Niger Delta the environmental destruction, particularly in Ogoniland is presented through story of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s human rights and environmental activism and subsequent execution in a case backed by Shell. The point here I believe was to stress the direct suffering both human and environmental associated with the production and ultimately consumption of oil.

Crude Impact is critical of mainstream media suggesting that if the true impacts of our current oil polices were widely known they wouldn’t enjoy public support. Modern news coverage is criticised as “infotainment”, regarded as profit centre rather then the public service it should be, telling us what is really happening in the world.

Climate change is covered with mankind’s exploitation of fossil fuels described as the most significant thing humans have ever done, triggering perhaps the 6th great extinction event.

The subject of peak oil is covered very convincingly. Hubbert’s story is presented with added credibility from Deffeyes’ who worked with Hubbert at Shell. Of note are the fantastic graphical animations explaining the concept of peak oil, illustrating how production must follow discovery and how discovery has clearly peaked decades ago.

OPEC’s reserve growth is questioned, the USGS estimates of remaining resources are clamed by Al-Husseini to be exaggerated and Deffeyes even mentions an email he received from the head of the USGS explaining how large estimates were needed to encourage people to search for more oil!

The viewer is left with no doubt we are moving from a time of cheap abundant oil to one of expensive scarce oil. The impacts of peak are presented as resource wars, civil wars within oil exporting countries and a weakened economy subsequently less able to respond to new challenges. As oil becomes more valuable increased human rights and environmental damage is likely. The fundamental problem we face is described as growth, a problem that can’t be solved even if a new energy source is identified. Another limit will present itself, be it water, soil, phosphates etc. Population was mentioned at the start and was returned to at the end. Kavita Ramdas highlights the importance of women with respect to population stating that for every additional three years of education a woman receives reduces the number of children she has by one.

Crude Impact is a terrific film. I have no hesitation in saying it is the best documentary I have seen on the subject and I would feel very happy about recommending it to anyone. Key I think is its accessibility to someone with no prior exposure to the story of oil. &#8221

[…] The film Crude Impact (trimmed down from 98 to 60 minutes) will be airing on LinkTV on February 9th. You can see clips from Crude Impact here and here, and you can read Transition Culture’s review of the film here. […]