VIDEO: “Oil for Dollars” - Standard Oil of California’s 1948 Saudi Documentary

Michael Teague  |

In the increasingly high-speed world of finance and investing, there is often little time to devote to sifting over the history of a specific industry.

But there is never a shortage of reminders that the past is indeed worth sifting through, especially given the much greater availability of incredible documentary and archival footage that has been made available thanks to the internet.

For instance, the last few years of US “shale boom” and the resultant leaps in domestic US production of oil and gas that have caused no shortage of trouble for OPEC and its member nations.

Indeed, until recently, the US was prone to thinking of itself as being at the mercy of the dishdasha-clad royals of the Arabian Desert, who sit on those vast energy resources we were never able to provide for ourselves. It’s the basic orientalist trope used by the magnate T. Boone Pickens in every television appearance during which he spoke of our dependence on “foreign oil,” and to this day it remains deeply embedded in the collective consciousness of Americans.

But perhaps its a trope that is surviving despite the fact that its correlation with reality becomes ever more tenuous. Consider, for instance, that the global oil supply plummeted for last month as a result of an OPEC production decline of more than 1 million barrels per day.

While that decline may be explained in part by political factors related to conflict in member-nations such as Libya, it is hard to imagine that those involved in the decision-making process were not also thinking about what a supply glut would do to crude prices on the global markets.

Which is what makes this 1948 archive film from Standard Oil of California, obviously a close descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s oil cartel of the same name, so very fascinating. What is offered to the viewer here is the very building blocks of what would twelve years later become OPEC, albeit from a very specific viewpoint.

For readers who would like a more thorough and multi-faceted account of how Saudi Arabia and the other petro-monarchies of the gulf came into all that oil wealth, readers would do well to consult the absolutely indispensable “Cities of Salt” trilogy of novels by Abd-al Rahman Munif, a Saudi oil economist, writer, and intellectual who would eventually have his citizenship revoked by the House of Saud for his blistering satire of the political machinations to which his education had allowed him to bear witness.



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