The Oil Machine

The Oil Machine explores our complex economic, historical and emotional entanglement with Oil as we hurtle towards climate breakdown.


The Oil Machine explores our economic, historical and emotional entanglement with oil by looking at the conflicting imperatives around North Sea oil. This invisible machine at the core of our economy and society now faces an uncertain future as activists and investors demand change. Is this the end of oil?

By highlighting the complexities of how oil is embedded in our society – from high finance to cheap consumer goods – The Oil Machine brings together a wide range of voices from young activists, oil company executives, economists to pension fund managers and considers how this machine can be tamed, dismantled, or repurposed.

We have five to ten years to control our oil addiction, and yet the licensing of new oil fields is seen to be in direct contradiction with the Paris Climate Agreement. The drama of global climate action is playing out in the fight over North Sea oil.

The Oil Machine reveals the hidden infrastructure of oil from the offshore rigs and the buried pipelines to its flow through the stock markets of London. It explores the complexity of the challenge as the North Sea industry struggles to meet the need to cut carbon emissions whilst oil workers see their livelihoods under threat and investors seek to protect their assets. Meanwhile a younger generation of climate activists are catalysed by the signs of impending chaos, and the very real threat of global sea level rises. The Oil Machine explores the complexities of transitioning away from oil and gas as a society and considers how quickly can we do it?

Contributors include:

Holly Gillibrand (dubbed “Scotland’s Greta”), Emeka Emembolu (Senior VP of BP North Sea), Jake Molloy (Regional Organiser, RMT Union), Mikaela Loach (Edinburgh medical student currently suing the UK government), James Marriott (co-author of Crude Britannia), Sir David King (former UK Government’s Climate Advisor), Deirdre Michie (CEO of Oil & Gas UK), Steve Waygood (Chief Responsible Investor at Aviva Investors), Tessa Khan (climate lawyer from Uplift), Kevin Anderson (Professor of Energy & Climate Change, Manchester University), Ann Pettifor (economist & author), and others.

“Effectively, we're living inside an oil machine. Oil has shaped our life for decades and also our thinking and feeling.”

James Marriot, co-author Crude Britannia

“For decades, the world has been built on a hydrocarbon-based infrastructure. If you consider it, maybe a good analogy would be it's almost like replacing all the veins in the human body. You can’t pull them all at once.”

Emeka Emembolu, BP

Director's statement - Emma davie

This documentary was initiated by a sense of the urgency of addressing the issue of the oil in our own backyard. I feel that the huge “elephant in the room” in terms of Scotland’s or the UK’s aspiration to be climate change leaders is North Sea Oil. There seemed to be a need to understand how interwoven and embedded oil is in so many fundamental aspects of our lives so we wanted to bring together disparate voices involved in the interlinking worlds of oil, finance, activism who would normally never dialogue together. We wanted to express an emotional as well as analytical look at where we are at with North Sea Oil – it seems incredible that in 50 years so much has changed. The changes coming are, of course, even more radical and we wanted to understand how they might be implemented in the complex world of oil. 


Emma Davie


Sonja Henrici


David Harron, Mark Thomas, 
James Marriott, Terry Macalister


Julian Schwanitz


Martin Kayser Landwehr


Emma Davie


Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres


John Cobban


Kirstie McLure


Holly Elson


Sonja Henrici Creates Ltd


BBC Scotland & National Lottery through Creative Scotland

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