This month, Al Jazeera aired a special four-part series on the hidden history of the western oil giants known as the Seven Sisters, and their role in defining the politics and economics of the world energy supply and demand. In co-ordination with this special event, Empire explores the shifting geopolitics of oil.
Exxon, Shell, BP, Mobil, Texaco, Gulf and Chevron dominated the petroleum industry for most of the 20th century. But unlike diamonds, the old oil order is not forever. Sources, suppliers and consumers are changing, and the global balance of power is changing along with them.
The world has to find a new Saudi Arabia every three years just to stay in place.
Thanks to the nationalisation of oil reserves around the world, the old Seven Sisters are no longer the only ones controlling the production, processing and distribution – they are competing with mega players such as the National Iranian Oil Company, China's CNPC, Russia’s Gazprom and their counterparts in Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
Further disrupting the old order is the ongoing financialisation of oil markets with oil speculations sending prices on a roller coaster ride, decoupled from the dictates of actual supply and demand.
We ask the questions raised by the new oil order. Will the race for resources between the US and China drive a new arms race? What about "peak oil"? Are we facing a future of scarcity, or are new technologies kick-starting a long-term revolution in supply?
We also explore the dark secrets of the Seven Sisters, revealing a bitter legacy of war, colonialism, and environmental devastation wrought by the industrial nations' addiction to oil.
Joining Empire to discuss oil's role in the world's geopolitical transformations and its economy, are guests: Mahmoud El-Gamal, professor and former chair of the economics department at Rice University in Texas, and co-author of the book Oil, Dollars, Debt and Crises: The Global Curse of Black Gold; Tim Mitchell, a professor and chair of the Middle East department at Columbia University, and author of Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil; Valerie Marcel, of the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House, and author of Oil Titans: National Oil Companies in the Middle East; and Toby Jones, a History professor at Rutgers University and author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia.
This episode of Empire can be seen from Sunday, April 28, at the following times GMT: Sunday: 2000; Monday: 1200; Tuesday: 0100; Wednesday: 0600.
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