Petroleum has always been used by humans: as an adhesive by Neanderthals, as a waterproofing agent in Noah's Ark and as a weapon during the Crusades. Its eventual extraction from the earth in vast quantities transformed light, heat and power. A Pipeline Runs Through It is a fresh, comprehensive in-depth look at the social, economic, political and geopolitical forces involved in our transition to the modern oil age. It tells an extraordinary origin story, from the pre-industrial history of petroleum through to large-scale production in the mid-nineteenth century and the development of a dominant, fully-fledged oil industry by the early twentieth century.
This was always a story of imperialist violence, political disenfranchisement, economic exploitation and environmental destruction. The near-total eradication of the Native Americans of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio has barely been mentioned as a precondition for the emergence of the first industrialised oil region in the United States. Britain's invasion of Upper Burma in 1885 was perhaps the first war fought, at least in part, for access to oil; the growth of Royal Dutch-Shell involved the genocidal subjugation of people of the Dutch East Indies; and the exploitation of oil in the Middle East arose seamlessly out of Britain's prior political and military interventions in the region.
Finally, in an entirely new analysis, the book shows how the British navy's increasingly desperate dependence on vulnerable foreign sources of oil may have been a catalytic ingredient in the outbreak of the First World War. The rise of oil has shaped the modern world, and this is the book to understand it.
Keith Fisher has worked as a journalist and researcher on corporate and environmental issues. While studying, firstly, the MI6- and CIA-orchestrated coup against Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953 following his nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and then the present-day geopolitics of energy supplies from the new republics of the former Soviet Union, he became fascinated both by the deep, yet historically quite recent, roots of the modern oil industry and by our complex, much older global relationship with oil. Following some fifteen years of thinking, researching and writing, A Pipeline Runs Through It is the remarkable result. Fisher lives in Oxford.
"Here, at last, is the book I have long been waiting for: an unsparing, comprehensive, and thoroughly documented history of the global oil industry and its pernicious influence on human society and the planet we inhabit [...] Essential reading."
– Michael Klare
"A book that offers the reader a clear-eyed analysis of the global history of oil exploration and exploitation [...] very deeply researched, wonderfully illuminating, penetrating in its analysis, and written with great verve. It is a gem of a book, a brave book, a book that will become indispensable in this field."
– Douglas Newton, author of The Darkest Days
"Fisher's extensive research builds upon the foundations of global petroleum histories and then drills deeper to illuminate the intricate contexts of the origins to our oil addiction. A Pipeline Runs Through It is sure to spark some lively debates over the causes and outcomes of petroleum production through the ages."
– Stephen C. Cote, Ph.D., author of Oil and Nation
"Impressively researched and fun to read, A Pipeline Runs Through It provides our deepest understanding yet of oil's early decades, foreshadowing its rise into a vital strategic commodity that determined the fate of nations in the twentieth century."
– John V. Bowlus, Lecturer and Researcher at Kadir Has University, Istanbul