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Science
CRUDE FACTS
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Wednesday 21:00-21:30
Oil. What is it? Where is it? What on earth would we do without it?
In this two-part series, Howard Stableford discovers how Jurassic plankton ends up in our petrol tanks, why oil dominates world politics and what we might do when it starts to run out.
nhuradio@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 12 June
Listen to 19 June
PRESENTER
HOWARD STABLEFORD
Howard Stableford
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Wednesdays 12 & 19 June 2002
Oil rig

From Plankton to Petrol Pump

Crude oil is a truly amazing substance. It requires such precise conditions to form it is incredible we have any at all, let alone billions and billions of barrels of it. And incredible too that a thick, oily liquid can be distilled into so many different, useful products from gasoline to milk cartons to material.

In the first programme, the journey of a prehistoric piece of plankton is traced from its life in a tropical ocean 200 million years ago right through to its arrival in a petrol pump in 2002. In the intervening time the plankton died, was buried, cooked and squashed, then rose again in a new form - oil - and migrated through rocks to a reservoir. And there it would have stayed if humans hadn’t worked out a way of sucking it out through the tiny gaps in the reservoir rocks and taken it ashore to be processed in a refinery.

In the second programme, Howard Stableford discovers just how dependant we are on black gold. This vital liquid provides power for our transport, electricity for our homes and is a raw ingredient in everything from plastics and paints to fertilisers and medicines. It seems as if modern life depends on a substance that is basically squashed and cooked plankton. So how we share out and use what’s left of this precious resource has huge repercussions - world politics, climate change, wars and recessions - all are affected by our addiction to oil. And we’ve been warned for decades that we won’t be able to feed this addiction for much longer, yet we’re using more oil than ever. Howard investigates whether we are going to run out of oil and what might happen if we do.
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