Oil – A personal account

2 August – On this day in 1990 I was prematurely awaken by the thundering sound of bombs and the whistling sounds of missiles cutting through the peaceful blue skies. Usually the thunder follows the lightning but in this case, I was too close to the action, that they happened simultaneously.

Kuwait fires

War

What more appropriate day to summarize my encounters with oil. After all, it was on this day that Iraq had commenced its invasion of its little neighbour Kuwait after accusing it of stealing petroleum by allegedly drilling horizontally through its border. The real reasons for the invasion remain a mystery filled with controversy but it was on this day that oil was cited as the reason, for me seeing and hearing things I would not wish on my worst enemies. A day innocence was forgotten and a new unwelcomed reality dawning upon me.

First encounters

My story with oil started in 1979 when I left my birthplace of Greenwich in the UK to grow up in Al Ahmadi in Kuwait where my dad worked as a doctor for the Kuwait Oil Company. Al Ahmadi was known as the city of oil and its whole economy evolved round the oil industry. I was exposed to the sites and smells of oil from a young age. Oil sites constituted miles and miles of refineries and gas flaring chimneys. The smell was offensive. The stench was of rotten eggs fuming from the invisible poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas.

Economics

My next major encounter with oil was an economics lesson from my grandfather in Cairo. Having left Kuwait after what seemed like an endless period in a war zone, I developed an interest for news. News always seemed like a distant fantasy but my experiences have made it a reality. With the Iraqi invasion, came an oil shock. My grandfather drew parallels to the infamous 1973 oil shock when an embargo by Arab petroleum exporting countries was proclaimed in response to United States’ support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The economics of oil helped me understand why a packet of cereal had cost my dad a whole month’s wages whilst we endured the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Only then did it seem logical to pay a premium of over a thousand times for a cube of ice in the merciless summer heat and for a loaf of bread that we had to queue for, for hours and hours on end, sometimes without a positive result.

Environment

Oil made me appreciate the environment and made me a green campaigner. The infamous and tragic Kuwaiti oil fires were caused by Iraqi military forces setting fire to hundreds of oil wells and oil lakes while retreating from Kuwait. It took almost 10 months to extinguish the flames and for the skies over Kuwait to turn from a well done black to a rare blue. The environmental impact needless to say was disastrous. What I learnt, is that it isn’t oil that damages the environment but it is people’s selfish actions. Oil has many colours and one of them can certainly be green.

Dinosaurs

With so much oil in my childhood, it felt right to take this with me to adulthood and immerse myself further into a relationship with this magical phenomenon. In oil lies mystery – dinosaurs of the past fueling the dinosaurs of today.

Amir Absoud

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