Over a Barrel: The Truth About Oil

America is addicted to oil, consuming 400 million gallons of gas every day. That’s more than a half million dollars spent on gas every minute of every day. Oil is the biggest business in the world and it is an industry that last year earned $180 billion in profits – one gallon at a time.

Over a Barrel: The Truth About Oil examines the United States’ profound dependence on oil. At the heart of the documentary is a salient question asked by ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson in interview after interview: what is the true cost of oil? The country’s addiction, it turns out, has hidden costs. To help us understand those costs, Gibson examines the production pipeline, from the gas station where it ends, to the offshore rigs where crude oil is pumped from beneath the ocean floor.

Where does gasoline that we put in our cars come from? Why does the price go up or down? What role do refineries play? What has been the impact of the wars in Iraq? To answer basic yet elusive questions about the relationship between American’s and oil, Gibson travels across the country stopping at key links in the production chain.

Over a Barrel: The Truth About Oil was originally broadcast July 24, 2009 on ABC.


Gibson reports from Cushing, OK, the former oil boomtown where most of the pipelines crossing the United States meet – and where, surprising to many, the price of oil is set. He stops at a loading rack in Linden, NJ, where tankers fill up with gasoline for distribution to stations across the region. He choppers to the Gulf of Mexico, to one of the deepest drilling oil rigs in America, where robots extract the crude oil buried thousands of feet below. It is one of thousands of oil platforms located in these US waters, siphoning up millions of barrels of oil. At a refinery Gibson asks why, with so much oil, our excess refinery capacity is so limited, which can and does cause price instability – and he reveals the secret memos that help explain it.

Gibson goes to Wall Street to explore what was behind some of the spikes in oil prices – like the $147 a barrel in the summer of 2008 – and asks insiders to explain the impact of the largely unregulated speculation on the commodities exchange.

Gibson sits down with former NATO commander General Wesley Clark to discuss the role oil played in the wars in Iraq. The United States spends billions on Middle Eastern oil and billions more on military engagements in the Middle East. Americans pay a price for the wars we’re fighting every time we fill our tanks.

The United States has only 4% of the world’s population, but uses 25% of the world’s oil. By 2025, the US government estimates Americans will use 37% more. So finally Gibson asks: what will the fuel of the future be? Will it be bio fuels like ethanol? Or natural gas? Or super batteries to power electric cars? Will we be able to innovate our way to new sources for energy as plentiful as oil?



Produced and Directed by, Peter W. Klein

Written by, Charles Gibson and Peter W. Klein

Edited by, Gonda-Bastian Sinagowitz

Additional Editing, Melissa H. Roth

Associate Producers, Emily Bodenberg and Thomas F. Beckner, IV

Photographed by, Dan McKinney

Additional Photography, Ben McCoy

Music By, Ben Decter

Additional Music, Graeme Coleman

Graphics for Sequence Post , Caleb Bouchard and Eric Wada

Additional Graphics, Victoria Nece

Production Manager, Christine Brandt

Supervising Producer, Christina Lowery

Senior Producer, Gabrielle Tenenbaum

Executive Producer, Tom Yellin