The topic of oil in the Middle East can be (pardon the pun) sticky. Many discuss Middle Eastern oil as if it is an inherently corrupt and destructive force that gives autocrats a money-fueled mandate to oppress their people, but this is not a fair assessment. It is important to be aware of the bias many Western media outlets have. Oil is indeed a significant part of the Middle Eastern economy and has shaped the region for many years. Given that oil is what powers much of our world and has guided much of American foreign policy in the Middle East, it is important for students to understand oil’s significance and role in the global economy.
This topic is ideal for pairing with other lessons about the Middle East. For example, learning about oil can supplement learning about U.S. interests in the Middle East, the causes of wars, and the economies of the Middle East.
Also, click here for a list of vocabulary terms about the Middle East, which can be helpful to have on hand when teaching this topic.
Recommended Topics to Discuss
- Where oil comes from (ex. the drilling process and where it is found)
- Relevant groups such as OPEC, Saudi Aramco, OAPEC, and more
- How oil affects the economy in the Middle East (explain how some economies are dependent on oil and what they are doing to diversify their economies)
- U.S. foreign oil policy (teach students how oil affects American foreign policy)
- PBS: Role of natural resources in Middle Eastern politics and economy
- Visual Capitalist: This One Map Sums Up the Economy of the Middle East
- Council on Foreign Relations: Comprehensive timeline of oil dependence and U.S. foreign policy
- Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy: The Origins of U.S. Foreign Oil Policy
- Brookings: What Iran’s 1979 revolution meant for US and global oil markets
- NPR: The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo: The Old Rules No Longer Apply
- Council on Foreign Relations: OPEC in a Changing World
- Vox: Beyond oil: the US-Saudi alliance, explained
- Library of Congress: Map of Middle East oil and gas fields
- Offshore Magazine: Why the Middle East fields may produce oil forever
Lesson Plans and Teaching Materials
- PBS: Lesson plan for an oil crisis simulation
- PBS: Lesson plan on Middle Eastern land, resources and economics
- Study.com: Lesson plan on history and production of Middle East oil (available with an account)
- Group activity on oil in the Middle East (for younger students)
Films & Documentaries
- CBS: The Oil Kingdom, part one and part two — CBS takes an inside look into the world of Saudi Aramco, the world leader in crude oil production and the country’s sole source of wealth and power; note that documentary is from 2008 and from an American perspective
- NowThis: Can the Middle East Survive Without Oil?
- Bloomberg: Saudi Arabia’s Gigantic Oil Problem, Explained in 2 Minutes (keep in mind that this video is from 2016 and contains some dated information)
- CNBC: What is Saudi Aramco?
- Saudi Aramco: Oil Production
- NowThis: How Much Oil is Left on Earth?
- Geo History: Petroleum – summary of the modern history of oil
- Empires and Anarchies: A History of Oil in the Middle East by Michael Quentin Morton — a history of oil wealth in the Middle East and its impact on people and societies.
- The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin — released just four months after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book has been referred to as the definitive history and bible of the oil industry.