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Lesson 6.1: Oil’s Curse/Oil’s Blessing: Pipelines & Tankers


Lesson 6.1: Oil’s Curse/Oil’s Blessing: Pipelines & Tankers


Topic 1: Finite Resources – Environmental Challenges in the Mediterranean


Topic Overview

The relationship between humankind and its environment is a story of hundreds of thousands of years of innovation in sources of energy for growing and developing their societies. In the modern period, the size of the world’s population increases drastically from 2.5 billion the 1940’s to some 7 billion today. At the same time, processes of industrialization, economic growth, and developments in modern public health has over this same period increased life expectancy and living standards. More people walk the planet today than ever before, even as their lifestyles result in ever heavier burdens on the environment to produce, transport and sell goods. Today there is a consensus among scientists that human behaviors are profoundly impacting the environment.

In this topic two lessons are developed to help us understand human impacts on the environment of the Mediterranean. By first studying various environmental factors, students are able to develop insights into the effects of natural forces on political, social and cultural history.

During this period, petroleum and other hydrocarbon resources became the dominant sources of energy in the world. The availability and scarcity of this resource as found in the earth as well as new relationships between suppliers and consumers radically altered world power dynamics.. How did these changes impact power relations along the Mediterranean shores as well between Mediterranean nations and so-called ‘great powers’?

For example, Egypt lacked natural hydrocarbon resources and so had to pursue other strategies for economic development. This was one of the main reasons behind the decision to construct the Aswan High Dam on the Nile river. While the dam served as a source of hydroelectric power, this intervention into the ecosystem of the world’s longest river fundamentally changed age-old patterns of human farming and subsistence. Were these consequences not foreseen? Was the drive for cheap and plentiful energy important enough to risk undoing the Nile’s historical “gift” to Egypt?

Topic Essential Questions

  • How did having or not having hydrocarbon resources impact power relations within the Mediterranean as well as between the Mediterranean region and the rest of the world?
  • How did new transportation and infrastructure connections—such as pipelines and oil tankers—driven by the supply and demand for energy take shape over this period?
  • What has been the impact of the quest for energy on the environment?

Lesson Overview

With the technological and industrial growth in the 19th century, came the demand for more energy resources. Oil fields, discovered in various terrains across the world, but most reserves in the Arabian Peninsula, can be seen as having been a blessing for the region. But having such a huge potential also meant the region gained geopolitical significance. In this lesson we will study the development of petroleum through the lens of the transportation in pipelines and on board tanker shipping.


Jonathan Even-Zohar and Craig Perrier


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


One class period


• Students will be able to relate the underlying story of how worldwide energy trade evolved in this period and identify its specific manifestations in the Mediterranean

• They will be able to assess the importance of energy in today’s world and list some resulting environmental challenges

• They will be able to explain how the Mediterranean became a corridor for energy transport

• They will describe how power relations are defined by the role a country can play in the energy trade (supplier, buyer, or conveyor)


• Student Handout 6.1.1A-Geologic map of deposits of oil and when these were discovered

• Student Handout 6.1.1B - Historical map of Mediterranean pipeline routes; Overview of petroleum transportation development of (tankers, sizes, harbours); Outline of petroleum production, shipping, sold and consumed; Data on petroleum shipped through the Mediterranean as benchmark years (47,74,91,2011).

Lesson Plan Text

1. Initiate a classroom discussion on how students use energy, and ask how many forms of energy do the students know? (gasoline, electricity, light, etc.) Can they differentiate between types of energy (e.g. combustion, electricity generation through solar or water power) and the raw materials used to generate it (fossil fuel, moving water, etc.)

2. When petroleum (oil) comes up in the list, introduce it as the focus of the lesson. As what is the geologic source of petroleum, and how does it differ from coal? 3. Study and compare these four different maps on Student Handouts 6.1.1A and 6.1.1B to introduce greater complexity to the discussion:

a. 1913 Map of Coal Deposits in “Asiatic Turkey” at David Rumsey Map Collection,

b. World Oil Resources and Discovery Dates

c. Source: “World Petroleum Assessment-Homepage: USGS, Energy Resources Program” 2013 assessment, US Geological Survey d. 2002 Map of pipeline construction for oil and gas

4. Question: What do you see as the main changes that have taken place in energy production since 1913? What is the likely direction of change for the Mediterranean region in the future?

5. Analyze the chart of Suez Cargo Movement. : Divide the class into three groups to analyse the data for 2000 / 2005 / 2012 and

(a) plot a chart of the growth in oil transport through the Suez Canal

(b) then write 3-5 concluding statements you consider most significant to understanding the movement of oil through the Suez Canal.



Jonathan Even-Zohar and Craig Perrier, “Lesson 6.1: Oil’s Curse/Oil’s Blessing: Pipelines & Tankers,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 3, 2020,

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