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The Story of Oil in the 21st Century

Speculators knock OPEC off oil-price perch
Image by Barrybar via Flickr

If you want to get a picture of the last twenty or thirty years of the oil industry, then Oil – Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century by Tom Bower is a must read.

Released in June 2010, it just missed out on recording one of the biggest oil related disasters, the Deep Water Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico under BPs watch, but paints a clear picture of the forces behind this catastrophic events from trading squeezes, nationalization of oil companies, interference from western governments, taxes, and the personalities of the men (because it has been an almost exclusive club of men) that run the big oil companies.

Pitched as a sequel to The Prize by Daniel Yurgin, “Oil” follows the lives of the biggest players in oil on all sides of the industry. A mix between current affairs and history, it is obvious that Bower has some excellent sources within the oil companies, telling the story from as many sides as possible. The details of deals, politics and price-fixing make you wonder if we will ever again see a realistic price for oil and it’s products.

But that leads me to my one complaint, the discussions about Peak Oil have a fairly patronizing tone. This would be acceptable if the premise of Peak Oil had absolutely no merit, but whether a peak is today or in 100 years time, the issue is not one that is just going to disappear. And if this is the case, should we be attempting to conserve oil rather than waste it, and what would a conservation pricing structure look like?

The Canadian tar sands are given a brief discussion, as is the Exxon Valdez spill among other disasters, Interestingly, the book showed me that investing in oil is a fickle game, challenging the idea that the price of oil will always go up, so investing in it is a no-lose proposition. Overall the book provides an insight into a world that most people have little knowledge about, and for that I’d strongly recommend it as a resource for those wishing to learn more about it, but beyond that it provides little hope for the future in terms of climate change, peak oil or resource wars – it really just shows how excessively greedy man is and how ignorant of the long-term consequences all of us are of our actions.

Reviewed from an Advanced Reading Copy provided by Hachette Book Group (thanks!)

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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