Thursday, June 7, 2007

Oil On The Brain

By Lisa Margonelli.

Well I’ve been somewhat remiss in the past week, not keeping my blog up to date. My only excuse is this nasty summer cold which has made me feel about as much like writing a blog entry or two as getting a root canal without anaesthetic (and I’ve had two of those so I know whereof I speak). But on the good news side of the ledger (mom always said to look for the silver lining) I have been able to spend some quality time reading my latest book – Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline.

Now this isn’t a book that would tend to jump out at you from the shelf – the cover is somewhat nondescript and the title is, well, not a real grabber, but recently while I was waiting for the spousal unit at the local Chapters, I picked it up and started browsing. Hooked!

The author takes the reader on a global tour of the oil business, literally from the pump back to the well and the oil-producing countries that are the source of this “black gold”. It's quite a trip, described with humour and spotted with interesting and fascinating facts. For example, did you know that it takes 1 ½ gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of gasoline? Or how about the explanation of how a US gallon of gasoline that weighs only 6 pounds manages to pump 19.5 pounds of CO2 out of your exhaust pipe (it’s in the way the carbon atoms link up with two oxygen atoms after combustion).

But most compelling are her descriptions of how oil has shaped, and some may say ruined, the social structures in countries where it has become the premier, or only, source of external revenue, generally in US dollars. Countries like Venezuela, where the national oil company PDVSA is actually larger than the state and provides schooling, housing, and medical services to the population – services that rightly should come from the state. Or Chad, where Exxon signed sweetheart deals with illiterate leaders as the country spirals into civil war. Iran, Nigeria, China, Saudi Arabia – it’s a long list and the author visits each of them in turn to uncover the corruption, graft and sundry abuses heaped upon the populations by, variously, oil multinationals, their local governments, and western governments (i.e. U S of A) quenching their unending thirst for oil at any cost.

It is an easy read, but a disturbing one, and it certainly gives one a far different perspective on the entire business than one gets at the pumps at the local Esso station.

Highly recommended.

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