Monday, September 6, 2010

Guest Review: Oil

Summary: Twenty years ago oil cost about $7 a barrel. In 2008 the price soared to $148 and then fell to below $40. In the midst of this extraordinary volatility, the major oil conglomerates still spent over a trillion dollars in an increasingly frantic search for more.

The story of oil is a story of high stakes and extreme risk. It is the story of the crushing rivalries between men and women exploring for oil five miles beneath the sea, battling for control of the world's biggest corporations, and gambling billions of dollars twenty-four hours every day on oil's prices. It is the story of corporate chieftains in Dallas and London, traders in New York, oil-oligarchs in Moscow, and globe-trotting politicians-all maneuvering for power.

With the world as his canvas, acclaimed investigative reporter Tom Bower gathers unprecedented firsthand information from hundreds of sources to give readers the definitive, untold modern history of oil . . . the ultimate story of arrogance, intrigue, and greed. -- Grand Central Publishing

I'm not quite sure that Booking Pap Pap knew what he was getting himself into when he decided to read OIL: MONEY, POLITICS, AND POWER IN THE 21ST CENTURY by Tom Bower. It was a lengthy, difficult read for him; however, I think it was timely. It's obvious that he learned a great deal and was even surprised by some of what he discovered. Here are his thoughts:

OIL: MONEY, POLITICS, AND POWER IN THE 21ST CENTURY by Tom Bower is an account of the interaction among big oil, world leaders, environmentalists and speculators over the last twenty years. Bower’s sources of information included interviews with 250 people employed in various aspects of the oil industry as well as government regulators, company reports, industry magazines and newspapers.

The author spent a large part of the book telling the reader about oil giants ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell. BP and ExxonMobil are the main emphasis of the book but Shell’s clash between British and Dutch directors and Chevron’s deal with Venezuela’s Chavez provide interesting insights into these companies.

The major character throughout the book is John Browne, the CEO of BP. This may be due to the fact that Tom Bower is British. Nevertheless, his detailed descriptions of the workings inside BP are very revealing. The ups and downs of BP are of particular interest in light of the recent oil disaster at the BP Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. The author reveals three other major BP catastrophes related to cost cutting and safety issues. It was astounding that in one five year period, BP had 760 safety violations resulting in 26 fatalities and over 700 injuries, all exclusive of the Gulf crisis. Brown was highly regarded by the Wall Street types and his ultimate ouster was a tremendous battle of powers within BP.

A second significant character in the book is Lee Raymond, CEO of ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil is like the 2000 lb. Gorilla in the oil industry who operated within strict guidelines that were the complete opposite of BP’s “maverick” style. Of course ExxonMobil had its own oil crisis with the Exxon Valdez.

I was astounded at the power these oil executives wield. Browne thought nothing of calling up British Prime Minister, Tony Blair when BP had an international crisis. Raymond had a close relationship with both George Bush and Dick Cheney. All there oil executives communicated directly with world leaders like Putin, Kaddafi, Chavez and the many Middle East and African leaders. The dealings with these world leaders for their country’s oil rights were always contentious. In reading these accounts it was often difficult to determine who was more unscrupulous, the oil companies or the world leaders.

During the 20 year period covered in the novel the price of oil rose from a low of $10 to $147 per barrel. There was always a question whether oil prices were being dictated by the major oil companies, the oil producing countries or the speculators. It was surprising that when oil was at its highest the reserves were also at high levels.

The environmentalists received a “green” pledge from these major oil companies after many years of confrontation. Bower reminds the reader of the environmental friendly BP ads that were regularly on TV. Despite the words and public relations gimmicks the oil companies have abandoned nearly all their alternative energy programs after incurring significant losses. The author claims that the public has been misled into believing that wind, solar and wave power can be viable energy sources.

OIL: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century does an excellent job of showing the connection between politics and oil and how countries like Russia and Venezuela try to manipulate the world’s economies through their oil reserves. It draws no conclusions for the future of oil but does identity that investment by major oil companies to find new oil, the value of the dollar, the impact of renewable energy sources and the oil traders and speculators will all have a major impact.

This book was a difficult read for me but I would recommend it for anyone interested in gaining a better insight into the workings of today’s oil industry and their relationship with world governments.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for sticking with OIL and writing this terrific review.


bermudaonion said...

If this was difficult for Booking Papa, I'm sure it would be way over my head! It's rather scary to think of all the power oil company executives wield.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I probably would struggle with this one but I bet my hubby would just devour the info.