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Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline Hardcover – January 30, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the last few years, just about everyone has had "oil on the brain" at some point, as record gas prices and a disastrous war have called our dependency into question. But though the U.S. burns 10,000 gallons of gasoline a second, few of us know how oil is created and drilled, how gas stations compete or what actually goes on in a refinery—let alone what happens in the mysterious Strategic Petroleum Reserve, where the U.S. government stores roughly 700 million barrels of oil in underground salt caverns on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Margonelli answers these questions and more, before examining some of the key patches in the oil industry's geopolitical quilt: source countries like Chad, where promises of real local growth fall hopelessly short, or China, which, "by 2025, perhaps, will import as much crude oil as the U.S. does now." Writing in a witty, first-person voice, Margonelli criticizes corruption in places like Nigeria, while expressing her "love of hydrocarbons" for the unlikeliness of their formation and the ingenuity required to extricate them. This is an original, open-minded look at a subject about which everyone has an opinion. (Feb. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Margonelli has written about the culture and economy of energy for publications such as Wired, Discover, Salon, and the San Francisco Chronicle. In the summer of 2003, she started hanging out at independent gas stations, where owners might clear pennies per gallon of gas, surviving on impulse sales of junk food and soda. Her journey takes us up the delivery chain, spending a typical day with a tanker truck driver, hanging out with suppliers, touring refineries, and seeing what life is like at an oil rig. Whether visiting "wildcatters" in Texas, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the Gulf of Mexico, or the oil pit at the New York Mercantile Exchange, Margonelli charms her way into the good graces of insiders to report on the vast petroleum network. Her voyage takes us to Venezuela, Chad, Nigeria, and ultimately the Persian Gulf, where she spends time at the Salmon oil fields in Iran. Filled with rich history, industry anecdotes, and politics, Margonelli's book brings a deeper appreciation of the complicated and often tenuous process that we take for granted. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1st edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385511450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385511452
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,054,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As an environmental manager, I am so tickled when I find real discussion without an ideological agenda! (I call myself a radical moderate.) Ms. Margonelli is a true journalist. Her structure - Chapter One at the gas pump, back through the tanker trucks, refineries, drilling, geology--is a marvelous construct. Whle well-grounded in facts and engineering, this is somewhat a social history, and emphasizes profiles of people from the petroleum industry to illuminate the issues. I can't verify her extensive footnotes, but her lack of advocacy of a particular world-view (e.g., global warming, or faith in market forces) is refreshing. I am from West Texas so can verify the accuracy of these delightful depictions 'awl-fild trash'. Her statistics provide great insight into our energy challenges. Don't let her lose points in the non-fiction realm for her wry humor!
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Format: Hardcover
For all its constant appearance in news of the business and political worlds, oil as an economic and chemically transformable commodity is remarkably little understood by the average person. Most of us have never seen a barrel of oil or an oil pipeline. Most of us have never watched oil being cracked in a petrochemical plant to produce gasoline or any of the dozens of other byproducts that permeate modern life. Most of us don't even know how much oil is contained in a barrel, or how much gasoline can be derived from a barrel of black gold. At most, we pull up at the pump and open our gas caps and our wallets. With OIL ON THE BRAIN, author Lisa Margonelli opens the doors into perhaps the most geopolitically and environmentally important world of the 21st Century, the mostly invisible world of oil.

Structurally, Ms. Margonelli starts at the familiar gas station pump and moves successively backwards through the distribution, production, and exploration chains. At the earliest stages of her exposition, most of which take place in the continental United States, she captures her subject matter through a personal prism - individuals who represents that particular stage in the process of bringing gasoline and heating oil to the end consumer. Thus, we learn about gas station profitability from Michael Gharib, owner of the Twin Peaks gas station in San Franciso, gasoline distributorship from the friendly folks at Coast Oil (owner David Mitchell, dispatcher Chris, and driver/hauler Roger), and refining from optimization manager Ken Cole at BP's plant in Carson, CA. Finally leaving California, we move on to lessons in drilling from fourth generation oilman C.D.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline" is the story, from beginning to end, of how oil is pumped, traded, refined, distributed and sold to the public. In addition, the book covers the conditions, both political and cultural, in a number of oil producing countries.

The book is divided roughly in half. The first half follows the flow of fuel from its start in the ground through the various handlers until it is pumped into your car. The author, however, doesn't just recite a litany of facts. She narrates well and adds information about the processes that are not common knowledge. The second half of the book is a look at where oil originates and the conditions in those countries as they relate to oil. And, the reality is that there is a socio-economic result of discovering and pumping oil from the earth.

The author does a wonderful job of weaving a story out of a number of rather dull facts and makes the book interesting, as well as informative. Her writing style reminded me of the books by Eric Schlosser or Barbara Ehrenreich.

After reading the book I found myself looking at gas stations in a new light and thinking about what I was doing every time I pulled up to the pump. I also noticed I was taking a few extra steps to try to cut my consumption a little. I think this book has a powerful message that needs to be read by the oil consuming public which may help to change their purchasing habits.
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Format: Hardcover
This was an enjoyable book to read because it presented an intriguing subject, it presented the subject in an even-handed manner, and it was well-sourced. Each chapter contained numerous footnotes that provided the reader the opportunity to consult other publicly available resources to learn more about the subject. I personally enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the independent gas station, refinery, delivery business, and Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as it provided a comfortable understanding of how these businesses operate and corrects mischaracterizations that could have easily formed about these entities. I learned especially of the chemical similarities of branded gasolines, as well as the tiny profit margin earned by gas stations. I recommend this book with pride.
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Format: Hardcover
In President Bush's 2006 State of the Union address, he spoke of America's "addiction to oil." In "Oil On the Brain," author Lisa Margonelli explains how we feed this addiction. Working backward from the gas station through the pipeline to the drilling rigs, and the oil fields of Venezuela, Chad, Iran and Nigeria, Margonelli narrates this journey all the way to China, which has become the new challenger to America's addiction with its "go-go growth" and its rush to put its 1.3-million population behind the wheel.
The early chapters of the book, before Margonelli turns to America's intervention in overseas petro-states, are my favorites, particularly the chapters on the California refinery and the East Texas drilling rig. The author has an uncanny ability to take a complicated process and boil it down for the lay reader. I now understand it's the size of the molecules in the crude that determines the octane, and how a shutdown at a refinery happens and why. I learned about the invisible penny that's built-in the price of gasoline, the 9/10 nobody sees that is worth $1.26-billion a year to the oil industry.

As Margonelli rides along on an oil tanker, she explains the strict regulations under which these drivers operate. In these chapters, I discovered how slowly oil moves inside a pipeline, less than eight miles per hour through the 161,000 miles of pipeline inside the United States. She arrives on the drilling rig in Freestone County, Texas, just in time to watch the ballet dance called "tripping the bit" where the driller, the tool pusher and the hands pull up a worn-out drill bit. The process can take as long as four hours. It's in this section that I also learned Florida and California have banned offshore oil rigs on their coasts, so Texas and Louisiana take up the slack.
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