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Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil Paperback – August 10, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Q&A with Peter Maass

Question: You write about BP's problematic safety record in Crude World. Were you surprised by the Deepwater Horizon disaster?

Peter Maass:
Unfortunately not. Within the past decade, BP has been responsible for disasters in other locations, such as an explosion at a Texas refinery that took 15 lives, as well as major spills from its pipelines in Alaska. Taking risks and cutting corners appear to be the norm. But BP succeeded in the domain that counts the most in any industry--it was highly profitable. Tony Hayward, the firm's chief executive, and John Browne, his predecessor, were highly regarded by their peers and their shareholders.

What do you think of BP's response so far?

Peter Maass:
It has been miserable, and predictably so. Due to its cost-cutting and its hubris, BP did not have an adequate response plan. Whether from mendacity or ineptitude, it underestimated the spill in the early days and refused to make public the video feeds it had of the underwater gusher (the government eventually forced it to share the video). But it's important to understand that BP is not a tremendous exception; blowouts and spills and secrecy are consistent features of oil extraction. Although a handful of companies are better-run than BP, a larger number are far worse.

In Crude World you discuss major spills in Ecuador and Nigeria. How do you think the Deepwater Horizon spill will compare?

Peter Maass: It's unlikely the amount leaking into the Gulf of Mexico will come close to what's happened in Nigeria. For Nigeria, a drip-drip scenario over the course of decades has all but destroyed the Niger Delta wetlands. In Ecuador, spilled oil isn't the only problem because billions of gallons of toxic wastewater have been poured into rivers. We need to understand that oil extraction poses a range of hazards--including the burning of natural gas--and spills are just one.

What initially got you interested in the story of oil?

Peter Maass: Much of my writing life involved wars, and oil was often mentioned. "It's all about oil," I was told. Or, "It's not about oil at all." Oil is central to our world, but what role does it play in violent conflicts and the divide between rich and poor? Some excellent books had been published, of course, but mainly for academic or expert readers. I had found my subject--a book that would explain in compelling ways what we do for oil and what oil does to us.

Question: What surprised you most as you were reporting the story?

Peter Maass: Oil, as the topic of a book, defied the norms of interrogation. It doesn't have a voice, body, army or dogma of its own. How do you coax secrets from a liquid? I had to travel around the world and talk to all sorts of people--oilmen, warlords, politicians, economists, geologists, environmentalists, sheikhs, lobbyists, and roughnecks. The subjects we discussed ranged from history to law, corruption, engineering, culture, psychology, and justice. I was journeying through an intellectual as much as a physical world.

Question: What do you see as the most necessary change that needs to be made to begin to curtail the problems associated with oil?

Peter Maass: We need to curtail our appetite for oil. We need to understand--and I hope my book provides some help on this--that our dependence on oil harms the countries that produce it. Violence, poverty, corruption, pollution—these are linked to oil. The Deepwater Horizon disaster reminds us of what has been happening. We need to become more conservation-minded and efficient, and we need to develop renewable energy on a broad scale. For all of us, consumers and suppliers, it will be a long and painful process. But it can be done.

(Photo © Erinn Hartman)

--This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Maass (Love Thy Neighbor) brings fresh detail to a familiar topic in this worrying but never sensationalistic look at the murky world of oil. Supplies of the resource may already have entered a period of rapid decline, with Saudi Arabia, long the world's largest oil producer, possibly passing the peak point of production just as demand from China surges. Maass exposes the staggering destruction oil has wrought in countries less well-known as energy suppliers. The author recounts how the greed of Western oil companies, governments and consumers have propped up such vicious and corrupt dictatorships as that in Equatorial Guinea, where flights run nonstop from the destitute capital to Texas. The author's Toxic Tour of Ecuador uncovers more cause for concern, like the fact that more oil has been spilled into that country's rain forests and stretch of Amazon than were spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. Reported from countries ranging from Russia to Nigeria, Maass's heartfelt and beautifully crafted book reveals how one of oil's darkly magical properties is that it erases inconvenient memories. (Sept. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 Reprint edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400075459
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400075454
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on September 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
One of the ironies of oil-rich countries is that most are not rich, that their oil brings trouble rather than prosperity. Norway is THE outlier to this statement; other less dramatic exceptions are usually tiny nations with disproportionately large reserves - Kuwait, Brunei, and the United Arab Emirates.

Maass goes on to remind readers that world oil production is headed downhill. Most, if not all, OPEC members have exaggerated the size of their reserves to obtain the largest possible quota and revenue. Actual data is kept secret. Houston banker and oil professional Matthew Simmons, however, realized several years ago that credible data were in plain sight - papers presented at Society of Petroleum Engineers conferences. His meta-analysis (first published as "Twilight in the Desert") concluded that "Saudi Arabia clearly seems to be nearing or at its peak output." (Saudi Arabia has a claimed 264 billion barrels of oil reserves, almost 2X that of runner-up Iran; Alaska's ANWAR probably only has ten billion barrels).

Then its on to summaries of conditions in a variety of nations 'blessed' with some degree of oil riches. Equatorial Guinea, population 600,000 and reserves of several hundred million barrels, is first. The hospital Maass visited had no medicine, and there was no medical school to supply it with doctors. Despite billions in foreign investment, the local economy benefited little. For example, it's $1.5 billion natural gas facility was built by foreign workers living on site who sent their paychecks home. Even manual labor - digging ditches, etc., used flown-in foreign workers. Instead of buying cement from a local company that might not deliver on time, a small cement factory was built on site. Raw materials were imported.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a drilling engineer, I have worked in many of the places described in this book, even been to some of the bars mentioned. For the record, Chin, the lady who owns the Shangrila bar in Malabo, is not Chinese, but Korean. Anyway, I find much of what Maass says about peak oil, falsifying reservoir figures, and outright bribing of government officials as very accurate, and coincides with what we in the industry already know. However, what I find unsettling is his tendency to tell many half truths with regard to many of the places he visited. These half truths can only be obvious to one who has been there, as I have, and tend to reduce his credibility in all his other points. For example: His description of Malabo and Bata, Equatorial Guinea was completely misleading, and borderline lies. Both of these small cities have reaped huge benefits from the growth caused by the oil industry. Maass presents them as receiving nothing, with the local people living in total destitution, standing on the sidelines while their corrupt president, and the big oil companies reap all the rewards with no regard for the local community. While some of that premise is true, the rest is not, and nothing could be further from the truth. I spent six years in EG, staging in and out of both Malabo, and Bata countless times. During the six years I was there, I saw tremendous growth. Not just presidential palaces, but a new airport, new soccer stadium, new apartment complexes for the locals, new roads, many other types of buildings, and businesses were built there and thrived. Local workers were used in all of the non-oil construction projects, of which there were many, and even on projects that were directly related to the oil companies.Read more ›
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"We're addicted to oil," said George W. Bush, as though that was some kind of revelation. Well, it actually might be to most Americans. If asked, the majority of the public would probably say they only use oil to fuel their car or heat their home. In fact, oil is the essential ingredient in 100% of all our possessions, and most of our activities. No food is eaten without massive oil inputs. No iPods or flat screen TV's entertain us without oil to make them, deliver them, and fuel them. Even if we all biked to work, the roads themselves are made of oil.

If we actually stop to think about it, our oil need is beyond an addiction, for if the will is there, a junkie can be weaned from his fix. Oil is more like the water a fish swims in, so familiar and so necessary, it's not even noticed. Or, as Peter Maass says in his outstanding book Crude World, oil is oxygen.

In the U.S., we consume 21 million barrels of oil a day, but we produce only about 9 million. The rest comes from other countries - many of which are not our friends, and are not democracies. It is this foreign supply of our daily fix that gets the bulk of Maass's scrutiny, and it's an eye-opener, to say the least, because oil has a paradoxical way of making the people who live in most countries that export it poorer, not richer; the oil curse, as it's called.

With their slick corporate PR campaigns (BP - "Beyond Petroleum") and unlimited lobbying budgets, the oil companies are able to project a high-tech, consumer-friendly image as benign providers of clean energy. That may be mostly true in the United States, with its advanced legal, political, and regulatory system. But what happens to these ostensibly fine corporate citizens when they can extract oil in poor third world countries?
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