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Oil on the Brain: Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank Paperback – February 12, 2008
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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.
Lisa Margonelli takes the reader on a long journey through the serpentine infrastructure of mighty oil. Along the way, Margonelli describes and uncovers the irony, the blood politics, the sheer oppressive scope of what it takes to get oil from point A to point B: A sort of reverse engineering to dispirited communities, hopeful venues, nations on the brink of crippling crisis and even great fortunes. From somewhere far, far away and remote to your swollen gas tank.
Aside from spending time in New York, California and Texas, Margonelli treks her way to Chad, Venezuela, Niger, Iran, and China.
You can't have your oil and the price of that fill-up without some history; most of it is boom and bust, bloody, contentious and conniving. The price of gas reflects all these things and more: A convoluted national infrastructure, involvement with petty warlords, a dubious foreign policy, and environmental impact. We love our cars and our roads to somewhere. The price to get to that "somewhere" is something to contemplate in more ways than one.
There is a chapter on the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) which I will admit I knew some of. Margonelli goes into greater detail and I did learn a thing or two. I found it to be very interesting. A chapter on the New York Mercantile Exchange, where oil is traded, is also very informative and revealing.
Overall, I appreciated Margonelli's balanced and vivid writing style. I found her to be fair and straight-forward.
This book is highly recommended.
Ms. Margonelli somehow managed to charm her way into interviews (lasting in some cases days and weeks) with figures including Nigerian warlords, Iranian oil engineers, and even the legendary Michel Halbouty. These are intermingled with accounts of exploding electricity boxes, death-defying rides on Nigerian motorbike taxis, fearless walks in Tehran narrowly avoiding maniac car drivers, etc. But there are also clear explanations of the economics and engineering of oil, from the NYMEX to an oil field in Chad, with a huge number of footnotes referencing sources like the WSJ, NY Times, and UN and World Bank reports.
I would roughly categorize the book as "Maureen Dowd meets Daniel Yergen" (with apologies to both of whom I am a big fan...)