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Over a Barrel: Breaking the Middle East Oil Cartel Hardcover – August 18, 2005

2.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Raymond J. Learsy made his life in the fast-paced, risk-filled world of commodities trading, beginning in 1959. In 1963, he started his own firm and over twenty years expanded from the U.S. into Canada, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Brazil, and Pakistan, trading in an array of bulk raw materials and commodities, shipping to customers worldwide. His richly-informed analysis of the international oil trade, OPEC, and its impact on the American and world economy has been featured in National Review Online and the New York Times.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson; First edition. edition (August 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595550364
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595550361
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,456,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard Heinberg on September 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As the author of two books on Peak Oil, I admit to having a bias. Even so, I'd be happy to discuss Learsy's book in an even-handed way, questioning his arguments by stating counter-arguments, and supporting those with data. However, it is impossible to do this because Learsy makes no real effort to mount a scientific case in favor of his cornucopian assertions about plentiful oil for decades to come.

Instead, what he offers in his chapter "debunking" peak oilers is logical fallacy upon logical fallacy, with nary a fact to break the monotony. His favorite form of fallacy is the straw man: he attacks geologists like Hubbert, Campbell, and Laherrere for predicting that global oil production will follow a smooth bell curve--when NONE of them does so. He also says that most of the Peak Oil authors work for the oil companies or for oil-producing countries. How about some examples? I know just about every significant Peak Oil author (except Hubbert, who is deceased) and I can only think of one out of maybe a dozen who fits Learsy's description--which, if it were accurate, might lead the reader to think that Peak Oil authors have ulterior motives. These are just two examples out of many. It is really frustrating to see what should be a scientific discussion brought down to the equivalent of name-calling--evidently because the author has no actual evidence with which to argue his case.

Now to the author's primary assertion: that OPEC is gouging the world by imposing high oil prices. In fact, for most of its history OPEC has bent over backwards to supply oil at prices agreeable to Washington. The Saudis even let go of billions in potential earnings in the 1980s in order to flood the world with cheap crude so as to help bankrupt the USSR (it worked)--all to cozy up to George H. W.
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Format: Hardcover
The reason that many of the negative reviews of this book have been of the 'snide' variety reflects (I hope) not so much the fact that the Bush administration is implicated in Learsy's conspiracy theory but that the book ignores the facts surrounding the story. If there is a political slant, I would argue that it is the inevitable American xenophobia that often creeps into political discourse in times of trouble.

As other reviewers have noted, the facts of the global supply/demand environment do not match with what Learsy is selling. He uses no facts to prop up his arguments that OPEC is gouging the US because the facts point to the opposite:

Consensus estimates show that OPEC is producing at as close to full capacity as possible (98%-99%). There is likely a small amount of production that is shut-in in Saudi Arabia but it is high-sulphur, low gravity (heavy) oil that wouldn't suit US refineries even if it was shipped. These numbers are readily available from any major investment firm or publicly from the International Energy Agency.

Secondly, Learsy conveniently ignores the fact that oil producers are price takers. Because oil is a global commodity, it is the international market that sets prices and as anyone who has been following commodity markets over the past five years has seen, the growing economies of Asia have been hungry for as much product as they can get their hands on. It is these competing buyers going after a finite supply that have sent the prices to current levels. OPEC has not been able to set prices since 2001 when there was still a surplus of global supplies and OPEC had spare capacity.

Finally, OPEC members may be corrupt but they are not stupid. Extremely high oil prices are a potential liability for these countries.
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Format: Hardcover
Probably $60 and $70 oil brings the pundit out in all of us, but there seems to be three books that are percolating to the top of public consciousness that attempt to explain the rising cost of oil. "Hubberts Peak" speculates that worldwide oil supplies are peaking. The author employs his background in geology to explain the physical conditions necessary for the creation of oil and gas, and concludes that no new gigantic fields are likely to be found. He then uses statistics to predict the oil supply peak that will soon occur. The second book, "Twilight in the Desert" was written by a Houston Investment banker who has been to Saudi Arabia, and uses his knowlege of the oil industry to predict that the Saudi oil fields are old and will soon peak and begin to decline. Both authors use facts and skillful analysis to support their conclusions. I don't know if I agree with them, but at least their assertions are cogent and fact-based.

The third of this troika is "Over a Barrel." I would desperately like to read a logical, fact-laced book that counters the assertions of the other two books. Unfortunately, this is not it. The author has some kind of wierd paronoia that OPEC is in cahoots with George Bush and his oil cronies in devious activities to keep oil prices sky high despite a world supposedly awash in oil. He bases his arguments on his success as a successful commodities trader. He does not, however, base it on facts. He never addresses the belief held by most economists that cartels always eventually fail due to cheating. He never seriously considers that oil supplies may be peaking and that demand may be surging. For example, the IEA estimated last year that world oil demand would increase by 1%. Instead, it is increasing at 2%. That's 1.
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