Want to Know More: Oil

THE BASICS •Topping any reading list on energy is the new edition of Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008). It’s "required reading for anyone wanting to get an informed perspective on the evolution of the modern oil industry," says Foreign Policy editor in chief Moisés ...


•Topping any reading list on energy is the new edition of Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008). It’s "required reading for anyone wanting to get an informed perspective on the evolution of the modern oil industry," says Foreign Policy editor in chief Moisés Naím. On Yergin’s own bookshelf is Leonardo Maugeri’s The Age of Oil: The Mythology, History, and Future of the World’s Most Controversial Resource (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2006). Maugeri argues that ups and downs are embedded in the economic history of oil — and politicians who panic stand to make the booms and busts even worse.

•David Victor, Amy Myers Jaffe, and Mark Hayes ask whether natural gas could be the "new oil," in Natural Gas and Geopolitics: From 1970 to 2040 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). "Not just because I was an editor," Jaffe adds, "this is the best and only book on this important topic." Such analysis will prove even more pertinent if David Goodstein gets it right in Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), where he predicts that oil will run out in just a decade. For a change of pace, Yergin recommends the story of journalist Wanda Jablonski, whose groundbreaking work in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s not only helped demystify the oil industry but also changed it. Her story — of a woman who broke through to the top of what had been a man’s world — is told in Anna Rubino’s Queen of the Oil Club: The Intrepid Wanda Jablonski and the Power of Information (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008).

•"The best book out right now," according to Jaffe, is Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon’s Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Lisa Margonelli’s Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipeline (New York: Doubleday, 2007) makes the oil industry feel real for the everyday consumer, tracing petrol’s journey from ground to gas tank.

•For the evolving role of national oil companies, see the book by Valerie Marcel of Chatham House, Oil Titans: National Oil Companies in the Middle East (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2006). "Sometimes, people forget that the oil business is also about science and engineering," Yergin says. For a good clear guide to how oil actually gets produced, he recommends Martin S. Raymond and William L. Leffler’s Oil and Gas Production in Nontechnical Language (Tulsa: PennWell, 2006).


•What if the United States made ending dependence on oil its true priority No. 1? U.S. Assistant Energy Secretary David Sandalow imagines this scenario in one of Yergin’s picks, Freedom from Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States’ Oil Addiction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008). To think about breaking the carbon addiction, contributor Michael Grunwald turns to a 2007 pamphlet from Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy. Tim Searchinger’s work on biofuels, including his analyses for the German Marshall Fund where he is a fellow, also gets Grunwald’s recommendation.

•For what Jaffe dubs a "good overview of the security challenges coming from the sources of U.S. oil supply," see the Council on Foreign Relations report from John Deutch, James R. Schlesinger, and David G. Victor, "National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency." Yergin points readers to the National Petroleum Council’s report "Facing the Hard Truths About Energy." Looking 30 years out, the study suggests that coal and natural gas will remain vital in coming years, that energy independence is different from energy security, and that a knowledge gap could arise when a whole generation of baby-boomer professionals in the energy sector soon retires.


•Terry Karl was among the first to "detail the mechanisms through which dependence on oil distorts the politics and economics of a country," says Naím; Karl’s The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) is a classic. A "foundational study" also came from Jeffrey D. Sachs and Andrew M. Warner, says Peter Maass; that 1995 working paper is "Natural Resource Abundance and Economic Growth." Maass adds that "anything by Paul Collier is invaluable" on this topic, including a book the prizewinning British economist coedited with Ian Bannon, Natural Resources and Violent Conflict: Options and Actions (Washington: World Bank, 2003).

•Oil’s "curse" has played out differently across the world, including in Ecuador, where Joe Kane’s Savages (New York: Knopf, 1995) offers "a nicely written look at how oil extraction affected indigenous people in Ecuador’s Amazon," Maass says. For a sense of the African oil experience, read journalist John Ghazvinian’s Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil (Orlando: Harcourt, 2007) or Ken Saro-Wiwa’s autobiographical A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), the piercing account of a Nigerian environmental activist who was later executed for his work.

Escaping the Resource Curse, edited by Macartan Humphreys, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and Joseph E. Stiglitz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), is "the best compendium of our current knowledge about what options are available to mitigate the effects of the resource curse," says Naím. Global Witness, a London-based advocacy organization, "should win a Nobel Peace Prize for the amazing investigative work they’ve done on the impact of resource extraction in the developing world," Maass says.


•The Web site of Yergin’s IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates offers events, publications, and expert commentary. The International Energy Agency’s flagship publication, "World Energy Outlook," is highly anticipated by industry professionals each year. The latest domestic and international statistics are available through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. Another source of statistics as well as the oil industry’s perspective is the Web site of the American Petroleum Institute.

•Several universities run notable programs that study energy. Yergin recommends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, where you can find such treasures as a list of the latest energy innovations: a virus that powers car batteries, for example, or a new mapping system that creates images of underground oil reserves. The Baker Institute Energy Forum at Rice University, where Jaffe is a fellow, runs a series of research programs and on-the-ground studies worth seeing; spin through photos of an energy sustainability project in Lesotho or read catalogued congressional testimony on the latest oil debates. Harvard University’s Energy Technology Innovation Project focuses on three big consumers of oil: the United States, China, and India.

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