June 3, 2010
Staff Picks: Oil: "A Uniquely Human Story"
Very timely, Tom Bower's eighteenth book, Oil: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century, was released by the Grand Central Publishing house today. It is a riveting story of the last twenty years in oil exploration and speculation. I don't often quote press releases, but this book's is spot on:
Oil is a story of intrigue, of greed, of arrogance, and extreme risk. It is the story of the crushing rivalries between men and women exploring for oil five miles beneath the sea, battling for control of the world's biggest corporations and gambling billions of dollars twenty-four hours every day on oil's prices.In the book, Bower writes that "Risk is the oxygen of oil companies." And when speaking of BP's bid for leases in the Gulf in the second chapter, "The Exporer," he tells the story of the Thunder Horse Oil Fields, which the Deepwater Horizon—the drilling rig at the heart of the current spill—had drilled wells in:
Potentially, the only profitable activity was deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but hiring rigs to drill to a new-record 7,625 feet below the seabed and bore down to 12,000 feet cost $200,000 a day. New rigs were being designed to moor in over 10,000 feet of water an drill nearly 30,000 feet into the rock. [...] The unanswered question was, where precisely to drill a 12-inch hole four miles through the rock?Well, they found the right place to drill, and one billion barrels of oil—the largest discovery ever in the Gulf. Bower continues discussing the find (along with the crisis that ensued after Hurricane Dennis left the platform listing) and Big Oil's failure to improve its public image:
Ever since nearly 11 million gallons of oil had spilled from the tanker the Exxon Valdez into Alaska's pristine waters in March 1989, the public's antagonism toward Big Oil had become entrenched. [...] Few appreciated that Thunder Horse would fractionally reduce America's dependence on imported oil, which provided 60 percent of its daily consumption ... the oil companies, apparently ambitious for ever more power while remaining unresponsive to the public, were neither understood nor trusted.That trust now seems nearly impossible to recapture, but with Bower's help, you can at least understand what forces shaped the oil industry over the last twenty years. For further reading, check out Why We Hate Oil Companies by the former President of Shell Oil Company, John Hofmeister.