Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lisa Margonelli: Oil on the Brain: Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank

From the New America Foundation: Lisa Margonelli writes about the global culture and economy of energy. Her book about the oil supply chain, Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank, was published by Nan Talese/Doubleday in 2007. Recognized as one of the 25 Notable Books of 2007 by the American Library Association, Oil On the Brain also won a 2008 Northern California Book Award for general nonfiction. Ms. Margonelli has been published in The Atlantic, New York Times online, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired, Discover, Salon, Business 2.0, San Francisco Magazine, and California Monthly, among other publications. Her column, "Money Tales," which combined economics and oral history in the San Francisco Chronicle online, won an Excellence in Journalism award from the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists in 2003. In 1999-2000, she was awarded a Sundance Fellowship. She is a graduate of Yale University.

Publisher-provided book-description: Oil on the Brain is a smart, surprisingly funny account of the oil industry—the people, economies, and pipelines that bring us petroleum, brilliantly illuminating a world we encounter every day. Americans buy ten thousand gallons of gasoline a second, without giving it much of a thought. Where does all this gas come from? Lisa Margonelli’s desire to learn took her on a one-hundred thousand mile journey from her local gas station to oil fields half a world away. In search of the truth behind the myths, she wriggled her way into some of the most off-limits places on earth: the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the New York Mercantile Exchange’s crude oil market, oil fields from Venezuela, to Texas, to Chad, and even an Iranian oil platform where the United States fought a forgotten one-day battle. In a story by turns surreal and alarming, Margonelli meets lonely workers on a Texas drilling rig, an oil analyst who almost gave birth on the NYMEX trading floor, Chadian villagers who are said to wander the oil fields in the guise of lions, a Nigerian warlord who changed the world price of oil with a single cell phone call, and Shanghai bureaucrats who dream of creating a new Detroit. Deftly piecing together the mammoth economy of oil, Margonelli finds a series of stark warning signs for American drivers.

Lisa Margonelli recently wrote "Forget About $5 Gas: $3 Gas Is Bad Enough" for the periodical, The Atlantic. The author wrote: James Schlesinger famously said that Americans have two modes when it comes to oil: complacency and panic. This week, it seems, we're having both at the same time. Today the national retail average for gasoline is $3.07 per gallon, which is higher than it's been since 2008. But instead of freaking out about that, the media has been focusing on the possibility of $5 gasoline in 2012, a claim made by former Shell President John Hofmeister. Hofmeister's point (he heads a non-profit called Citizens for Affordable Energy) is that the problem is that we're "essentially frittering at the edges of renewable energy, stifling production in hydrocarbon energy," leading to "blackouts, brownouts, gas lines, rationing." When Platts printed Mr. Hofmeister's predictions the day after Christmas, he became an instant media sensation. Even Platts claimed to be surprised by the ruckus, since Mr. Hofmeister had predicted the same many times before, and it would imply that the price of crude reaches $180 a barrel, which even the boldest analysts think is too high.

In May of 2010, the author, Lisa Margonelli, wrote "A Spill of Our Own" for The New York Times, and said this: THE history of American oil spills is the history of the environmental movement. The 1969 blowout of an oil platform off Santa Barbara, Calif., gave rise to Earth Day as well as President Richard Nixon’s National Environmental Policy Act, and led to a moratorium on new drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. Twenty years later, the spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker near Alaska quashed the first Bush administration’s ambitions for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and ushered in the laws that made oil shippers liable for damage caused by their cargo. Now 5,000 barrels of oil a day are apparently spilling from the wrecked Deepwater Horizon rig off New Orleans, and ghastly floating pads of emulsified oil are reaching the sensitive marshlands and coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, coating birds and fish. On Thursday, as the scent of fuel hovered over New Orleans, residents joked online that they should eat fish now, because they might not be able to again for a while. One longtime offshore oil worker told me this looked like a “game changer,” and he was thinking about finding another line of work.

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