I got an email a little while ago that contained a suggested reading list from Jack Rafuse, former energy adviser to the Nixon administration and the current head of Rafuse Consulting. He is an independent consultant on energy and trade issues who apparently enjoys reading books about oil and gas. The email offers Rafuse’s “summer reading list” of books that give historical perspective to America’s current energy policy debates. I am an avid reader; so I was interested to take a look at his choices and see which of them I had already read. As it turned out, I’m reading one of them now. Since I think Rafuse has made some well-considered selections, I’m passing them along. So without further ado, here are his book list and short reviews. Ida M. Tarbell, History of the Standard Oil Company (1904) -- “Muckraking” at its best; more thorough and data-based than most of today’s “investigative journalism.” As a youngster in the young years of the industry Tarbell was convinced that her father’s company was victimized by J. D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. Later, as a well-known author and journalist she made the case against Standard Oil’s methods. Like an auditor, she examined thousands of pages of documents and data. She interviewed all who would talk about the company’s dealings, and wrote a 19-installment series in McLure’s Magazine, from 1902 to 1904. The resultant book helped inspire President Teddy Roosevelt’s Trust-Busting efforts. Anthony Sampson, The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World that they Shaped (1975) traces the growth, “character” and image of international US and British/Dutch companies, the rise of OPEC and its Oil Weapon before and after the Arab Oil Embargo (1973-1974). The best-seller familiarized Americans with the Seven Sisters and may have strengthened the view (Sampson never made the charge) that the companies were responsible for the gasoline lines and shortages. Later academic and government studies concluded that the lines were due to the Nixon Administration’s price controls (no other nation had price controls, no other nation had gasoline lines); the studies didn’t change minds; oil and gasoline prices (and no other) continued under government regulation for several years. Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (1990) givesthe history of the oil industry from before the first successful well until Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Timeliness and topicality helped the book to huge sales and a Pulitzer Prize, but some critics argue that it is less objective than Sampson’s book and call it too sympathetic to the oil industry. It was subsequently made into a documentary TV series, ensuring an even wider audience. It is more inclusive than The Seven Sisters; the two should be updated and read together (or sequentially). J. Howard Marshall, II, Done in Oil: An Autobiography of J. Howard Marshall, II (1994) is a lesson for our times. Marshall was a lawyer, university professor, an oil executive, a Federal regulator who helped the US win World War II, and a man who contributed significantly in many roles. Early on, at Harold Ickes’ Department of Interior he was the primary author of the Connally Hot Oil Act, regulating the flow of oil among the states. He later worked for Standard Oil of California (Chevron – one of the Seven Sisters) and its law firm; early in World War II he was named Solicitor of the Petroleum Administration for War, and was directly involved in setting policies that enabled the US to fuel the world’s war efforts over the next several years. Marshall’s career made clear that responsible people can work in industry at times and as regulators at other times, and serve their country at all times. Matthew Simmons, Twilight in the Desert: the Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy (2005) -- parallels the theory of the late geophysicist M. King Hubbert, who calculated that world oil production would peak by about 1970 and be fading by the end of the 20th Century. Simmons, an energy financier, focuses on Saudi Arabia (credited with about 20% of Proved World Oil Reserves); his analysis of hundreds of field studies over decades raises considerable doubt that the Saudis will produce 20 million to 25 million barrels per day of crude oil by 2030 (they were at 10 million in 2004). His title makes clear his conclusions but he does not despair or urge a Green Manhattan Project. He calls for policies that: impart better data on reserves, calculate costs nations are willing to bear to extend conventional oil supplies, modify consumption patterns, tighten emission and control regulations, and develop new technologies and alternative forms of energy. He urges these steps in the interest of long-term stability and security, recognizing the need for Mid-East nations to alter their outlook and behavior in light of the coming “Twilight.”
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