Many of the reviewers beforehand indicated that they were industry professionals with several intro. texts and comprehensive introductions to the petroleum industry already in their bookshelves. I am not one of them. I approached OIL 101 as a complete rookie who was almost completely ignorant of the details and scope of the petroleum industry, but who had lots of questions.
Some of the questions I had (and were gloriously answered) in this wonderfully helpful book include:
. How did there get to be only about half a dozen major privately owned integrated oil companies in the world? (Mergermania, plus the fact that most OPEC nations and a large number of non-OPEC nations have nationalized their oil companies.)
. Does this "Big Oil" run the show as far as global exploration and production of crude is concerned? (Hardly: a number of OPEC countries have several times the reserves of Exxon-Mobil and the other big shareholder-owned corporations, no matter how those "proven" reserves are measured). Even non-OPEC "Pemex" (Petroleos Mexicanos) has reserves that outstrip those of the biggest Major, Exxon-Mobil.
. Why is it that the U.S. Northeast Coast is reliably served by oil pipelines carrying both "dirty" (crude) and "clean" (refined) petroleum up from the Gulf of Mexico, yet New England still depends on overseas tankers (complicated!).
. Is it true that the world has begun to run out of oil? (Apparently, yes, says author Morgan Downey, who holds to the "Hubbert Thesis" that about 30 - 40 years after a country has peaked in established reserves of crude oil, its output will start to slide -- irrevocably.) Reserves in the USA peaked in the 1930s, output peaked in 1970, and total U.S. production (even including Alaska) has been sloping downward ever since. This is especially scary since the evidence indicates that some of the biggest "bigs" -- the nationalized ones -- deliberately bumped up and overinflated their reserve estimates in the 1980s so that they could pump and sell more crude under OPEC quotas. But many countries are acting as though the easy-to-drill oil is getting scarce. Saudi Arabia, no. 1 in reserves, has started drilling for oil offshore. No country with access to huge amounts of crude on dry land is going to go offshore -- it's too expensive.
. Is it true that most of the plain old American 87 octane gasoline for cars is a generic commodity and goes through the pipelines as such? (Yes.) Is it true that any distinguishing features such as cleansing or performance-improvement additives, and color, are added to the gasoline right before distribution at the local level? (Again, Yes.) In fact, large shipments of 87 octane from multiple suppliers routinely go through the Texas - New Jersey Colonial Pipeline without being batched -- the quantity is measured coming out and since there is very little commingling, it all shakes out regardless.
. Does this mean it's largely irrelevant to the market if you decide to punish one Major Oil Co. in particular by refusing to buy their product at retail? (It makes very little difference -- again, what's put in and what come out may well have different suppliers and recipients.) Is it true that retail sellers of gasoline are usually independent entrepreneurs whose markup on the actual gasoline is only a few pennies a gallon? (Sadly, yes.)
Unsurprisingly given all this, Downey believes that in the near future we are going to witness:
. continued flaky and unreliable crude reserves estimates coming from the OPEC countries;
. increasing difficulty in drilling and procuring crude oil, especially offshore;
. ever more expensive and elaborate methods to suck up, blow out, flood out, or otherwise squeeze as much oil as possible from dying wells, both on- and offshore;
. and a likely lessening in the number of "branded" filling stations by the five of six majors who sell gasoline at retail here in the USA (Exxon-Mobil, BP, Shell, Chevron and Conoco-Phillips), because retail is the most commodified and least profitable segment of vertically integrated oil, as opposed to upstream exploration and drilling. (That aspect being the most risky, I need hardly say.)
There is so much more that Downey covers, including enough geology that we can understand where oil is worth prospecting for, and where not; a chemical assay of crude oil and its trip through (chiefly U.S.) refining with its emphasis on "catalytic cracking"; and in fact what happens to those hydrocarbon molecules that they can wind up in products as disparate as aviation gasoline, retail automotive gasoline, jet fuel, bitumen (from which asphalt is made), and olefins, and plastics, and so on and on. He further covers US environmental laws, the many, many ways there are to drill for oil (and the increasingly complex construction of deepwater rigs), the many ways that speculators and Big Oil can hedge risk (it just starts with options and gets madely derivative at times), and whether a national reliance on ethanol was a sound choice (Well....).
I do wish Downey had spent a little more time on natural gas (or as he chemically and correctly calls it, "methane") past the point of getting it ready for the natural-gas pipeline, but I understand as an author he had to draw the line somewhere. All in all OIL 101 is an amazingly fact-filled and interesting 433 pages of Things Petroleum; it even has a very useful and comprehensive Index. Now, if you are looking for politics and drama in your oil, there are many books that tackle the issue that way (I would recommend in particular THE PRIZE by Daniel Yergin). But if you want the facts, up straight, comprehensively, logically explained and understandable to the layman but not dumbed down, you should buy OIL 101. With similar intro books and texts selling for two to three times as much, it's quite a bargain, too!