The Age of Oil: The Mythology, History, and Future of the World's Most Controversial Resource

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The Age of Oil: The Mythology, History, and Future of the World's Most Controversial Resource

By Leonardo Maugeri
Praeger, 2007
360 pp. $49.95

This informative book is really two in one: a concise treatment of the checkered but fascinating history of the oil industry, from Edwin Drake's first successful well and John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust to post-Saddam Iraq, and an extended nontechnical essay on the myths and misconceptions that have come to surround this important commodity. As senior vice president of Eni, the Italian oil firm, the author is an industry insider, but he draws on a wide range of scholarship and writes persuasively and well. The history he tells establishes that the oil industry has been subject to booms and busts since its inception (and to efforts to suppress competition to reduce that volatility). The essay argues that the current boom, too, will pass, as past "shortages" have, and be followed by a potential surplus. "Peak oil," the supposed impending exhaustion of oil, is given deservedly rough treatment, at least insofar as it is meant to imply an exhaustion of liquid fuels. "Oil independence" is given similarly critical treatment, as is the use by anyone of the "oil weapon" for any but the briefest period. Past projections of oil production also come in for critical scrutiny, as do U.S. energy policies. High oil prices induce a search for new oil, substitutes for oil, and methods to conserve oil, efforts that are all relaxed when oil prices are low. The author avers that in the long run oil prices will be in the range of $30-$32 a barrel so long as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries continues to limit its output but that wide fluctuations around this range will continue.

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