Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Jenz Book O'the Decade

We're instituting a new feature here at Buddhist in the Bible Belt: recommending books we've read lately and suggesting that you read them, too, so that you, too, will be cool, well-informed and a proud supporter of the print press. (Both of you.) We'll call it "Book o'the Decade" until we think of another catchy name.

That said, if you're wondering why gas is so darn expensive, if you drive a car, use plastics, put food in Styrofoam containers, cook with natural gas, or you think that suing OPEC to force them to increase production is a good idea, you need to read this book. Yes, it's highly technical, but it's still pretty darn readable, coming as it does from an investment banker who's spent his entire career dealing with oil companies and commodity futures. Among the questions it answers is why pumping more oil won't solve anything and might in fact make everything worse (Hey, can somebody send a copy to Rep. Steve Kenyan? Thanks). Why most of the oil produced by Saudi Arabia doesn't end up as gasoline in your car (it's all about how sweet is your crude). Why the Saudis aren't all rich princes with more money than sense who buy four identical houses in four different countries so no matter where they go, they're still home (sort of true in the 1950s but definitely not true anymore). And most importantly, why my uncle Al was completely wrong when he came back from Riyadh and announced that there was enough oil out there to run the entire planet for thousands of years. (Sorry, Al, God rest your soul.)

I first read about Matthew Simmons in Texas Monthly's annual issue on The Future and liked him immediately. He lives in Houston, he's Mormon and he's, well, an investment banker in the oil industry. Apart from being Mormon, there's nothing to make him particularly likeable (all Mormons are unbelievably nice; it's probably genetic), but in the article at least, he came across as bright, funny, articulate and, well, someone that ought to be listened to. So, listen to the guy, already. And then you can hop over to and buy all the books that say he's wrong.

I also have a bias, here. I love reading books about Saudi Arabia. I think I have an unrequited crush on the entire Middle East. As I once said to a rather startled colleague, I dig Muslims. They're awesome. Something about the way they pray in public and have sex in private, instead of the other way around. That and the whole "if God wills it" thing that they seem to take very seriously. I mean, you hear people say, "God willing" once in a while, but if you hear a Muslim say it (even if it's a casually dropped Inshallah to his wife over the cell phone about what time he'll be home), he/she probably really means it. These folks pray when they get up in the morning, before they start work, before meals and four other official times during the day. I realize this is hard to do in a society that's done its level best to pretend it doesn't have a state religion; it's probably easier in Saudi Arabia. Still, wow. Imagine what your life would be like if everything you ever did was for the glory of God. Okay, that may not be true of every single Muslim everywhere but boy, it sure looks like that to this slightly jealous outsider, who has never been that positive about anything, ever.

Anyway, get the book, folks. Try your local library.


C.I. said...

FYI, said "local public library" has seven copies available to circulate (one was withdrawn). So what are you waiting for?

Jen Ster said...

Indeed--and here I went and bought one, like a fool.

David Isaak said...

Actually, it's not about how sweet (low-sulfur) the crude is, but how light (API gravity). And it depends vitally on the composition of the naphtha (90-330 F boiling range) of the crude.

But most crudes don't yield very much gasoline directly in any case. The majority of gasoline in the US is produced from catalytic cracking of the fuel oil cut plus catalytic reforming of the naphtha cut.

But, you're right--too many Americans equate crude oil and gasoline. It's far more complicated than that.

As you might guess from all of the foregoing, this stuff is my day job.

Jen Ster said...

Oh. My. God. Are you serious?! I've been reading about this stuff for weeks and I have tons of questions. Actually, watch this spot because my uncle the oil prospector/geologist just sent me a really interesting, comprehensive bunch of answers to my first batch of questions...

David Isaak said...

Yeah, I'm afraid that's my gig. My MA thesis was on the world tanker industry. My dissertation was on the Mideast petrochemical industry. I was just in London last week as a consultant to a Sasol-Chevron joint venture that wants to build a natural-gas-to-liquids plant in Indonesia.

~Sigh~. And to think I started out in solar...