Oil on the Brain

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 February, 2008, 12:00am

Oil on the Brain

by Lisa Margonelli

Broadway Books, HK$120

Recent books have tracked the life cycles of everything from French fries to cotton T-shirts and rubbish. Oil on the Brain exposes 'petroleum's long, strange trip to your tank'. But this is no factory-line account. The discursive meander begins at a petrol station near author Lisa Margonelli's home in San Francisco, then ventures backwards, to an oil wholesaler, a refinery and a drilling rig. The four-year journey also takes in the New York Mercantile Exchange crude market, to show how prices are set, as well as petrostates such as Venezuela, Chad, Iran and Nigeria. It includes what seems like a side trip to Beijing and Shanghai, where Margonelli checks out an alternative-fuel, low-emissions vehicle contest and emerges hopeful that China's insatiable hunger for energy will bolster its attempt to lead the world in energy efficiency. She concludes 'there is no such thing as cheap gas'. She means whatever you pay per gallon it is costing someone else more, in terms of human-rights violations and air pollution, among other things. Margonelli has struck (black) gold with this readable volume, although Daniel Yergin's The Prize continues to be the benchmark against which books on the subject are judged.