Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Of Oil Tankers, China & the economic shift!

Oil will continue to power global economies in the main for decades  in the absence of a viable alternative taking off meaningfully, but have you given thought to how the crude stuff is moved globally. Odds-on bet would be that an oil tanker springs to mind - that bulky out of sight and out of mind metal behemoth crucial to the movement of oil around the globe. In a fascinating book - Oil on Water by Paul French and Sam Chambers, the reader gets an insight into the tanker transport aspect of the crude supply chain.

As the economic balance of power, most notably manufacturing, shifts to the East, so does traffic in shipping lanes in the general direction of the growing economies of Indian and China, the authors note. Joining their ranks is the age old developed world crude consumer - Japan, and regional oil exporters turned importers from Vietnam to Indonesia.

Club them all together, factor in China's dominance, bring out the empirical and anecdotal evidence, and the rise in South and East Asia's growing imports of the bulk of two trillion tons of black gold moving across global shipping lanes is becoming increasing visible. In this concise book of just over 200 pages, split by 10 chapters, French and Chambers begin by describing why the uninterrupted flow of oil is essential to globalisation and increasingly so as manufacturing and markets move Eastwards to Asia.

The book is part narrative, part reportage, part case study and part history. The authors switch seamlessly between describing their first hand experience on-board a crude carrying vessel, the history of the business and geopolitical concerns. Central to it all are the buzzwords of the modern day crude business - "energy security." It's what makes Indian and Chinese strategic planners wake up and smell the coffee, it's what American politicians are increasingly paranoid about and it's what some regimes bank on as a political tool.

China's cravings are growing by the year. Where and how these tankers are loaded, their modus operandi, security concerns, business hiccups and finally their centrality to the crude business it seems is only in the global subconscious. French and Chambers deserve to be applauded for raising the issue via this book. Both authors have gone one step further; they have raised issues of potential alarm from infrastructure to piracy, from environmental concerns to conflict which could disrupt a crucial traffic flow which we take for granted and seldom see firsthand.

A discussion on life without oil, the economic shift eastwards, piracy and pipeline politics are all there in this book and in some detail accompanied by facts and figures to substantiate the authors' case. It is one the best books the Oilholic has read on the subject and a must read for anyone interested in the energy business, geopolitics and movement of crude oil. It touches on a much ignored yet supremely crucial component of the movement of crude oil. Many make assumptions about it; few care to talk about it. Hence, the authors of this book have done us all a service.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Front Cover - Oil on Water © Zed Books

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