Showing posts with label power. Show all posts
Showing posts with label power. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A historical perspective on oil and world power

Throughout his illustrious career, academic Peter Randon Odell enriched the available oil and gas market commentary and analysis of his time, writing close to 20 books and numerous research papers. In 1970, Odell wrote arguably one of his most authoritative works on the subject – Oil and World Power. He went on to update and revise it no less than eight times with the last imprint reaching bookshelves in 1986.

After over two decades, the old master’s insight is available once again via a Routledge reprint, under its Routledge Revivals Initiative which aims to re-print academic works that have long been unavailable. While the publisher’s hunt for scholarly reprints is rewinding the clock back to the last 120 years, the Oilholic is not the least bit surprised that Odell’s most popular work is among the first to roll off Routledge’s printing presses for 2013 under the Revivals Initiative.

It was Odell who was among the first to catalogue the oil industry’s commercial clout and pragmatically noted in this book that the oil and gas business was one which no country could do without given the inextricable link between industrialisation and fossil fuels.

Above anything else, this reprinted book offers Odell’s insight on the oil and gas business as it had evolved up and until the 1980s, pre-dating the corporate birth of ExxonMobil, the collapse of the Soviet Union, America’s shale bonanza and resource nationalism to the extent we see today. This in itself makes the reprint of Oil and World Power invaluable.

The reader gets a glimpse of energy hegemony as it was up and until the 1980s and Odell’s insight on issues of the day. From OPEC soundbites to the anxieties of consuming nations, from the decline of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to the rise of National Oil Companies (NOCs) – it’s all there, coupled with changing patterns of oil supply and the dramatic fall in oil prices in 1986.

Yet, Odell’s conclusions in this book, of just over 300 pages split by 11 chapters, sound eerily similar; a sort of a forerunner to what industry commentators are mulling over in this day and age. In fact, the deep links, which he refers to in this book, between oil and gas extraction, conflict, resource nationalism, global politics and economic prowess are as entrenched as ever.

After discussing the bigger picture, the author goes on to offer a fair bit of forward-thinking conjecture on the relationship between the oil and gas business and economic development. There are also subtle hints at the resource curse hypothesis – a discussion which was hardly mainstream in the 1980s but is hotly debated these days.

This reprint bears testimony to the brilliance of Odell in tacking such issues head on. It would be of immense value to students of energy economics, industrial studies, international development, geopolitics and political hegemony. But above all, those looking to probe the history of the oil and gas business must certainly reach out for this engaging volume. 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front Cover – Oil and World Power © Routledge

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An arduously researched book on ‘crude’ Russia

When looking up written material on the Russian oil and gas industry, you are (more often than not) likely to encounter clich├ęs or exaggerations. Some would discuss chaos in wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs as a typical “Russian” episode of corruption and greed – yet fail to address the underlying causes that led to it. Others would indulge in an all too familiar Russia bashing exercise without concrete articulation. Amidst a cacophony of mediocre analysis, academic Thane Gustafson’s splendid work – Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia – not only breaks the mould but smashes it to pieces. This weighty, arduously researched book of just under 700 pages split by 13 chapters does justice to the art of scrutiny when it comes to examining this complex oil and gas exporting jurisdiction; a rival of Saudi Arabia for the position of the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil.
 
It is about power, it is about money, it is about politics but turning page after page, you would realise Gustafson is subtly pointing out that it is a battle for Russia’s ‘crude’ soul. In order to substantiate his arguments, the book is full of views of commentators, maps, charts and tables and over 100 pages of footnotes. The narrative switches seamlessly from discussing historical facts to the choices Russia’s political classes and the country’s oil industry face in this day and age.
 
The complex relationship between state and industry, from the Yeltsin era to Putin’s rise is well documented and in some detail along with an analysis of what it means and where it could lead. In a book that the Oilholic perceives as the complete package on the subject, it is hard to pick favourite passages – but two chapters stood out in particular.
 
Early on in the narrative, Gustafson charts the birth of Russian oil majors Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz and Yukos (and the latter’s dismembering too). Late on in the book, the author examines Russia’s (current) accidental oil champion Rosneft. Both passages not only sum up the fortunes of Russian companies and how they have evolved (or in Yukos’ case faced corporate extinction) but also sum up prevailing attitudes within the Kremlin.
 
What’s more, as crude oil becomes harder and more expensive to extract and Russian production dwindles, Gustafson warns that the country’s current level of dependence on revenue from oil is unsustainable and that it simply must diversify.
 
Overall, the Oilholic is inclined to feel that this book is one of the most authoritative work on Russia and its oil industry, a well balanced critique with substantiated arguments and one which someone interested in geopolitics would appreciate as much as an enthusiast of energy economics.
 
This blogger is happy to recommend Wheel of Fortune to readers interested in Russia, the oil and gas business, geopolitics, economics, current affairs and last but certainly not the least – those seeking a general interest non-fiction book on a subject they haven’t visited before. As for the story seekers, given that it’s Russia, Gustafson has more that few tales to narrate all right, but fiction they aren’t. Fascinating and brilliantly written they most certainly are!
 
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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front cover - Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia © Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.