To show the seriousness of Rachel’s book, let me offer an early quote from the introduction:
“… the oil and gas industry is essentially a big casino that can produce both power and great gobs of cash, often with little regard for merit. That equation invites gangsterism, extortion, thuggery and the sorts of folks who enjoy these hobbies. Its practitioners have been lumbering across the globe of late, causing mindless damage and laying the ground for the global catastrophe that is the climate crisis but also reordering short-term geopolitics in a strong-but-dumb survival contest that renders everything we think of as politics as just theater. It’s worth understanding why. And why now.”From Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Maddow
A brief history of oil, which is basically Rockefeller’s Standard Oil (eventually Exxon), it’s cheating shenanigans and finally a court-ordered breakup, which actually benefited the man. To include the mad and failed use of an atomic bomb to coax along some oil exploration along the way, the book gives what at first seems a standard Chamber of Commerce portrait of the young, daring entrepreneurs that brought us fracking.
It doesn’t take long to get to the gist though, the corruption of Oklahoma by oil drilling and then fracking. Oklahoma city has a nice visual to show who owns it. Oil rigs sit prettily pumping on the State House lawn. It took 25,000 angry Oklahomans showing up at that State House, threatening to turn the state blue, before the bought-and-paid for Republicans administration agreed to tax the oil industry such that schools could operate, teacher salaries and safer schools, highways could be repaired and the “general welfare” might have a small voice in Oklahoma affairs, heretofore excluded for many years.
The industry’s overseas operations were a tad more controllable, what with one-stop-shopping dictators to pay off and all those pesty unions and demonstrators and malnourished population set aside, out of sight, burdened with the usual torture and death squads. New Guinea is Rachel’s prime example of that, though Russia isn’t far off. The explosive story of Putin’s rise to power is laid out. Seems he was the KGB/chief gangster running St. Petersburg when a Moscow prosecutor went after the eminently corrupt President Yeltsin and family. Putin intervened, faking a sex video claiming to star that very same prosecutor, who then was forced to resign. In gratitude Yeltsin turned it all over to Putin. And here we are. Putin chose, instead of building a nice capitalist-safe competitive state, to roll up all competitors, the oligarchs Yeltsin left, and install incompetent business but handily ruthless cohorts in their place, those who wouldn’t demonstrate proper ball-playing behavior. A case in point: Mickail Khodorkovsky won control of Russia’s chief oil company, Yukos. He was highly competent, making it a force and, his mistake, feeling he could challenge Putin. For this he suffered Putin’s slogan, “For my friends, everything, for my enemies, the Law.” Nine years in prison and stripped of his wealth Khodorkovsky became irrelevant except as a lesson to the other oligarchs. Probably the key to Putin’s now being the richest man on earth. His treachery and betrayal was common knowledge though less known were his extra money-power values, the ambitious dream of returning Russia to glory. His methods eventually showed him he needed western expertise which led to Exxon, a deal to drill-drill- drill the arctic. Invading the Ukraine, U.S. sanctions thwarted this plan but with the election of tRump, aided to whatever degree by Russia, one of whose first acts was an attempt to lift these sanctions. Even republicans wouldn’t go for that but by appointing Exxon’s CEO to Secretary of State, all could be smoothed over. Rex Tillerson, surely aware of Putin’s record, has taken great risk investing billions in the arctic venture but pay-off, in the short-term, given the realities of climate change and greed, are apparently high enough to warrant it.
I’ll end this brief review of a timely and important book with this quote from page 365, “The oil and gas industry – left to its own devices- will mindlessly follow its own nature. It will make tons of money. It will corrode and corrupt and sabotage democratic governance. It will screw up and – in the end – fatally injure the whole freaking planet…. the end-times battle that we’re engaged in now is to figure out how to get along without oil and gas – and we’re plugging away but still a ways off – and in the the meantime, commit to a whole new level of constraint and regulatory protection against this singularly destructive industry to minimize its potential harms.”
Image Credit: the banner/feature image is a composite for size from Rachel Maddow's new book (fair use); "Slick Oil Slick," the illustration below the title was created by © Tom Ferguson.