Review of Blowout

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Rating

8

Qualities

  • Analytical
  • Well Structured
  • Background

Review

Asked to explain their success, well-paid oil executives and rich gas titans love to credit God or the “miracle” of free markets. Balderdash, retorts political commentator Rachel Maddow. In this sharply written takedown of oil and fracking behemoths, Maddow describes ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson cozying up to Equatorial Guinea autocrat Teodorin Obiang and Russian president Vladimir Putin. She also points the finger at Oklahoma frackers for setting off a deluge of earthquakes and using their political might to cut their tax rates.

Maddow is unapologetically critical of her subject matter: In her telling, the oil and gas industry has propped up dictators, weakened democratic institutions both at home and abroad, and engaged in a host of environment-destroying actions. Still, Maddow’s deeply researched tale shows she’s more than a TV talking head. She lays out a nuanced yarn, weighing in with the occasional snarky comment but, largely, letting the facts speak for themselves. 

About the Author

American television personality Rachel Maddow is host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC and author of the New York Times bestseller Drift. Maddow earned a doctorate in political science from Oxford University.

 

Starting with John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, the energy industry has played an outsized role in the American economy.

Rockefeller drew a road map that others in the oil business would follow, Maddow claims: To squeeze out unwelcome competition, he snapped up rivals; to keep the government’s hands off the profits, he spent heavily to ward off regulation; and to justify it all, he described his knack for sharp-elbowed commerce as “a gift from God.” In the decades after Rockefeller’s heyday, many oil companies tried hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, but didn’t succeed. A game-changing breakthrough came in 1998, however: An engineer working on fracking natural gas from the Barnett Shale had the idea to use “slickwater” – a mixture of water and chemicals which increases fluid flow – instead of gel. Thus, the US fracking boom was born. 

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, gangster-style control of the oil industry is the rule.

In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin ally Mikhail Khodorkovsky snapped up communist-era oil companies on the cheap, thanks to rigged auctions run by the government and Khodorkovsky’s own bank. By 2002, Khodorkovsky had built his Russian oil company, Yukos, into a $30 billion giant. Khodorkovsky accomplished this, Maddow argues, in large part by mimicked Western oil company practices: hiring outside auditors, appointing veterans of the US oil industry as executives and ruthlessly closing underperforming wells. Unfortunately for the billionaire, his star rose just as Putin was trying to bring Russia’s oligarchs to heel. Putin jailed Khodorkovsky on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and fraud, then proceeded to steal Yukos from Khodorkovsky and its shareholders by making the company’s holdings part of the state-owned Rosneft.


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