Preface and Acknowledgements

Advocates argue that petroleum promotes progress; put simply, it is the ‘black blessing’. Cynics argue that it is a sunset industry; ‘fossil fuel’ sums it up. Environmentalists state that it is a polluting fuel; ‘crude oil’ says it all. Yet, when all is said and done, oil matters because it touches the life of almost every human on the planet. Due to the invention of the combustion engine and the ability to motorise, transport and mechanise tools, the utility and importance of oil has become indisputable. Along with the wheel, penicillin or aviation, oil ranks as one of mankind’s greatest discoveries.

Make no mistake, this book is clearly an insider’s perspective but it is not an apology for oil. Having worked for more than a decade in oilfield operations and publishing, it seemed increasingly important to me to dispel myths and present facts regarding oil and energy. Does this imply a bias to oil? Think again. If you were sick, whose opinion would you value—someone without knowledge of medicine or an experienced medical practitioner?

Oil is by far the most convenient and best bang-for-buck fuel that mankind has found. That is why it flows through hundreds of countries and trillions of transactions worldwide, generating mobility, power and countless products along the way. Why write a book on oil? Does oil matter? Global economic growth depends on it and questions regarding its supply penetrate deep into the heart of geopolitics and resource nationalism.

Paradoxically, it is not even the oil or gas we want. It’s all about the ‘lifestyle’. We want the freedom of driving our cars or of flying around. We want the climatecomfort that comes from heating or cooling our homes, our workplaces and malls. We want a host of derivatives such as plastics, deodorants and cosmetics. No other commodity touches us so completely.

That’s fine. But what about our legacy to future generations? What about carbon emissions and global warming? What about the ‘Oil Curtain’ and access to oil? Do we want to leave a tainted world whose energy sources are entangled in environmental damage? Such tiny questions render complex answers that yield vast consequences.

Practically speaking can we change out the oil? Can we alter our dependence on oil? Imagine reconfiguring every gas station in your home town or city to supply another fuel, then doing this in every state, country and continent in the world. Behind the retail outlets are the networks of distribution and storage, which will need to be changed, and this involves dealing with thousands of different suppliers. Yet, this completes just half of the equation. The other half—demand—resides in the worldwide fleet of automated machines—cars, trucks and buses. Imagine reconfiguring all those engines. Now, repeat the exercise for aviation, maritime and trains. That’s demand inelasticity.

Considering the scale, vastness and complexity of a single application, i.e. transportation, it is clear to see how embedded oil is. To appreciate the magnitude of oil dependence, imagine reconfiguring two-thirds of the world’s power generation plants and industrial and manufacturing processes.

That’s just the theoretical part because we don’t have a replacement for oil, yet.

Any eventual exit from oil and gas dependence must start by refocusing the issues through this lens of practicality. Oil cannot be wished away; it is a building block of modernity that fuels growth; connecting cities and lives. As modernity spreads globally, lifestyles that are based on the heavy consumption of oil and energy are increasingly found up and down social classes across the world.

Once it is accepted that oil plays a profound role in the energy equation and our future, we need to know, can it ultimately be replaced? I believe so. We are not facing a doomsday scenario, but complacency is a danger. We need to know how much oil is left, where it is and how long it will last. We need to know how carbon emissions and global warming can be effectively reduced. This means all eyes to the oil, which will increase in importance and relevance. It is certainly not a sunset industry, just yet.

Given the far-reaching effect this has on all of us, as well as the environment, the debate has rightly moved outside the oil company office and the university campus and into mainstream media. Yet, very few accounts are available that outline the real energy challenges that face us and the generations to come.

This book is about those challenges and practical solutions. It is about the ‘Hydrocarbon Highway’—what it is and where it is going. Incredibly, this highway has been built without an exit. The purpose of this book is to tell this story and make it known to the general audience so that society is better informed about oil and energy. In doing so, this book offers pragmatic views of oil, gas and what the energy of the future looks like considering economics, geopolitics and technology.

No single book can cover a subject in its entirety or address every type of reader. Consequently, I have aimed this book at three types of readers and it can be read either selectively or cover-to-cover according to the reader type, knowledge level and available time.

Business leaders, investors, analysts, policy-makers, media professionals and opinion formers are the selective readers, and I would recommend they read: Chapter 4: The Fall of the Oil Curtain, Chapter 5: World Oil and Gas Production and Chapter 14: Exits From the Hydrocarbon Highway. Whether you are a cynic or an advocate, I would ask everybody to read this book dispassionately, especially chapters 4 and 14.

Other selective readers are those that have a general interest in energy, oil and gas, business and geopolitics. They should read the chapters above, but should also include Chapter 6: Properties, Players and Processes, Chapter 7: Pregnant Ladies and Fish Bones and Chapter 8: Extreme E & P.

Particularly useful for filling the student-to-professional gap or for a new entrant to the industry as well as researchers, these people should read the book from cover


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