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Bitumen is like yoghurt


"Bitumen is like yoghurt," or so says the spokesperson from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in a current TV ad. The thick, brownish goo poured out to show its similarity to dairy products. Corporate spin becomes comedy when it is too artless in converting a negative into a positive. Tailing pond? No, that's a happy wetland. I don't know, perhaps more realistic arguments -- oil sands, better than coal! it's a domestic energy source! driving our GDP! -- would be more reasonable ways to justify the excess greenhouse gases of the oil sands. But as safe as yoghurt? The exaggeration hurts credibility.

Either way, the impact of the oil sands on our economy is only growing. So this is something I should know more about. But I must admit, when seeking books on topics I'm interested in, I need to be entertained as much as educated, so the writing must be as good as the facts. I need a story as much as citations. And the best book I've read on the history of oil is Daniel Yergin's The Prize. The book begins with Winston Churchill pondering the conversion of the British navy from coal to oil:"Mastery itself was the prize of the venture." Yergin takes this passage as the thesis of his book,"For oil has meant mastery throughout the twentieth century. And that quest for mastery is what this book is about." The book is a political economy of oil and geopolitics. Behind the ideological wars and real wars is the engine of industrial development; the prize, oil. What follows is a fascinating history of the political machinations behind the search for oil. If you've already read The Prize, we have quite a few more, so I've created a list of other books we have on the history and politics of oil.

The Prize The Prize