Talk About Crude.

Letter to the Washington Post Book Editor correcting errors in journalist Steve LeVine’s review of The Tyranny of Oil.

I would like to address some of the more glaring errors in Steve LeVine’s review of my book The Tyranny of Oil (Book World, Nov. 11, 2008). LeVine complains that I am “unfair” for quoting “no one from the industry in its defense” and that I base “almost the entirety of this 400-page text on the work of others.” Rebuffed in efforts to interview oil company executives directly, I interviewed John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading lobbying organization. I refer to oil executives’ speeches, congressional testimony and press statements, company shareholder reports, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) tax filings and legal proceedings. Among numerous interviews I conducted are those with former chairmen of the Federal Trade Commission, three of whom oversaw and approved the largest mergers in U.S. oil industry history. I do not write that the oil companies block clean energy technology. I do find, through a detailed investigation of SEC filings, that ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell and Marathon spend, on average, only about 2 percent of their annual expenditures on clean energy.

I document the role of the nation’s largest oil companies in successfully lobbying the federal government to deregulate key crude oil futures trades. Using SEC filings, I demonstrate that, with the possible exception of ExxonMobil, all the major oil companies participate directly in speculative energy trading.

And I do not argue that Big Oil constitutes a monopoly. I argue that the largest oil companies operating in the United States have employed a strategy of consolidation, concentration and political manipulation to acquire vast and utterly unequaled economic strength (the largest profits in corporate history) — which in turn allows them to exercise political control over governments that has just one historical precedent: Standard Oil.

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