December Book Review - Blowout

Dec 10, 2019

Is it possible for a global industry to undermine democracies and trigger earthquakes? MSNBC political analyst and commentator Rachel Maddow turns her discerning eye toward the oil and gas industry in this compelling expose.


A new book, “Blowout”, named for the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, critiques the workings and impacts of the oil and gas industry.  Who can take a sober topic like this and create a witty, quick-reading political expose, threaded with international intrigue and biographical accounts of leaders in the industry?  None other than MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.  If you watch her show, you’ll recognize her signature wit, sense of irony, and investigative style.

Maddow points to the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig explosion as an example of the gargantuan oil and gas industry’s thin veneer of commitment to public safety and environmental protection.  She recounts BP’s wholly inadequate response, their carelessness and lack of know-how.  In another example, Maddow describes the haphazard towing of a towering drill rig to the Arctic.  And with the international boom in recent years in hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, and associated deep well injection of wastewater, she points out that similar risks are being taken on a large scale.  As the industry has endeavored to build public trust and implore government decision-makers not to restrain their operations with unnecessary regulation, cases of water pollution and man-made earthquakes have mounted. Meanwhile, the industry has made billions of dollars and enjoyed substantial tax breaks. 

Another theme in the book is referred to as “the resource curse”. Maddow contends that, counter-intuitively, foreign nations with prosperous oil and gas development tend to be the poorest, most authoritarian, most corrupt, and most vulnerable to organized crime infiltration.  Rather than steering wealth into enriching these nations’ populations with education, infrastructure, and other benefits, Maddow argues that there’s a pattern of concentrating tremendous wealth in a few hands.  Russia, in particular, is described as a source of highly manipulative, wealthy players in the oil and gas arena.

Whether or not you agree with Maddow’s viewpoint, she gives plenty of evidence and food for thought.  One take-away for the reader could be that not only has development of oil and gas resources been linked to water pollution and destructive earthquakes, but carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and gas have been linked to climate change by a strong majority of climate scientists.  A shift toward cleaner alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power has the potential to reduce or eliminate the range of undesirable consequences described in this book.

“Blowout”, by Rachel Maddow, is available in e-book or hard copy from area libraries.