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An exhaustive and generally balanced account of why the US and other industrial powers became dangerously dependent on foreign oil. A college professor who served thirteen years as chief economist of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, Blair chronicles how seven major international petroleum producers--integrated from well to gas pump--began operating in restraint of trade with the usually eager complicity of Mideast rulers around the turn of the century ""to avoid the rigors of price rivalry."" Key to the cartel's success, which persists in modified form, he charges, was and is control of output in producing countries, plus government-countenanced dominance of refining and marketing operations in consumer nations. Blair argues convincingly, e.g., that US import quotas, which limited landings of then-cheap foreign crude through 1973, not only depleted higher-cost domestic reserves and raised consumer prices but also abetted the post-WW II economic recovery of Western Europe and Japan--trade rivals that made excellent use of diverted oil for fuel and feedstock. Even as control of concessions passes to host nations through nationalization or pre-emptive participation agreements, he maintains, Big Oil retains its hold. Although crude quotas have quadrupled since 1973, OPEC still dances to the majors' tune in fear that oversupply could break prices in the West's volume markets. Having documented both the causes and consequences of monopolistic control of oil resources, Blair suggests several remedies, chiefly utility-style federal regulation of large crude suppliers and vigorous enforcement of antitrust statutes. The book touches on petroleum alternatives as well as supplements (synthetics, electric cars, fuel cells); also included is a useful exegesis of the ""economically illiterate"" Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. While Blair's style must be characterized as academic-graceless, he provides damning detail for the upcoming debate on the extent to which oil-industry concentration represents an abuse of economic power overdue for redress. His work is as important and valuable as it is disturbing.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1976
Publisher: Pantheon