Oil's Final Frontier

Oil's Final Frontier

Joel Kirkland

UNTAPPED:The Scramble for Africa’s Oil.By John Ghazvinian.Harcourt.320 pp. $25

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0m 53sec

On a 2005 visit to southern Chad’s Doba Basin, John Ghazvinian stood on a road outside a fenced compound occupied by ExxonMobil. On one side, a 120-megawatt power plant operated by the U.S. oil company produced six times the amount of electricity generated in the rest of Chad, and posh amenities abounded: modern apartments, air conditioning, Internet access, basketball courts, a health clinic, even an airport. A sign proclaimed, “Home of the World’s Greatest Drilling Team.”

On the other side of the road, 10,000 people lived in squalor. Atan, a town that had taken root in the desert a decade earlier as a squatter camp for job seekers, lacked clean running water. Nightclub prostitutes served an American and French clientele a short distance from Atan’s houses of worship and tiny schools. “Despite the veneer of respectability, Atan is an enormous festering embarrassment for ExxonMobil,” Ghazvinian writes, “a living, breathing metaphor for the failure of the Doba drilling operation to bring meaningful development to the people of Chad.”

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