Special Report on ‘Chicago Tribune’ Site About America’s ‘Oil Addiction’

By: E&P Staff

ChicagoTribune.com, the Web site for the Chicago Tribune, is currently featuring a special multimedia report from Paul Salopek, the paper?s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, on the origins of American oil.

Titled ?Oil: A Travelogue,? Salopek?s report features the text of his article, video documentaries, and photos, all of which aim to reveal ?how America?s oil addiction binds it to some of the most violent corners of the planet.?

The interactive report follows Salopek?s investigation into the origins of the oil pumped from a South Elgin, Ill. gas station. In a segment called ?Take the Oil Safari,? a reader is able to view a map of the journey, with stops at Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and the Gulf Coast of America. Each region features a video report from Salopek on that region?s involvement in the production/distribution of the South Elgin oil.

Salopek is frank in his description of the trouble involved with undertaking such a controversial topic. In the introduction to his written report, he notes that out of the five oil companies with refineries in the Chicago area (Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP PLC, PDV-Midwest, Marathon Petroleum Co.), three refused to share their data with Salopek, while one did not answer his calls. In the end, Marathon Petroleum was the company that cooperated with Salopek.

Salopek was given access to Marathon?s ?crude slate? documents, which are lists of the types of oil the company processes. He noted in his report that those crude slates were important data ?because the names of individual crudes [sic] on such lists often can be linked to precise oil reservoirs.? They are therefore able to ?offer a remarkably accurate map of the global oil supplies pouring into the Midwest.?

In addition to crunching numbers, Salopek volunteered as a clerk at the South Elgin gas station in order to observe both station?s inner workings and the community it served. He also traveled to the countries involved in the South Elgin oil production and distribution.

The resulting report is an expansive and uniquely human take on the oil industry and its ensnarement of international populations. Much like an ensemble drama, each chapter of Salopek?s report introduces the reader to characters that have been affected by the oil industry. There is the tattooed night clerk at the South Elgin station whose 1995 Jeep guzzles his gas, leaving him broke enough to rely upon the station?s 25-cent Zebra Cakes cookies for dinner; the former colonel in Saddam Hussein?s army who now works for a British security firm that protects Iraq?s oil fields; the endearing ex-cop who drives a tanker; and the taxi driver with removed kidneys whose $38 of gas helps Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?s populist agenda.

Salopek?s incisive report is the latest in a long string of international, in-depth coverage for the Chicago Tribune. He has covered Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Iraq war, and his stories on the global human genome diversity project and the troubles of Africa both received Pulitzer Prizes.

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