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Vol. 12, No. 27 Week of July 08, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

PNA launches book club to help educate novelists about oil and gas industry

“Tired of being cast as the villain? Then do something about it. Join PNA Book Club.”

Those are the words at the top of PNA Book Club’s Web site. On its home page they are next to the Citizen Blame poster pictured above.

The words are directed at people in the oil and gas industry who are tired of their industry being misrepresented in popular fiction and the movies derived from it.

The same Anchorage-based company that owns Petroleum News — Petroleum Newspapers of Alaska LLC, better known as PNA — owns the book club.

The club’s purpose is to encourage novelists to get their facts straight about the energy industry.

“What sparked the idea of a book club that reaches out to novelists was Clive Cussler’s latest book, ‘Treasure of Khan,’” said Petroleum News Publisher Kay Cashman. “It’s a fun read but it contains potentially damaging misinformation about the oil industry, such as an ‘evil’ seismic wave system that can cause 7.3 Richter earthquakes. Usually I shake my head and walk away from books and movies like this, but this time I decided to do something about it.

“You can’t say much in defense of corporate greed because that kind of change has to come from the individuals who are stockholders in those companies,” Cashman said. “But technical issues are another thing. I just read a book where a drilling platform blew up because a technician missed a flashing red light because he took an unscheduled bathroom break. That’s just nuts. And it plants an unwarranted seed of worry in the reader’s mind.”

In the process of reviewing books that made bestseller lists, Cashman found that bogus information about the industry was “definitely on the rise.”

But she was encouraged “by the fact that … it’s becoming more and more important to authors, reviewers, readers and educators that the factual part of every work of fiction — i.e. geography, historical setting, technology, etc. — be accurate.”

Unfortunately, that criticism has not extended to books involving the oil industry, probably because reviewers don’t know much about the industry and, possibly, are not as interested in protecting “the big bad.”

“Or maybe it’s difficult to find understandable, non-technical information about the industry,” Cashman said.

“Either way, misinformation about the energy industry is piling up. It’s perfect timing for a book club like ours.”

Why fiction? Look at Disney’s impact

Why novels? Why fiction?

“Look at Walt Disney. His books and movies molded the opinions of generations of Americans on the treatment of animals. The fact is, fiction entertains, educates and molds public opinion,” Cashman said.

Among other things, PNA Book Club’s Web site will have an Author’s Resource Center, giving authors industry contacts by subject for research. The site will also have a discussion forum for readers to interact with authors and their representatives.

“It’s really a grassroots effort. I’ve even roped my mother, Dee Cashman, into helping on the side with sales calls,” Cashman said.

PNA is covering the startup costs of the book club, including building the Web site. “But we’re going to need companies to send e-mails to their employees — and to their retirees. Retired people will have more time to participate in the member review forum,” she said.

“The book business is a tough business. There’s a reason independent book stores are having a tough time. But PNA is a for-profit company that is run like a nonprofit, in that our owners don’t expect us to do anything more than make a 1 to 5 percent profit. Breaking even works, too.”

Cashman is hoping companies and industry associations will help by “posting notices in their in-house publications, sending e-mails to employees, retirees and members, and placing links on their Web sites to PNA Book Club (,” which was launched July 6.

R. Scott Reiss, Mike Doogan will participate

Amy Spittler, associate publisher of Petroleum News, is PNA Book Club’s editor.

“She’ll be in charge of the club, particularly working with authors and the member review forum, which starts July 16,” Cashman said.

The first club selection is “Black Monday” by R. Scott Reiss.

“I love the way it starts,” Cashman said: “A plague that will cause the death of millions. A plague that will destroy countries. A plague that will plunge the world into a dark age. A plague that will make nobody sick.”

The book is about a microbe that has been genetically engineered to destroy petroleum. It infects the world supply, plunging the world into chaos.

“One of our two book reviewers, Roger Herrera, reviewed the book. We published the review in the July 8 issue of Petroleum News; plus it’s posted on the PNA Book Club Web site,” Cashman said.

The book club’s other reviewer is former Alaska Division of Oil and Gas Director Ken Boyd.

The club’s second selection is “Capitol Offense” by Alaska Rep. Mike Doogan, a former Anchorage Daily News columnist. It will be released Aug. 15.

“Doogan’s book is about political corruption in Alaska’s capitol. It couldn’t be more timely, although Doogan wrote the book before the FBI made its first move,” Cashman said, referring to recent arrests of former and current Alaska legislators and oilfield service executives.

“Both Reiss and Doogan have been enthusiastic about participating in the member review forums for their novels,” Spittler said.

The “Black Monday” review forum will launch on July 16; the “Capitol Offense” forum will start around Aug. 27.

Reiss sees need for Author’s Resource Center

Reiss was pleased about the club’s Author’s Resource Center, which will go online Sept. 1.

“He said it was challenging to get people in the industry to talk to him when he was doing research for his book. Once he assured them it was a work of fiction, it was easier, but it was still difficult to find the right people,” Spittler said.

“Paramount Pictures has optioned Black Monday for a movie,” she said. “Reiss said he’d like to recommend Paramount have an industry expert available for the making of the movie, if they move on their option.”

When Spittler asked if him he was okay with criticism of “Black Monday,” which he will get in the member review forum, he said, “bring them all on. I can handle the rude ones. I’m ready for anything.”

Reiss lives in New York, so Spittler said she was confident he could “handle whatever Alaskans, Texans, and Brits could throw at him.”

—Petroleum News

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