x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sustainability consultant takes aim at the oil industry

Guy Lane's debut novel, The Oil Price: Saving the Planet is a Deadly Business, is set in Dubai, where a fictional petroleum company is plotting a new undersea venture.

The Oil Price: Saving the Planet 
is a Deadly Business
Guy Lane
The Oil Price: Saving the Planet is a Deadly Business Guy Lane

Guy Lane's debut novel is a tale of two cities, not the Paris and London of the Charles Dickens' classic, but the contemporary landscapes of the familiar, Dubai, and the less familiar, Townsville, in Queensland, Australia.

Lane's book, a self-published affair, appears under the title The Oil Price: Saving the Planet is a Deadly Business, and emerged a couple of months ago to minimal fanfare. A single, but undoubtedly warm review, adorns the book's Amazon page, where it is described as "a roller coaster of a novel".

And it is, a roller coaster of a novel - or to appropriate the name of the most terrifying ride at one of Dubai's water parks, it's a Jumeirah Scarer of a book.

Lane's thriller begins in Townsville, the author's home town. Here we meet the wealthy Danny Lexion, a man possessed of a "strong jawline and a slightly gravelly complexion", who is also quite partial to cruising the city's nightspots in search of a good time. He is, Lane informs us, "a dilettante in life ... a lover of fine things, a carer of nothing". It is in one of these establishments that Lexion meets the young and beautiful Bren Hannan, a "greenie", a lover and a carer for the environment.

By one of those plot devices so customary to readers of this genre, Hannan and Lexion are soon bound for a UN conference in Dubai. It is here they encounter Brad Moore, the evil chief executive of Peking Petroleum.

Moore once headed up a security firm in Iraq, but now fancies a crack at the oil business. He believes there are vast untapped oil reserves sitting below the tiny Pacific island of Lala, but needs to raise $50 million to begin exploration and, indeed, exploitation of this virgin territory. He manages to secure the funds he needs through Suli, his Emirati sponsor.

"Suli was Brad Moore's ticket to setting up an oil company," writes Lane, "[and] Brad Moore wanted into the Emirates because the country was highly developed and located in the heart of the Middle East's oil territories. The Emirates had plenty of financial resources to fund his planned petroleum adventures. Plus, Brad Moore simply liked the idea of living in a city where you could go snow skiing at lunch time."

Only one man can stop Moore and that man is Danny Lexion, but not before Lane has sprinkled cold-blooded assassins, lily-livered environmentalists and a terrorist plot to blow up the Burj Al Arab across his pages. Even neighbouring Sharjah gets a brief taste of the action.

Lane first visited Dubai five years ago, in 2006, as a delegate at a conference - when he's not writing books he's a sustainability consultant ("I assist organisations to understand carbon," he tells me during our telephone interview) - and returned twice subsequently to conduct additional research. He was quite taken with the city of life.

"I was just so overwhelmingly enchanted by Dubai, its incredible vision and the real estate developments ..."

Quite taken, although there is a "but" lurking here.

"... but also by the fact that all this was being done in a city which had [one of] the highest ecological footprints on the planet.

"I saw Dubai as this very unsustainable place, but also I saw within it the opportunity for something extraordinary to happen."

It is a common reaction among those who visit the city, that recognition of the remarkable.

"In the city in the world which is building the most exceptional architecture ... it seemed to me that Dubai would eventually also be the place where the world's most sustainable skyscraper would be built.

"I wanted to talk about Dubai and about oil," he says, "and I wanted to create an environmental hero."

Lexion emerges as that man, but only after his largely empty existence is filled by Hannan.

It is Suli, the Emirati co-director at the offices of Peking Petroleum - a name, incidentally, which is meant to make you think of peak-oil price rather than the old westernised name for the capital of China - who emerges as the book's most controversial character.

"Suli the Emirati didn't say much," we learn in Lane's pages, "and when he did it was normally an odd twittering rhyme. When Brad Moore interviewed Suli and asked him what he did for a living, Suli answered, 'Adventure fun-fun'."

Lane says he didn't write the character to cause offence.

"Suli helped to join the dots ... he was never meant to be anything more than that.

"He wasn't designed to be insulting to Arabs, that's not the point about him. What I had in mind was just this wealthy Emirati who could do whatever he wanted to do - and all he wanted to do was have an adventure. And in this instance, he ended up working [with] Brad Moore, who's a crook.

"The book is meant to be satirical and controversial. What could be more controversial than an Emirati oilman blowing up the restaurant at the top of the Burj?"

What more, indeed.

"Then," he says (warning here: major plotline about to emerge), "I realised I didn't want to blow up the building." Lane's conversation should be served up with spoiler alerts. He already has the next two instalments of theLexiontrilogy mapped out and is more than happy to talk about what the future holds.

"The second story will be set in Townsville, when Brad Moore brings an oil rig to the Great Barrier Reef and then the third story is probably going to be set in Abu Dhabi ..."

You read this right. Whatever next, a threat to the Emirates Palace?

"... or somewhere where there are a lot of oil tankers quite close to the coast, because [by then] Brad Moore has bought a fleet of oil tankers. He's going to blow them up and claim the insurance. By this stage, Danny has become an avenger type ... his mission is to wipe out the entire board of directors of Peking Petroleum."

Lane says he worked the earliest years of his career in the oil industry. They weren't happy times.

"I spent two years around South-east Asia as a navigator on seismic ships. At the time, I didn't have any real knowledge of the environment, but this changed pretty quickly. I was disturbed by the wanton destruction and pollution that is associated with what we did. I made a complaint at one stage to the management and they threatened me with my job. That helped me form a picture of the industry itself."

So is The Oil Price a form of payback for those unhappy years?

"What I tried to write was a satirical view of the bad behaviour that goes on in that business ... [Peking Petroleum] is a fabricated company. I've never worked in the oil industry at that level. It's just a vehicle to tell a story."

That story is also a work-in-progress. The Oil Price made it into print only because Lane willed it there. Now he's working with an editor and looking for a publisher to help polish his diamond in the rough.

"I haven't had the benefit of an editing team and a publishing house ... [but soon] there will be a new version of the book online ... The story won't change. I'm just finessing the editing."

The Oil Price version 2.0 will be available via his website.

"There will also be some teaser information about a new novel I'm writing called Intervene.

"I'm hoping to publish it before the world environment summit in Rio de Janeiro in June next year," he says, revealing his planning gene once more.

"It's a story about a spaceman who comes down to earth with $17 trillion to bankroll a mission towards a sustainable economy."

It remains to be seen if his mission will take him to the Arabian Gulf.