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The Pursuit of Energy and Visions of a Post-Oil Age

Dwight Garner, New York Times
… Mr. Yergin is back with a sequel to “The Prize.” It is called “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World,” and, if anything, it’s an even better book. It is searching, impartial and alarmingly up to date.

… Yergin brooks no cant about climate-change denial, and lingers on the topic of cleaner future fuels. Our heads may be buried in our sleek laptops and gadgets, his masterly book announces, but our toes are still soaking in dirty, morally contaminated oil.

“The Quest” will be necessary reading for C.E.O.’s, conservationists, lawmakers, generals, spies, tech geeks, thriller writers, ambitious terrorists and many others. But it won’t be easy reading. This is a very large and not overly elegant book; committing to it is like committing to a marriage, or to a car lease, or to climbing Everest.

… He considers the notion of “peak oil” — the idea that the world’s supply is rapidly running out — and mostly dismisses it. Thanks to new technologies, estimates of the world’s total stock keep growing. But there are other reasons to move beyond oil, not all of them ecological.

Among Mr. Yergin’s fears is Iran possessing an atomic bomb and upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East.

(20 September 2011)

Daniel Yergin and Peak Oil – Prophet or Mere Historian?

John Daly, Oil Price
On 17 September The Wall Street Journal published a fascinating article on “peak oil,” “There Will Be Oil,” written by Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an energy research and consulting firm and deserved recipient of Pulitzer Prize for his 1991 book, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “There Will Be Oil” “is adapted from his new book, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World.”

The essay will doubtless have widespread influence amongst prosperous The Wall Street Journal readers, but in his glib dismissal of “peak oil” theory advocates, Yergin glosses or ignores a number of issues fundamental to the larger picture, for whatever reason, and these oversights should be considered in any evaluation of the piece and the peak oil “specter.”

Yergin notes, “Just in the years 2007 to 2009, for every barrel of oil produced in the world, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added.” But this fails to take into account the following points.

First is that for oil producing nations reserves are like money in the bank and inflated reserve figures are common.
(19 September 2011)

In Search Of Carbon Copies

Steven F. Hayward, Wall Street Journal
… This is all prelude to Mr. Yergin’s final section, about renewable energy. He is bracing in his skepticism of feel-good clichés about renewables, noting the severe limitations of wind and solar power, the technical and market challenges facing electric cars, and the reasons why energy has been a tough arena for the supposed miracle workers of the venture-capital sector. And yet he seems unable to avoid jumping on the bandwagon anyway, writing that “renewables are set . . . to become a significant and growing part of the energy mix.”

The value of renewable or “clean” energy has become so much a part of the conventional wisdom that it may be hard even for a person of Mr. Yergin’s perspicacity to express doubt, but one has to wonder whether he really believes it. At the very end of the book he delivers the bottom line: More than 80% of our energy today comes from fossil fuels, and “about 75 to 80 percent of world energy is expected to be carbon-based two decades from now.” What happened to those “significant and growing” renewables? Like the pursuit of the Holy Grail in medieval legend, the search for energy without tears is going to remain a mythical quest.

Mr. Hayward is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of the “Almanac of Environmental Trends.”
(20 September 2011)

Daniel Yergin Examines America’s ‘Quest’ For Energy
(text and audio)
Staff, National Public Radio
… “Shale gas really has been a revolution that’s happened extremely rapidly,” Yergin says. “Up until 2008, it really wasn’t recognized and then it just took off, and it’s gone from being virtually none of our natural gas production to about 30 percent of our total natural gas production.”

According to Yergin, who sits on a Department of Energy committee that’s investigating the environmental impact of fracking, the process has some potential drawbacks: There’s the possibility that fracking could increase the amount of methane in the groundwater supply and that equipment and generators used for drilling could lead to increased air pollution.

“The industry itself knows that these are issues that it has to deal with,” Yergin says. “So I think we’re going to see a lot of innovation and a lot of progress to address environmental questions around this.”

… The availability of a new resource can also raise questions about a country’s energy policy. For instance, with so much shale gas available over the next hundred years, should the U.S. bother to keep developing renewable energy? Yergin says yes.

“We need to focus on renewables, to start with, for security reasons [and] for diversification reasons,” he says. “I go back to what Winston Churchill, head of the British Royal Navy, said before World War I, when he was converting the Royal Navy from safe British coal to oil from Persia — Iran — and people said, ‘This is really dangerous,’ and he said, ‘Safety in oil [lies] in variety and variety alone.’ And I think that’s still a fundamental starting point.”

But security doesn’t only mean protecting the country’s oil infrastructure from enemies — it also means protecting the infrastructure from everything else that could happen.

“You know what’s going to happen, and everybody agrees on what’s going to happen, and then something else happens,” Yergin says. “It could be everything from political crisis, as we’ve seen that affect oil supply, to natural disasters to technological breakthroughs. We have a very complex energy foundation that our $14 trillion economy rests upon.”
(20 September 2011)

‘The Quest’: A review of Daniel Yergin’s epic oil tome

Steve Weinberg, USA Today
… while optimistic, Yergin is no Pollyanna, no single-minded driller without an appreciation of the costs that oil exploration, drilling, transportation and consumption extract.

As a result, The Quest is a book — a tour de force, really — that evaluates the alternatives to oil so broadly and deeply that the physical tome could double as a doorstop.

Plenty of readers live a “black-box” existence. They don’t really understand how skyscrapers stay upright, how a sirloin steak reaches our dinner plate (food appears magically in supermarkets, right?) and how the lights come on at the flip of a wall switch in the bedroom. Yergin’s book about energy past, present and future, if studied carefully, will remove the black-box mentality at the light switch.

… The book becomes substantially more headache-producing as Yergin does his best to evaluate the undeniable reality of global warming within the framework of fuel choice. Like the best teachers in school classrooms, Yergin sees his primary mission as one of relatively objective education. What each reader does with that useful education is an individual decision, shot through with consequences.
(19 September 2011)

Oil historian: Plenty of oil, risk in energy outlook

Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers via KC Star
… Yergin, who’s now an energy consultant, begins where he left off, highlighting the events now reshaping global politics and oil politics. The introduction covers this year’s devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan and the Arab Spring, involving the collapse of strongmen across the Middle East and North Africa.

“I was really struck that here are two very major sets of events, very different, halfway around the world but each of them with major impact on what our energy future is going to look like. Both of them came as surprises, and yet we will be for many years assessing and living with the consequences,” Yergin said in a lengthy interview with McClatchy Newspapers ahead of the book’s release.

“The Quest” covers everything from the peak oil theory, which holds that the world’s oil production is in or near a permanent decline, to renewable and alternative sources of energy. It took Yergin five years to write it, and even in that time frame much changed in the energy sector.
(20 September 2011)