The energy guru weighs in on dirty oil, fracking and California’s energy leadership
One of America’s foremost energy experts says Canada’s controversial oil tar sands are getting a bum rap.
Daniel Yergin, who became a go-to guy for energy wisdom after winning a Pulitzer Prize for his 1990 oil tome, The Prize, appeared on KQED’s Forum program today to promote his latest book, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World.
When host Michael Krasny asked Yergin about the Canadian tar sands boom and a plan to construct a pipeline to bring it into the US for refining, Yergin said the project “has become a huge symbolic target.” Indeed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal has been a lightning rod for demonstrations at the White House and a target of ongoing protests across the country. But Yergin said he thinks the risks of importing tar sands oil from Alberta have been overblown.
“If you say ‘How much more carbon comes out of a barrel of oil sands,’ and you look at it from the well, all the way to the wheels, it’s about six percent more,” said Yergin, comparing it to the carbon content of an average barrel of crude oil. He called the pipeline plan “a sensible thing to do.”
“If you look at it from a security point of view,” he asked listeners, “Wouldn’t we like to be importing more oil from Canada and less from some of the more volatile parts of the Middle East?”
Environmentalists argue that the nation should be focusing more on renewable energy sources and shedding fossil fuels in general. They’ve taken particular aim at carbon-intensive Canadian tar sand deposits, which are recovered through strip mining and require more energy to refine. But Yergin says of the tar sands, “If the additional supply doesn’t come here, then it will go to China.”
Yergin also sits on a federal Dept. of Energy panel assessing the risks from the natural gas recovery method known as “fracking.” He downplayed concerns about effects on water quality but conceded that potential air quality impacts and the issue of “community impact” need more attention.
Turning to policy options for reducing carbon emissions and slowing global warming, Yergin, whose latest book includes six chapters on climate change, said he doesn’t see a cap-and-trade program being revived at the national level any time soon. California is pressing on with its own cap & trade plan, likely to be formally adopted next week. After his Forum appearance, I asked him if it makes sense for California to more or less go it alone. Yergin said he expected the program to be “pretty tough” going, and cautioned against any policy that would “de-industrialize the state any further.”
My favorite quote: Asked about the potential for gains from energy efficiency, Yergin replied “The trouble with conservation is there’s no photo op.”
The entire one-hour interview is posted at the Forum website.