Keystone XL Pipeline Represents a Nexus of Policy Concerns

Amid ongoing public debate and Obama administration consideration regarding construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from western Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast of Texas, energy expert Daniel Yergin has brought his understanding of the broader issues involved.

The author of the Pulitzer-winning book The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power and, most recently, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World, Yergin called for a balanced and informed view of the situation in a January 2013 New York Times article. He spoke of the pipeline as a focal, symbolic point for both sides of the issue debate. Yergin argued that regardless of the final outcome of this particular project, unconventional technologies for extracting oil will continue to develop.

In The Quest, Daniel Yergin provides the needed context for understanding today’s most pressing energy-related controversies. Offering a pragmatic view, he explains why and how the North American development of unconventional means of extracting oil and natural gas are creating in the United States a manufacturing boom and supporting almost two million jobs.

Speaking with The New York Times, Yergin stated that, although the United States’ demand for oil will decrease, its economy still requires oil. The question, therefore, revolves around where it will come from: a stable country located close by that does not require sea-borne tankers, or a less-reliable, politically tumultuous country further away that sets itself up as an opponent of the United States.

In The Quest, Daniel Yergin lays out the not-well-known story of the development of Canada’s oil sands—beginning with the lure of seeps that drew scientists and promoters to remote northern Alberta in Canada’s west at the beginning of the 20th century, and then the laboratory breakthrough in 1925 that pointed to commercial possibilities. But it was not until 1967 that the first real oil sands project was launched with the declaration that “No nation can be long secure in this atomic age until it is amply supplied with petroleum.” But the dramatic growth in oil sands, Yergin observes, has happened over the last decade or so—which is what makes the Keystone XL pipeline so visible—and so controversial.

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