NEW YORK Fears that energy producers will be unable to meet rising global demand have come and gone many times since oil was first drilled in Titusville, Pa., in 1859.
They surfaced again earlier this year as the price of oil spiked to more than $100 a barrel. But, says energy historian and consultant Daniel Yergin, these fears are unwarranted.
Yergin, best known for his 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning oil epic The Prize, forcefully makes the case in his sort-of sequel, The Quest: Energy Security and the Remaking of the Modern World. The book, released in September, continues the story of oil from the early 1990s to the present. It also includes a history of electricity, renewable energy and climate-change science.
Among the major conclusions in the book: New drilling technologies and better efficiency will ensure theres enough energy to satisfy a world population that is growing and becoming wealthier. It just may cost more than we are used to paying.
Yergin, 64, is chairman of IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm he co-founded in 1983. He began writing The Quest in longhand in 2006 and soon was met with a wave of dramatic events in the world of energy to fill its pages: Record-high oil and gasoline prices; staggering new discoveries of natural gas; the worst oil spill in U.S. history; and civil unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, which is responsible for a third of world oil production. All of this happened against a backdrop of mounting evidence that burning fossil fuels is responsible for changing the planets climate.
Then, just weeks before Yergin planned to turn in his manuscript, a nuclear disaster in Japan shifted the ground under the global electric power industry.
I didnt finish the book, Yergin says. The publisher took it from me.
The Quest explains how the worlds energy mix will shift in the coming decades from oil and coal and toward natural gas and renewables such as wind, solar and biofuels but very slowly. Rising prices for fossil fuels will spur new technologies for finding them and for developing alternatives.
Yergin spoke with The Associated Press about energys past and future. Below are excerpts of the interview, edited for length and clarity:
AP: Since The Prize in 1992, what do you see as the two or three most important changes in the energy business?
YERGIN: Number one is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reintegration or the reconnection of that whole region with global markets. And the other thing is the rise of China. Its the single most dynamic element in the global supply picture. Id also put among the top changes technologies that are opening up new supplies of oil.
AP: With China and other emerging economies growing fast, will the competition to secure oil lead to political conflict?
YERGIN: Thats a very common fear. And its a great subject for a thriller. But China and the United States have common interests in terms of stable oil markets, access to oil, a healthy world economy and economic connections between the two countries. Clearly you can see the potential for some flash points, but there isnt a fundamental competition.
AP: Theres growing demand for oil in the world. Can producers meet it?
YERGIN: The resources are there. The investment plans are there. If (the resources arent developed) for some reason to the level that might be expected, it would be for political reasons.