10 Questions for Daniel Yergin

Energy expert Daniel Yergin on peak oil, fracking and how to power the U.S. economy

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Andrew Cutraro / Redux for TIME

Daniel Yergin

In your book The Quest, you say you're not worried about running out of oil. Why not?

This is actually the fifth time people have declared that the world will run out of oil. The first was in the 1880s, when it was said that there was no oil west of the Mississippi--and then they discovered a few wells in Oklahoma and Texas.

So are we all Chicken Littles?

People talk about peak oil, that we're going to run out. But actually, I think that in the U.S., we've run into peak demand. Our oil consumption's going to go down. We drive more efficient cars. The population is aging and drives less.

Yeah, but all those Indians and Chinese are going to start driving.

China now consumes more energy than the U.S. In 2000 there were 17 million new cars sold in the U.S. and about 2 million in China. Last year there were 17 million cars sold in China and 11 million in the U.S., but we've gotten better at finding oil.

How are you feeling about nuclear energy?

I think Fukushima has definitely changed the nuclear story. Prior to that, people were talking about a nuclear renaissance. The Japanese government did a report after [the accident] in which they said, We did research, we understood earthquakes, but for tsunamis, we were dependent upon fables.

America has poured billions of dollars into Iraq. Why is there so little U.S. involvement in the Iraqi oil industry?

[Baghdad] set very tough economic terms. U.S. companies decided the numbers wouldn't work. In other countries--China, for instance--companies were willing to take a chance to get into the Middle East.

What kind of car do you drive?

I drive a Volvo. But I've driven a Tesla--a little faster than I should have.

U.S. taxpayers just ate $500 million on a now defunct solar-panel manufacturer. How can the U.S. compete with China on green tech?

Solar panels can be put in container ships. But a wind turbine is a 25-story structure and expensive to ship. It's interesting to see non-U.S. wind companies moving manufacturing to the U.S. so that they can be closer to the market.

Do the chemicals used in extracting gas from shale pollute the water table?

I was on a committee that just did a report on this for the Department of Energy. So far, we have not seen evidence of the chemicals that are used for the fracking migrating through this very dense rock into the water supply.

Could there plausibly be a lot of green jobs in the future?

It depends upon the pace at which renewables grow. I don't think they've been as plentiful as expected. But there's a lot of excitement. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology five years ago, there was no energy club, but now it has several hundred students in it.

I'm guessing--party scene?

They go way past 9 o'clock at night. It's that wild. Actually, it's very inspiring to see them. They're very committed.


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