By Andrea Burzynski
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Every president since Nixon has advocated energy independence. Energy expert Daniel Yergin does not. In fact, he doesn't think that it would make the United States any more secure
Famed for his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of oil "The Prize", Yergin's new book "The Quest" hit bookseller websites and stores on Tuesday, looking at every solution from fossil fuels to solar and nuclear energy in a far broader sweep than his previous work.
"Energy independence is a very appealing term, but it sets an impossible goal for the foreseeable future," Yergin told Reuters. "What we need to do is diversify our energy sources just as investors diversify their portfolios to make them safer."
The U.S. has been enjoying a renaissance in fossil fuel production in recent years, with deep sea drilling for oil and hydraulic fracturing (also called "fracking") to release natural gas trapped in rocks. This has also caused an environmental backlash, with opposition to shale drilling mounting in states like Pennsylvania.
Yergin acknowledges the concerns of those who worry about contaminating water supplies, but he believes that these new technologies can safely boost energy output without negative effects as long as proper precautions are taken.
"We need to think about the risks and mitigate them in advance," he said. "The costs of avoiding a crisis are a lot lower than the costs of a crisis."
EYE TOWARD FUTURE
"The Quest" roams far from Yergin's traditional focus on black gold. With an eye toward the future, he examines the mixture of energy resources that will be necessary to power the growing population and economy.
"I think the challenge is the kind of growth that we're going to see in the future," he said. "We certainly need to diversify and broaden our energy portfolio to support a much larger global economy that we may be experiencing in as little as two decades."
Yergin is optimistic about new technologies combined with prudent planning to address future needs.
With risks properly managed, he believes shale gas is integral to America's energy supply. He points out that it comprises 30 percent of the country's natural gas production.
"We thought as a country we'd be importing large volumes of natural gas, instead we're producing it within our own borders," he said.
But shale drilling isn't the only new technology making waves in the energy world.
Yergin writes about the rebirth of renewable energy sources, which he believes also hold great promise. He charts developments in wind technology, which he claims has made astronomical gains in recent years. He also discusses the potential of solar power, but predicts widespread use will only happen when costs come down.
Another pillar of energy security Yergin identifies is conservation, which he calls "the fifth fuel". He asserts that using energy efficiently is an important piece of the energy security puzzle, and he mentions past successes. Yergin believes that people can be nudged toward this goal through a blend of technological innovation, regulation, and making efficiency cost-effective.
"We're twice as energy efficient today as we were in the 1970s," he said. "I think that's a reasonable goal-- why don't we become twice as energy efficient again?"
Above all, he believes that a multi-pronged approach is crucial to supporting a growing global economy.
"You could be energy independent, but it could be extremely expensive," he said. "We're part of a global marketplace, and what really counts is energy security."
(editing by Bob Tourtellotte)