In 1991 Daniel Yergin published what is widely recognized as the definitive history of the oil industry. Starting with “Colonel” Drake’s 1859 drilling of the first ever oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power is a 700 plus page tome that chronicles the rise and fall of capitalists, countries, fortunes, and conflicts all the way up to Sadam Hussein’s push into Kuwait in 1990.
Innovation responds to need; and if properly nurtured, research and technology will respond to environmental and energy imperatives. However, until such time as there are new technological breakthroughs, perhaps in solar and renewable energies, industrial society has only three primary clusters of alternatives on which to rely for its new power needs: oil, gas, and coal; nuclear power; and conservation in the form of technological improvements and greater efficiency in the use of energy. In the 1990′s, the merits of the various alternatives will be jumbled together in the energy and environmental debate, challenging traditional interests and modes of thought. The clashes will take many forms: lifestyle versus quality of life, markets versus regulation, controlled versus untrammeled development, economic use versus preservation, dependence versus autonomy, cooperation versus competition among nations- and security and economic growth versus the environment. Great amounts of money will be at stake, as will political standing and power, not only within nations, but in the world arena. And so will be the way we live. Indeed, with the fate of the planet itself seeming to be in question, the hydrocarbon civilization that oil built could be shaken to its foundation.
We still face these questions today. They are being discussed and played out everyday in boardrooms, homes, and the halls of government. The “turning” point for innovation is approaching. It’s not likely to be one breakthrough product or technology but an amalgamation of advances big and small that will redefine our relationship with oil and, indeed, with energy itself. The world is so much more connected and interdependent than it was only two decades ago. That allows for unprecedented communication, collaboration, and the exchanging of ideas, technologies, and money. Oil is still the prize for the moment. But competition is fierce for the burgeoning prizes to come with the second green revolution, not only for fame, fortune, influence, and power but for the ultimate prize of a sustainable world that will benefit us all. Until then, however, it’s anybody’s game.
- Justin Manger