Boom: A Long Strange Journey Along the Keystone XL Pipeline

by Tony Horwitz

Reviewed by Howard Polskin

Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz spent a decade covering wars for The Wall Street Journal and the experience comes in handy as he reports on the battle for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  His e-book single “Boom: A Long, Strange Journey Along the Keystone XL Pipeline,” is an absolute must-read for anyone seeking understanding and context about the contentious issues swirling around the controversial pipeline.

Writing in the first-person, Horwitz travels by car along the pipeline beginning first in the frozen northern edges of Canada. It is there that oil is extracted from the sands of Saskatchewan.  Predictably, it’s a messy business scarring the earth and ruining the pristine wilderness. Reading about it will curdle your granola.  Horwitz tells us it takes two tons of sand to produce a single barrel of oil. He is no Ivy Tower preacher cocooned in his Westchester study with a glass of port  and a book shelve groaning under the weight of back issues of Sierra Magazine and the collected works of Bill McKibben. He puts boots on the ground for several weeks in a hellish tour of the bleak outposts where the oil is captured and transported: Hinsdale, Whitewater, Rosebud, Steele City and other stopping points across the unforgiving landscape.

Horwitz gives us both sides of the pipeline controversy.  Pro-pipeline advocates tout how the use of this oil will reduce our dependency on energy products from unfriendly countries that support terrorism. We learn that the pipeline will double the amount of oil flowing into the United States from Canada to about 1.3 million barrels a day.  That’s about the same amount that comes from Saudi Arabia. Oh – and let’s not forget the huge surge in well-paying jobs (including strippers) that goes along with the production and shipment of this oil.  It’s why North Dakota is our country’s fast-growing state. 

“Boom” bursts off the page with colorful characters and hamlets Horwitz introduces us to along his journey from the outer reaches of northern Canada to Nebraska.  He opens the story in Fort McMurray, a troubled, frozen city on the edge of an oil field that is rife with drugs, alcohol and homeless.  Canadian musician Neil Young once visited and promptly labeled it a wasteland. There are too many workers and not enough places to house them.  It’s probably cheaper to rent a beachfront unit in Miami.  One-bedroom apartments go for $2,000 a month.  The details are fascinating.

At the end of the Horwitz’s journey, we’re not just better informed about one of the most critical environmental issues facing the United States, we’re also mightily entertained by a first-class story-teller.  Bravo Horwitz.


Buy “Boom” at: Amazon, iTunes

1 reed=poor; 2 reeds=average; 3 reeds=good; 4 reeds=excellent
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