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How an Energy Expert Triggered Putin With Just One Word

An exchange between S&P Global Vice Chairman David Yergin and the Russian leader in 2013 foreshadowed the Kremlin’s current vulnerability.

Daniel Yergin

Daniel Yergin

Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg

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Daniel Yergin was at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2013 when he got a daunting request: Could he pose the first question from the audience to Vladimir Putin?

“I started to ask a question, I mentioned the word ‘shale,’” he recalls, referring to a once-unconventional source of oil and natural gas that by then was flowing freely in the US “And he started shouting at me, saying shale’s barbaric.”

Yergin, the vice chairman of S&P Global, discussed the incident on the latest episode of “What Goes Up,” along with other insights from his book “The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations.” American shale oil and gas has had a much bigger impact on geopolitics than people recognize, Yergin said. Even in 2013, it posed a threat to Putin in two ways: “One, because it meant that US natural gas would compete with his natural gas in Europe, and that’s what we’re seeing today. And secondly, this would really augment America’s position in the world and give it a kind of flexibility it didn’t have when it was importing 60% of its oil.”