Last year, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tony Horwitz spent a lot of time in boomtown bars, studying the human side of the construction of the Keystone Pipeline that often gets lost in the debate over the controversial project.
"I was curious to know what was happening on the ground," said Horwitz, who will be speaking at a Lawrence Public Library event at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. 9th St. Horwitz, who lives in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., won't be there in person but will appear via Skype.
His experiences along thousands of miles of the oil pipeline are contained in his new eBook, entitled "BOOM: Oil, Money, Cowboys, Strippers, and the Energy Rush That Could Change America Forever. A Long, Strange Journey Along the Keystone XL Pipeline."
The pipeline stretches from Canada to refineries in the midwest United States and the Gulf Coast.
The application for the proposed Keystone XL portion of the project, which is kind of a shortcut from Canada to Steele City, Neb., which is just north of Kansas, has been under review for several years by President Barack Obama's administration.
In an interview Monday, Horwitz said he wanted to find out more about the project than the polarized political debate in Washington, D.C., waged between environmentalists and pipeline developers.
What he found crossing the vastly rural areas of Canada and the northern U.S. plains were complex feelings about the project.
In the drilling areas of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, and Williston, N.D., he encountered boom areas that drew tens of thousands of mostly young men to work at well-paying jobs.
"You have the predictable results: drug problems, crime, strip clubs. It is quite a scene," he said.
But, he added, "On the positive side, you have people building a middle-class lifestyle."
Then in Nebraska, he found conservative white ranchers and Native Americans joining forces to oppose the pipeline because of their concerns about oil spills contaminating groundwater and agricultural land.
He said opponents of the pipeline tend to be thought of as urban liberal environmentalists. "Then you find these burly guys in camouflage and John Deere caps aligning themselves with Native Americans," he said.
On a personal level, Horwitz said he is concerned about the pipeline's impact on the environment, but said environmentalists shouldn't discount the energy sector's ability to generate jobs.
"I also came away feeling the XL will not decide the fate of the planet," he said, but will be one of many heated debates in the country over energy policy.
Horwitz won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for national reporting on working conditions for low-wage earners. He has written several books, including a 2011 book about John Brown, "Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War."