Thinking big about energy with T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens has made nearly $1.5 billion as an oil man, financier, corporate raider, takeover artist, and hedge fund chairman. He’s been working since he was 12 years old, when he started delivering newspapers, and, at age 82, is a larger-than-life character who has spent, he says, $70 million of his own money to advance a plan to eliminate American dependence on foreign oil.

Meeting with editorialists and editorial page editors recently in Dallas, Boone Pickens turned out to be visionary, highly intelligent, witty and, in fact, somewhat charismatic. He’s the kind of guy you’d like to kick back with after hours with a glass of something and discuss the issues of the day.

Most compelling, however, is his message.

First, the historical perspective. In 1970, Nixon pledged to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. At the time, the United States was dependent on foreign oil for 23 percent of our usage. At the end of the decade, that dependence was at 28 percent. Candidate Obama told us that, in ten years, we won’t be importing oil from the Middle East. “It’s been two years, and nothing,” said Pickens, who scoffed at Obama’s commitment to have a million plug-in hybrids in ten years. That’s one just million out of 250 million vehicles on the road….a drop in the bucket. He urges the President to start to think big.

Pickens has no problem with oil imports from Canada and Mexico. But, let’s say we use 21 million barrels a day, 13 million of which is imported. Of those, 5 million comes from OPEC nations. Inevitably some of that money makes its way to the Taliban.

We are, Pickens says, “the only country in the world without an energy plan. If you don’t have one, (de facto) that plan is foreign oil. One way to cut down, he says, is to use more natural gas. Our natural gas reserves of 4000 trillion hcf of natural gas equates to 700 billion barrels of oil. Here’s where the discussion becomes a little dicey. Boone Pickens owns a load of natural gas, so he is going to benefit mightily if we follow his prescription. (He also urges wind and solar as alternatives to oil, and he has huge investments in wind power.) The fascinating thing about him is that, even though we know this, he is still mighty persuasive. You end up thinking what the heck, if he makes a bundle off this shift in policy, but we really reduce our dependence on foreign oil, isn’t that a net plus? Ted Turner, in Time Magazine, called this a win-win proposition.
Furthermore, his private success should lead to public good if he follows through on his commitment to give away 90% of his wealth.

We can have immediate impact if we require the eight million 18-wheelers on the road to use natural gas, as do some 13 million cars and trucks worldwide and already some 134 thousand cars in the United States. He’s trying to push this in Congress.

His Pickens Plan includes a requirement that all future federal vehicles would use domestic fuel as a resource. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a bill that would provide a tax credit to new vehicles using natural gas. (A similar benefit is on the books for trash trucks in Southern California.)

Under Congressman Ed Markey’s leadership, the House passed a comprehensive energy bill last spring. It’s bogged down in the block-everything Senate. If we can’t get comprehensive legislation passed, maybe the answer is to institute change one piece at a time. Where’s Scott Brown on this? As Pickens’ father taught him, a fool with a plan can beat a genius with no plan. Why not take the first step?

The St. Louis-Post Dispatch says that Pickens may be self-serving, but he’s right on energy policy.
Robyn Blumner writes in the Chicago Sun-Times that we do need a plan but, “ If Pickens and people like him had been more politically responsible in past years — supporting candidates like Al Gore rather than Republican oil boosters — we would have had one already.”
That might be correct historically. But it’s hard to argue with Pickens’ theme that “It’s time to end the insanity of using expensive, dirty fuel bought from the enemy.”

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below

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