Billionaire T. Boone Pickens — who comes across as a worldly-wise, aw shucks fella you’d like have a cold one with and listen to his war stories about all the fortunes he’s made and lost — is again in the role of latter day media circuit rider, spreading the gospel, to all who’ll listen, of at least partial salvation for the nation’s energy woes: natural gas.
The Oklahoman, who got his start in business as a paperboy at age 12, went on to found Mesa Petroleum, one of the largest independent oil companies in the world, and then made millions more in corporate takeovers and mergers, not that long ago was everywhere present in the media touting the advantages of wind power and other “green” energy.
Now, admitting that he blew $150 million in wind power investments (“I lost my ass,” as he drolly characterized it on the TV show, Morning Joe), Pickens says wind and solar aren’t going to move 18-wheelers,” and that energy jobs growth continues to be in the U.S. oil and gas industry.
In a recent talk for the TED Internet discussion series (www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/t_boone_pickens_let_s_transform_energy_with_natural_gas.html), Pickens said alternative energy forms aren’t the answer for the nation’s present day problems, but that natural gas can be the bridge to a future far less dependent on oil and a loosening of OPEC’s stranglehold.
“Natural gas will do everything we want it to do,” he says. “It’s 130-octane fuel, it’s 25 percent cleaner than oil — and we have an abundance of it. It doesn’t require refining; it comes out of ground at 130 octane; run it through a separator and it’s ready to use. It will be very simple for us to make this transition.”
While natural gas-powered vehicles are nothing new — people have been converting vehicles for decades — Pickens says booming supplies of U.S. natural gas and falling prices make it ideal for the backbone of the nation’s transportation fleet: trucks.
“Wind, nuclear, and solar are fine, but if we’re going to do anything about our dependency on foreign oil, we have to address transportation.”
There are 18 million 18-wheelers in the U.S., he says. If converted to natural gas, the industry’s carbon emissions would drop by 30 percent, fuel costs would drop, and imports of OPEC oil would be slashed by 60 percent.
The U.S. uses 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas annually, Pickens says, but industry estimates are that there is 4,000 trillion cubic feet available — equivalent to three times the amount of oil the Saudis claim to have.
Citing a Milliken Institute study that the U.S. has paid $7 trillion for OPEC oil since 1975, Pickens labels that “the greatest transfer of wealth from one group to another in the history of mankind — and it’s continuing.”
The U.S. spends $1 billion per day on oil, he says, consuming 20 million barrels per day, while producing 8 million and importing 12 million, 5 million of which come from OPEC. That’s double the daily oil use of the second largest user, China, at 10 million barrels per day.
Over the next 10 years, Pickens says, if oil is $100 per barrel, the U.S. will transfer to OPEC $2.2 trillion.
“That’s not sustainable. The days of cheap oil are over. The Saudis have to get $94 per barrel to meet their social commitments. There is no free market for oil — it’s priced off the margin, and OPEC nations price it.
“We have to become more dependent on our own American resources,” Pickens says.
The U.S. is “the only country in the world that doesn’t have an energy plan and there’s nothing going on in Washington to get one.” Converting 18-wheelers to natural gas would be a first step toward a workable energy policy, he contends.