Oil Tycoon T. Boone Pickens Shoots the Breeze on Wind Energy and Natural Gas

In May 2009, Hour Detroit spoke with oilman T. Boone Pickens about energy alternatives, a conversation that, in light of spiking gas prices, merits revisiting.
Photograph Courtesy of Pickensplan.com

Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is dipping into his $3.1-billion fortune to help wean the United States off foreign oil. He calls it the “Pickens Plan,” a strategy that includes using more wind and solar energy to make electricity and natural gas to fuel vehicles.

Pickens, 80, was invited to detail his approach at this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference, sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber. Hour Detroit caught up with him for a preview. Below are edited excerpts.

 

It’s reported you’re spending $58 million on the Pickens Plan. True?

I already spent it.

How’s it going?

We’re a long way down the track. We’re going to have an energy bill out of the Congress this year.

How did the United States end up with its current energy policy?

It took 40 years. Forty years ago, we were importing 24 percent [of our oil] and now we’re almost 70 percent. It just keeps going up. You’re actually buying oil from the enemy. You’re funding both sides of the war. You ask what’s the problem. Well, you had cheap oil. It was easier to buy cheap oil than to take care of the problem ourselves. There are 85 million barrels of oil produced in the world every day, and we’re using 21 million. We’re using 25 percent of all the oil and we only have 4 percent of the population.

How will your plan affect a Rust Belt state like Michigan?

You know, I don’t know. It’s been almost impossible to get the car manufacturers in the United States to consider going to natural gas and get away from gasoline and diesel.  If they were to respond to what I just said, they would say, “Look, we don’t have people that want that. And when they want it, we’ll make it.”

That’s a good argument from their side. I want natural gas in heavy-duty [vehicles] where we can go after big volumes. Our proposal to the transition team was that we do 350,000 18-wheelers on natural gas. And then see what we’ve got; look at that model.  We believe that’s going to get us where we want to go. There are 6.5 million 18-wheelers in the United States. That’s what I’m after.  If I do 350,000 of them, I can reduce foreign oil by 4 or 5 percent.

That is big. If we go for 10 more years like we did the last 40, we’re going to be importing 75 percent of our oil and you’re going to be paying $300 a barrel for it.  So you’ve got to have a plan.

Speaking of alternative fuel, I understand you own a Honda Civic fueled by natural gas. How does it drive?

Good. There’s no difference. You can’t tell whether you’re driving on gasoline or on natural gas. These cars have been around for a long time. General Motors makes them, but not in the United States. They make them for South America and for Europe. The technology is well known.

Is oil driving U.S. foreign policy?

To some extent. Oil is so big; it’s over half of our trade deficit. We can’t get off of foreign oil. We don’t want to get off the oil from Mexico and Canada. I think those are safe suppliers and it’s North America.

Oil from Venezuela? We’ve got to be nuts taking that. He [President Hugo Chávez] will say anything about us. And then you’ve got the oil from the Mideast. That’s very questionable as to whether those people like us or not. Odds are no. And you’ve got some really unstable areas in Africa — Nigeria, for one. Those are the kind of places that you want to get loose from, if you can.

How big are U.S. oil reserves?

We’ve got 3 percent of the reserves in the world. We’re producing 5 million barrels a day, so we’re squeezing everything out of everything we have. But we’re a marginal producer.

How did you get the idea for the Pickens Plan?

It wasn’t hard. It’s easy to analyze. You know what oil you’re importing. You know who you’re importing from. Can we do anything about it? Well, we listed all the resources we have to reduce that dependency. As for transportation opportunities, you come down to natural gas. It’s abundant, it’s cheap, it’s ours, and it’s clean.

How big are U.S. natural gas supplies?

About 150 years’ worth. It’s enough to take us to the next generation of transportation fuel. When do we get there? Probably in 20 or 25 years.

How about hydrogen to fuel cars?

About 150 years’ worth. It’s enough to take us to the next generation of transportation fuel. When do we get there? Probably in 20 or 25 years.

How about hydrogen to fuel cars?

It’s expensive. I’m not opposed it. I’m not opposed to anything American.

 

For more information about the Pickens Plan, visit www.pickensplan.com

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