T. Boone Pickens is on a crusade to wean America off its addiction to foreign oil. The famed oilman and corporate takeover artist has been crisscrossing the country pushing the Pickens Plan, which proposes converting heavy vehicles to run on abundant and domestically available natural gas.
The plan is not uncontroversial, particularly amongst some in the green community who note that it is based on controversial extraction techniques and that Pickens, an oil and gas investor, stands to profit handsomely if it is enacted. But the plan, which inspired a bill in the U.S. Congress called the Nat Gas Act, also has influential supporters in Washington and at The New York Times. We caught up with Pickens a couple of weeks ago. The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Txchnologist (Txch): You’re a successful businessman who made hundreds of millions in oil then in the corporate world. Why did you turn to natural gas late in your career?
T. Boone Pickens (TBP): Maybe you think it’s late in my career. I never imagined retiring and I think I’ve worked at the same pace for the last 60 years. I’m a hard worker and I enjoyed working. This was a project I took on because the American people had to understand something about energy.
Txch: For people who haven’t heard about it, can you explain the Pickens Plan?
TBP: It’s a security issue with me. The U.S. is importing 13 million barrels of oil a day – 5 million comes from OPEC. I view that as we’re paying for both sides of the war. And it borders on stupidity.
Txch: How do you feel about your chances of getting it through congress?
TBP: I have over 200 sponsors now. I had a guy tell me the other day that he’d seen legislation with over 270 votes fail. I said, ‘My 200 is about 50-50, Republicans and Democrats.’
Txch: What do you need to do to win the remaining votes?
TBP: When people think about this it’s clear. If you’re not for this then you’re for foreign oil.
Txch: Why natural gas? Is it the fact that it’s a clean fuel, or is it because it’s available in abundance locally?
TBP: What options do I have other than natural gas? It’s either natural gas or OPEC.
Txch: What did you make of the recent Cornell University study that claimed the greenhouse gas footprint of certain extraction techniques is worse than coal?
TBP: I drilled over 3,000 wells myself through one of the largest aquifers. I never had a failure on a frack job. I don’t know of any failures or mess-ups at the aquifer and there have been thousands of wells drilled there. I find the complaining is all taking place in Pennsylvania. Why don’t you have any complaining in Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas? I don’t know what their problem is.
Txch: You’ve endorsed legislation in Texas that would require drillers to explain the chemicals they’re using. Does this mean you acknowledge people have concerns about hydraulic fracturing?
TBP: I did it to reassure people that there’s nothing bad in there [the chemical mixture.]
Txch: There has been a consensus between the green community and those who want to ensure energy security that natural gas is an ideal bridge fuel. Are you worried that this coalition is falling apart?
TBP: I don’t see why the green community and the security community are going to fall apart.
Txch: Is it lonely being a critic of big oil and coal [Ed. as Pickens points out below, this is incorrect. His friend Ted Turner criticized oil subsidies at a lunch where both men spoke] while being targeted by some in the green community who are suspicious of your capitalist impulses?
TBP: I’ve never criticized big oil. There’s no special deals for big oil, they follow the same rules as everyone else. I’m just out here at 82 years old, working for a living. I paid 95 percent of all the taxes after I turned 70. I’m a hard worker and I have feel like I know where I stand on things. I feel like I’m on the right side of the issues.
Txch: Anything you want to add?
TBP: I’m for wind and solar but you can’t run an 18-wheeler on power from wind or solar. Only thing you’re going to move an 18 wheeler with is natural gas or diesel. It’s cleaner, it’s abundant and it’s ours. We seriously are idiots if we don’t use our own natural resources.
This Q&A appears by consideration of the GE-sponsored blog The Txchnologist.
Picture: Chairman of Boone Pickens Capital Management T. Boone Pickens speaks at the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 at the Cox Pavilion at UNLV August 10, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.