T. Boone Pickens at TED Conference, advocates for alternative energy plan

The Takeaway

T. Boone Pickens knows energy. The 83-year-old billionaire entrepreneur started his first oil and gas company in 1954 and has been in the industry ever since.

In recent years, Pickens has been a vocal advocate for rethinking America’s energy sources.

“Washington does not understand energy,” Pickens said. “They do not spend the time and acquaint themselves with exactly what we have available and how to deploy it. We are the only country without an energy plan.”

Pickens’ response to what he viewed as a lack of leadership on the energy issue was to launch his “Pickens Plan” in 2008. It’s a $58 million proposal that would dramatically revise America’s energy use.

“The country uses almost 20 million barrels (of oil) a day, and of the 20 million we import 12,” Pickens said. “Some of that oil comes from friendly sources such as Canada and Mexico, but you do have 5 million barrels from OPEC countries. So any fool can see that you’re paying for both sides of a war. And you don’t have to do it. So what is a quick solution to the problem? Get on your own resources. And we have plenty of resources in America. What is missing is leadership in America.”

The Pickens Plan is comprised of several steps that would comprehensively rearrange how America sources its energy needs.

The Pickens plan aims to transform the Great Plains region of the country into a wind farm by building thousand of wind turbines that would produce 22% of America’s energy. In order to transport that energy to coastal cities, the plan envisions upgrading the national energy grid by building thousands of miles of transmission lines. The plan also pushes for the development of low cost natural gas resources to fuel America’s cars and trucks.

“Today you are overwhelmed by natural gas,” Pickins said. “Natural gas is selling today for $2.50 at MCF. Compare it around the world, you almost have to laugh at yourself. In Beijing, natural gas today is $16, and in the Mideast it’s $15, in Europe it’s $13. Here it’s $2.50.”

Critics of the Pickens Plan argue that natural gas may be cheap, but developing it has a heavy cost on the environment.

According to the Environmental Working Group, a clean air and water advocacy organization, drilling for natural gas is anything but natural. Drilling for natural gas, a process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” involves injecting rock bodies with pressurized water, chemicals, and sand in order to release the gas. This process creates hazardous wastewater, can lead to chemical leaks, and releases the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere.

Pickens said that fracking is a common process that is not a cause for concern.

“I personally have fracked nearly 3,000 wells and I haven’t damaged any reservoir or aquifer,” said Pickins. “The largest aquifer in North America extends from Midland, Texas, to the South Dakota border. The Ogallala aquifer covers my entire ranch. And we drill on it, we’re drilling a well on there, we fracked one two days ago. I have no concerns.”

Other critics of the Pickins Plan have questioned Mr. Pickens’ motives.

According to an article in The New York Times, Pickens stands to profit substantially from the changes outlined in his plan.

“Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Pickens’s plan aligns with his own business interests. He is the founder and chairman of an energy-focused investment fund, BP Capital, as well as the majority shareholder in Clean Energy Fuels, a company that supplies fuel for natural gas vehicles. Mr. Pickens’s plan also includes a bid to foster wind power … He is one of the country’s biggest investors in wind generation,” the Times wrote.

Despite these critiques, Pickens continues to push for his plan and to vouch for American energy resources.

“I can see what the future is going to be,” Pickens said. “And you are going to use natural gas in the United States and its driven by being $1.50 a gallon cheaper. “

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