July 17, 2008

Wind and Natural Gas: An Oil Man Shifts Gears

The following editorial appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, July 16:


When T. Boone Pickens talks about the need to find alternative energy sources, America's addiction to oil really has hit rock bottom.

Pickens, 80, is a rich and colorful businessman who contributed millions of dollars to support President Bush. He became wealthy from 60 years as an aggressive dealmaker in the oil industry.

But now Pickens is talking up the virtues of alternative energy. Pickens recently launched a media blitz touting natural gas and wind power. (The Pickens Plan, as it is called, can be viewed at http://www.pickensplan.com/media/)

Beyond the soaring price of oil, Pickens fears that America's dependence on foreign oil is "extreme" and "threatens the future of our nation."

Pickens points out that the United States imported 24 percent of its oil in 1973, the year of the oil embargo that led to long lines at gas stations and higher prices. Today, the United States imports 70 percent of its oil.

That leaves America vulnerable.

The U.S. economy hinges on the ability of foreign countries to provide our daily energy needs, not to mention the need to for us to maintain good relations with our oil partners.

In addition, the United States spends almost $700 billion a year importing oil. That's money leaving American shores and lining the pockets of foreign nations, creating a huge wealth transfer.

Pickens agrees with those who say this country can't drill its way out of the oil problem.

He believes in the "peak oil" argument, which says world oil production is about to enter a period of irrevocable decline. Demand will only increase as growing economies such as China and India consume more.

That further argues against proposals to drill off the coast of New Jersey or in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It won't be enough.

Instead, Pickens says his alternative energy plan could reduce oil imports by one-third in the next five to 10 years through increased use of wind to fuel power plants and natural gas to power trucks and cars.

Pickens says the midsection of America, from West Texas to Canada, is the Saudi Arabia of wind reserves. And that domestic supply of natural gas is abundant, cheap and clean.

Of course, Pickens' plan isn't altruistic.

His support for natural gas has been around at least since he formed a company more than a decade ago that operates natural gas fueling stations. Pickens also owns Mesa Power L.P., a company with ambitious plans for wind farms in Texas.

But so what if he gets a bit richer as a result; Pickens' alternative energy ideas are worth considering.


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