September 11, 2008

Oilman’s Pitch ; Albuquerque Hears Billionaire’s Plan for U.S. Energy Independence

By John Fleck Journal Staff Writer

T. Boone Pickens looked a bit like the professor in your freshman political science class Wednesday morning when he stepped to the white board at the Albuquerque Convention Center and wrote down a single number:


That is the number, in billions of dollars, leaving the United States every year to buy foreign oil. Pickens, a billionaire Texas oilman turned renewable energy evangelist, thinks that is a very bad idea.

Wind, along with a dose of natural gas to fuel our cars, is the answer, Pickens told a crowd of nearly 2,000 who attended his Albuquerque Town Hall.

Pickens has put his own money and his folksy but formidable personality behind The Pickens Plan, which he is pushing with town halls and television commercials.

"This is about my kids, my grandkids and soon-to-be greatgrandkids," he said with his trademark Texas-Oklahoma twang.

Playing the professor Wednesday, Pickens offered a tutorial in U.S. energy economics.

The United States consumes 21 million barrels of oil per day, he pointed out -- 4 percent of the world's population, consuming 25 percent of its oil. Why? There are 750 cars here per 1,000 people, compared with 44 in China and a global average of 120. "We have more cars than anyone else," he said. "That's why we use more gasoline and diesel."

But only 7 million of those 21 million barrels of oil are produced in the United States. "We're paying for it," he said.

Pickens said he favors expanded oil drilling in the United States because every dollar spent on U.S. oil is a dollar not sent overseas. But he said he does not believe it will solve our problem.

"You can't drill your way out of it," Pickens said.

Natural gas, on the other hand, is relatively clean, relatively abundant and, most importantly, domestically available, Pickens argued.

Natural gas can be used in vehicles, he said, but most of it now is used to generate electricity. By greatly expanding U.S. wind power, we could free up natural gas to fuel our cars.

Pickens' ideas have been greeted warmly by energy experts, but with caveats and suspicions, in part because of Pickens' major investments in wind power.

"Pickens has a large financial stake in land poised for wind development, and not surprisingly, the Pickens Plan focuses exclusively on wind power," New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Chairman Jason Marks said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Marks agrees with Pickens that expanded wind power can play a major role in our nation's energy future. But Marks and others say that it's unlikely to free up the large amounts of natural gas Pickens expects. Natural gas is now commonly used in combination with wind turbines to keep the lights on when the wind is not blowing.

Marks also leveled a broader objection: that Pickens is offering a "silver bullet," when what is needed is full range of new energy solutions: wind, solar power, biomass and geothermal.

(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.