After spending nearly three years and more than $80 million of his own money to tout his energy plan, T. Boone Pickens says he’s finally about to have something to show for his efforts.
Next week, a natural gas bill he has strongly backed is expected to be introduced again in Congress. And this time, the billionaire Texas oilman said, it has the votes the pass.
“I think we got the deal done,” Pickens told reporters after a luncheon speech Tuesday at the Petroleum Club of Houston, hosted by the Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers and Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. “I think we’ll get it through the House before the summer recess.”
The measure, called the NAT GAS Act, aims to boost use of natural gas as a fuel in the transportation sector. Lasting five years, it would provide vehicle tax credits to buyers of vehicles powered by natural gas, giving automakers greater incentive to build them.
The legislation is scheduled to be introduced on April 6, confirmed a spokesman for its author, U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla. Co-sponsors include Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla.; Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands; and John Larson, D-Conn.
“With our vast domestic natural gas supply, gas prices approaching $4 to $5 per gallon and given major instability in the Middle East, I think members of Congress are starting to look to natural gas vehicles as the bridge fuel we need to lessen our dependence on foreign oil,” Sullivan said in a statement provided by the spokesman.
The legislation could come up in a speech President Barack Obama is giving today on domestic energy policy. But it likely would be a measured embrace, as the administration continues to study possible environmental impacts of the key natural gas extraction method called hydraulic fracturing.
Priority: heavy vehicles
About 110,000 natural gas vehicles are on U.S. roads today, and more than 12 million are in use worldwide, according to the Natural Gas Vehicles for America, a Washington trade group.
Pickens said his priority is getting heavy vehicles like garbage trucks and city buses, which account for much petroleum use in the U.S., to convert to natural gas. Private passenger cars and trucks are a longer-range goal.
In July 2008, Pickens launched an advertising campaign to promote what he called the Pickens Plan. It urged the U.S. to break its dependence on oil from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and achieve energy independence by using homegrown energy sources, including wind power and natural gas.
“I want anything American,” he said Tuesday, even if it’s “our ugly baby,” corn ethanol. “I just don’t want OPEC oil.”
A transfer of wealth
If the U.S. continues on its current trajectory — importing nearly 70 percent of its daily crude oil needs – America could send $10 trillion to other countries over the next 10 years, in what Pickens has called “the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind.”
His plan has gotten a lift from major discoveries of natural gas in U.S. shale rock formations, which are estimated to hold a 100-year supply.
With such a bounty, it is “stupid” to keep relying on oil from countries hostile to the U.S, he said, issuing a challenge to Obama to make good on a campaign pledge to get the U.S. off of Middle East oil within 10 years.
“If we’re going to keep what we’ve got, we’re going to have to get on our own resources,” he said.
In a plain-spoken and often funny speech Tuesday, the 82-year-old oilman stuck close to those now-familiar talking points.
He also noted how, along the way in his Pickens Plan campaign, his image has softened a bit from the days when he was best known as a tough businessman and political advocate.
“Now,” he said, “the way I’m viewed is the old patriotic guy that may have a plan that will work for our country.”