Pickens criticizes push to lift ban on US crude exports

HOUSTON — T. Boone Pickens, one of the country’s biggest cheerleaders for natural gas, is unenthusiastic about the idea of removing bans of the export of crude oil, saying that the U.S. should instead focus on reducing its dependence on foreign oil, especially from the Middle East.

“I am not too keen on exporting when we are importing 9 to 10 million barrels a day,” Pickens said, speaking at World LNG Fuels 2014 conference in Houston on Wednesday afternoon.

The United States currently uses about 18 million barrels a day of oil and produces about 8 million barrels. About 4.5 million per day are imported from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, which includes Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and several other countries with whom the United States has had challenging relationships.

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Pickens said the United States would be better served by reducing its imports from these countries, rather than beginning to export some of the crude that has created domestic bottlenecks.

“When you are buying from OPEC, some of that money gets in the hands of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” Pickens said.

The idea of opening crude oil up to exports has been pushed heavily in recent weeks by oil industry leaders and U.S. politicians, including Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.

Pickens instead encouraged greater use of natural gas for trucks, and increased oil trade with Canada and Mexico — countries he considers more reliable partners than many of those in OPEC. Mexico currently exports a little less than one million barrels a day to the United States, while Canada exports more than 2.4 million barrels per day, making it this country’s largest supplier, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

“I think you want to keep Canada and Mexico tied to you,” Pickens said, referring to the extensive trade between the three countries. “You can use their oil and they need your markets.”

He was less complimentary towards Venezuela, the fourth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States.

“I’d like to cut those birds loose,” he said, expressing frustration that the United States continues to look for part of its energy needs from countries which have had checkered political relationships with it.

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He also lobbed a pot shot at President Barack Obama’s thin knowledge of the industry, complaining that Obama has said that hydraulic fracturing has only been around 30 years, while Pickens has been working on projects since the 1950s.

“You won’t believe this, but he was totally inaccurate,” Pickens said. “I heard him say that the Department of Energy had developing fracking, due to their research 30 years ago. That’s about how accurate this guy is.”

Pickens made his fortune off of oil speculation deals but in the last 15 years has focused on campaigning for the expansion of natural gas development and use.