The 84-year-old billionaire met with AOL Autos not long ago at his BP Capital offices near Dallas, Texas to discuss his "Pickens Plan," rally against OPEC and outline the concrete steps toward achieving his alternative energy goals--all with that famous, salty sense of humor.
The Pickens Plan
The U.S. spends roughly $400 billion annually on foreign oil. Gas has risen to over $4.00 a gallon in many parts of the country this year. Though prices have fallen back to an average of around $3.70, many consumers--and the government leaders who represent them--believe something has to change to keep oil-supplier countries like Iran and Venezuela from holding economies hostage to rapid price hikes.
"If you don't like $4 gasoline, let me tell you...you're going to see 5,6,7," Pickens said.
His Pickens Plan prescribes a basic two-pronged antidote: wind and natural gas.
Wind energy, says Pickens, should provide a larger portion of the nation's electricity, such that the natural gas currently fueling power plants could be diverted to fuel heavy trucks. Thus, by placing an emphasis on natural gas burning trucks and buses (and eventually passenger cars), the U.S. could reduce its reliance on foreign oil.
Despite this clean logic, there's a lot of resistance to his plan from an array of constituencies, and especially in Washington. Pickens casts that as mere obstinacy or special interests.
"What it is is about America, very simply," he told AOL Autos of his plan. "It doesn't have anything to do with politics or making money or anything else. It's about our country is what I'm talking about. I'm just trying to get the country on our own resources, and we can't get them to get off their butt in Washington and do that."
This resistance to change, Pickens feels, contributes to a vicious circle.
The Arguments Against CNG
Some environmentalists and concerned citizens criticize hydraulic fracturing, the drilling technique known as fracking, the most common way to tap into natural gas wells. After horizontal drilling, water and toxic chemicals are injected into the earth to release gas. Drillers insist that the chemicals go thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers, but that hasn't stopped some water supplies from being affected anyway. And environmentalists are against ramming chemicals into the ground to release natural gas on principle.
Over 800,000 wells have been fracked in the U.S. since 1950, and Pickens claims he's never experienced a contamination problem in the 3,000 that his companies have fracked.
He also down-plays the gravity of potential consequences of methane in water.
"It's a water well," he said. "It's not a water well that supplies New York City."
But not everyone takes the potential dangers of fracking so lightly. "There is a lot we don't know about the impact of fracking on the geology of the U.S., as well as ground water," notes AOL Autos Editor-in-Chief David Kiley. "I believe we absolutely need to explore putting more natural gas vehicles on the road--they perform great--but I can never understand why we can't at the same time dig into understanding better the downside of how we are getting the gas out of the earth." Adds Kiley, "You have to wonder why the nat-gas industry doesn't want anyone exploring this, and why they roadblock having their methods and chemicals known by regulators."
Pickens pays it no mind. Instead, he believes relying on OPEC is the greater danger.
"Do you want to take that risk, or would you rather listen to some guy who found a water well that had some gas in it?" he said.
His logic comes down to resource supply and controlling foreign threats: the U.S. uses 25% of the oil consumed everyday with just 4% of the population, but U.S. has two-times the natural gas of what the Saudis have in barrels of oil equivalent.