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All but Alone, Pickens Soldiers on in His Oil-Habit Quest


By David Greising
Chicago Tribune
October 14, 2008


The stock market had opened down nearly 800 points Friday morning, then bounced
back by 500, and T. Boone Pickens paused from describing his big idea for U.S.
energy independence to tend to his investments.

“Have you done anything on equities?” Pickens asked an aide monitoring his portfolio.

Pickens instructed the aide not to do anything rash. Then, as quickly as any
80-year-old man can move, Pickens jumped back to the topic of America’s energy
future.

“If John McCain gets 1 million extra barrels out of drilling on the outer
continental shelf, that is like Obama’s 1 million hybrid cars,” Pickens said.
The similarity: Neither would make a dent in the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Pickens warns against the political and economic costs of buying $500 billion in
foreign oil each year. The number used to be $700 billion, but $80-a-barrel oil
has cut that.

This is the way it goes with Pickens’ quest. World events keep interrupting his
effort to get the U.S. to kick its oil habit. It’s hard to hold the spotlight
when the world financial system is melting down and a steep drop in oil prices
is easing the public alarm about energy costs.

Pickens will soldier on, though, at a town-hall-style meeting at Navy Pier on Tuesday.

Call him the Cassandra in cowboy boots. Like the princess of Troy, Pickens is
blessed with a vision of the future and cursed by the fact that he can’t get
anyone to act.

He met with Obama. He met with McCain. He even met with Sarah Palin, whose plan
for a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to Chicago warms Pickens’ heart.

And what came from those meetings? Nice photos and press releases. Not much more.

Pickens complains that the presidential candidates have talked only in general
about their energy programs. McCain wants to build 45 new nuclear plants by 2030
and drill, baby, drill for oil. Obama wants wide-ranging research aimed at an 80
percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

“Neither one of them will reduce foreign oil,” Pickens said. “You have to have a
complete plan for the voters by Nov. 4 and tell them what you’re going to do.”

Trouble is, Pickens is more hat than cattle when it comes to details too. He may
star in TV commercials and pen persuasive slogans, but he has yet to offer vital
details or mapped out a true, national strategy.

Pickens wants a 10-year extension to the production tax credit to encourage
investment in wind farms. The government should help fund a $70 billion program
to tie wind energy into the electric grid. He believes $40 billion must be
spent, mostly by private industry, to convert commercial trucking to natural
gas. And he wants the federal government to convert to a natural-gas-powered
fleet, even for passenger cars.

Still, the political and economic obstacles won’t go away. The economic crisis
only makes it tougher to envision any aggressive new-energy investment.

Pickens, a Texas oil man and former corporate raider, has invested in a wind
farm and in a company that owns natural gas stations. But his personal political
spending seems counterproductive to his cause. He backs the sort of conservative
Republicans who seem to relish voting against the kind of spending and
investment he promotes.

Pickens seems to realize he is ahead of public sentiment. “I have to be
considered a pioneer,” he said. And he’s blazing a trail that, so far, not many
people are following.

 

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