Throughout his life, T. Boone Pickens has
always followed his own path.
A number of his post-Mesa Petroleum initiatives
reflect a long-standing vision about America’s reliance on fossil
fuels and his love for both the land and individual rights.
Perhaps Pickens’ most dramatic move occurred in
July 2008, when he launched a $58 million national advertising
campaign to promote the Pickens Plan, an energy policy aimed at
reducing the American addiction to foreign oil.
In television and print advertisements, in
stories and every imaginable talk-show format, appearances before
Congress, and town hall meetings across the country, he bluntly told
other Americans: “I’ve been an oilman my whole life, but this is one
emergency we can’t drill our way out of.” His scribbling white board
presentations, in which he outlined the impact of Peak Oil and the
U.S. dependence on imports, became water cooler talk throughout the
“A fool with a plan is better than a genius
with no plan, and we look like fools without a plan,” he repeatedly
Millions of interested parties have visited a
website he established to outline how the United States is spending
several billions of dollars a year on foreign oil—“the largest
transfer of wealth in the history of mankind,” and warned that if
nothing was done, the country could very well be spending $10
trillion on foreign oil within a decade. Hundreds of thousands more
signed up to be soldiers in his campaign to bring his solution — a
combination of wind farms along the Wind Belt, the vast corridor
that extends the length of the Great Plains, from Texas to the
Canadian border, and a transfer of a portion of the natural gas from
electricity generation to transportation use — to the forefront.
Once again, Pickens put his money where his
mouth was. In August 2007, a Pickens-led coalition of Texas
Panhandle landowners had filed documents with a state agency that
details plan for the world's largest wind farm, projected for
completion in late 2014. The project will add 4,000 megawatts of
wind-generated electricity to the power grid in Texas when complete,
enough to power 1.3 million homes.
In the process, he made new allies across
political lines that surprised many pundits. News reports started
speaking of former vice president Al Gore’s global warming awareness
campaign and Pickens’ energy initiatives in the same sentences.
“To put it plainly, T. Boone Pickens is out to
save America," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra
Club, after meeting with Pickens in 2008.
The Pickens Plan wasn’t the result of a sudden
conversion, however. For years, Pickens had pressed presidents and
industry representatives on the need for a coherent U.S. energy
While Pickens was still with Mesa Petroleum, he
became involved with natural gas fueling. He had a vision: to tap
into natural gas as a vehicular fuel. His motivation was two-fold:
one, to ensure a cleaner environment for future generations, and
two, to lessen dependency on foreign oil.
While chairman of the National Natural Gas
Vehicle Coalition for almost three years, Pickens traveled the
country advocating the merits of natural gas. When he left Mesa
Petroleum and its management wanted to divest of the natural gas
fueling concerns, he purchased them and in 1997 formed Pickens Fuel
Corp. He touted natural gas as the best alternative vehicular fuel
because it’s a domestic resource that reduces our foreign oil
consumption, and enhances America’s energy security; clean (NGV
vehicles emit up to 95 percent less pollution than gasoline or
diesel vehicles); less expensive than petroleum and hydrogen; and
safe (lighter-than-air compressed natural gas is nontoxic and
disperses quickly, and has a higher ignition temperature than
gasoline and diesel fuel, which reduces the chances of accidental
Reincorporated as Clean Energy in 2001 and
taken public in 2007, the company is the largest provider of
vehicular natural gas (CNG and LNG) in North America with a broad
customer base in the refuse, transit, shuttle, taxi, intrastate and
interstate trucking, airport and municipal fleet markets.
Tens of thousands of vehicles fuel at
strategic locations in the United States and Canada. Customers
include Los Angeles International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor
International Airport, SuperShuttle, Foothill Transit, Waste
Management, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, SYSCO Foods,
Ft. Worth Transportation Agency, Denver International Airport,
Denver RTD, MTDB of San Diego and the US Navy.
Pickens’ other concerns also involved a
dramatic connection to the land and its resources.
When Boone Pickens was 12, his father bought
him a .22 rifle and taught him to shoot. His hometown, Holdenville,
Oklahoma, had a natural beauty, rolling hills and placid streams
where Pickens would hunt. The pockets of ugliness that early oil
drilling pollution left behind there — scarred creeks and dead trees
— had a deep impact on him at an early age. When as an adult he
became a significant landowner, he felt a particular responsibility
for its proper stewardship.
His Mesa Vista Ranch, in the Canadian River
Valley of the Texas Panhandle, is a model for wildlife resource
management. The 68,000-acre ranch would be odd shaped to a
cattleman, but then cattle don’t roam there. Noted Texas outdoor
writer Ray Sasser has called Mesa Vista "a Wild West equivalent of a
southern gentlemen’s hunting plantation.”
Prior to Pickens’ first land purchase in 1971,
the rolling hills, bluffs and creek beds there suffered from
consistent overgrazing. The legendary entrepreneur immediately began
a multi-step program to help the land recover, over time investing
about millions in overall wildlife management strategies and
facilities, installing substantial water sources, feed plots and
native grass replanting, and power infrastructure.
The four creeks and ten miles on it that fronts
the Canadian River offers premium wildlife cover. Thirty-five miles
of buried water lines with outlets feed small waterholes at
1,000-foot intervals, benefiting wildlife from turkey, antelope,
mule deer and white-tailed deer to pheasant, quail, and ducks. More
than 300 quail feeders are kept full seven months a year to
guarantee the birds never go hungry.
Pickens has supported an ongoing Oklahoma State
biological study on the effect of heat and overgrazed habitat on
young quail on the ranch. Records show consistent year-after-year
quail production. The success with Mesa Vista spawned another
business for Pickens, searching out other Texas Panhandle and
western Oklahoma ranches and developing them on the same principles.
His team cleans up the land, clear off any cattle grazing there, and
allow natural vegetation to grow out, which provides nesting
While the ever-thinking Pickens feeds his
passion at Mesa Vista, spare time spent there is hardly that. He has
never relied on a master plan for wildlife improvements; rather Mesa
Vista is a work in progress, and will remain so as long as its owner
lives. He is constantly dreaming up improvements to the property,
evidenced by the notebooks his ranch employees maintain at the ready
to jot down the torrent of ideas that occur to Pickens as he drives
through the ranch.
Pickens also has stepped to the forefront of
national water resource development issues with a proposal to market
surplus and stranded groundwater in the Texas Panhandle to urban
areas in the state facing severe water supply shortages, including
possible river transport plans that would benefit wildlife and the
overall ecosystem of Texas Rivers. In the process, his Mesa Water
has become the largest private holder of permitted groundwater
rights in the United States.
Pickens and a group of more than 100 landowners
formed Mesa Water in 1999 to develop groundwater from the Ogallala
Aquifer under Roberts County in the far northeastern Texas
Panhandle. Today, Mesa Water is prepared to sell 320,000 acre-feet
of aquifer water per year to regions that desperately need it. In
April 2005, the Region C planning group, responsible for water
planning for much of North Texas, added the Mesa Water project to
its list of alternative supply sources. Mesa Water is also listed as
a possible supply source for North Texas Municipal Water District
(NTMWD), Dallas Water Utilities (DWU), Region L and San Antonio
Water System (SAWS).
The water is high quality, it is not needed for
local irrigation because the land it rests under is unsuitable for
farming, and studies support that supplies can support a prudent
plan of drawing off water from the aquifer. Mesa Water can have a
tremendous impact on the state’s water supply, diversity and
availability. To put it in perspective, 320,000 acre-feet of water
would satisfy the annual water needs of more than 1.5 million Texans
— that means a lot in fast-growing regions like North Central Texas
or San Antonio.
New York investment bank J.P. Morgan has agreed
to finance a 328-mile pipeline project to the Dallas-Fort Worth
region provided Mesa could find the customer there. If not, perhaps
a pipeline will run to San Antonio or El Paso.
Pickens figures it’s only a matter of time
before a deal reaches fruition.