T. Boone Pickens made his fortune in oil. Now, he’s trying to convince Americans that they need to get less energy from oil and more from sources like wind, solar power and natural gas.
The 80-year-old Pickens, invited by the Michigan Student Assembly as part of the University’s ‘green’-themed Homecoming Week, said the plan’s not about the environment. It’s about national and economic security.
The United States spends $700 billion a year to import 70 percent of its oil from foreign countries.
In July, Pickens, who is the chairman of the hedge fund BP Capital Management, unveiled the “Pickens Plan,” which aims to reduce foreign oil consumption by investing in alternative energies like wind, solar and natural gas. With his plan, Pickens wants to build wind farms in the “wind belt” — a strip of land from Texas to Canada — one of the windiest areas in the nation.
Pickens added that he’d like to make natural gas — mostly used to fuel power plants — available as transportation fuel by replacing its current use with wind energy.
“Anything we can capture back in the United States will help us, help our economy, it’ll help jobs,” Pickens told the packed room. “It must be done.”
Pickens said he would like to implement broad, sweeping change.
“100 percent American, zero foreign oil, if I can get it done — I can’t,” said Pickens, who is also the founder of Mesa Petroleum, the U.S.’s largest independent producer of domestic oil and gas. “I’m not going to get rid of all the foreign oil, but I can reduce it by 50 percent or more.”
To some in the audience, that goal seemed a bit lofty.
LSA freshman Derek Sutton said he found the plan is unrealistic because of the scarcity of natural gas, which Pickens said could serve as a replacement for gasoline.
“Natural gas is still very fine in quantity,” he said. “It’s also open to the global market, and it’s not as if only Americans are going to use it.”
Business School Prof. Andrew Hoffman said the plan would at least generate discussion concerning the energy crisis.
“I see what he is doing as part of a broader conversation that we need to have in this country about how to handle energy sensibly,” said Hoffman, adding that he didn’t believe the Pickens Plan alone could solve the nation’s energy problem.
MSA’s choice to invite Pickens to campus was a surprise to some. This time four years ago, Pickens was creating headlines of his own. Pickens helped re-elect President Bush in 2004 by donating $3 million for advertisements that accused Bush’s opponent, Sen. John Kerry, of lying about his military record. Most of the accusations turned out to be false, but many credit them with helping to tilt a close race in Bush’s favor.
Pickens had been a long-time donor to the Republican Party, but recently dropped his party affiliation to re-brand himself and promote his new plan.
“I will not have anything to do with either of these candidates other than to advise them and try to get them focused on what I think is the biggest problem the country has, which is energy,” he said.
— Lindsay Kramer contributed to this report.