Monday, January 24, 2011

Oligarch Pickens' Focus Turns from Hot Air to Gas

Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens' TV commercials blasted the airwaves in 2008 with his big idea to get America off foreign oil imports: natural gas and wind energy.

Since he has ditched his wind program, he has also ditched wind energy in his commercials. It's all about natural gas now. He wants the government to subsidize truckers' purchase of natural gas.

Touting 1.7 million Pickens Plan supporters, he’s now pushing Congress to pass legislation that would offer incentives to convert 18-wheelers and fleet vehicles to run on compressed natural gas, or CNG, rather than diesel, reports MSNBC. He said if just 8 million of those trucks switch to the domestic-produced fuel, it could cut in half the amount of foreign oil imported by the United States.

Pickens admits that he may benefit financially but that’s not his main goal. “If that was the case, I shouldn’t have spent $80 million,” he said, according to MSNBC. He says that if America is going to stop importing foreign oil, we must focus on transportation.

Aside from the economic absurdities of subsidies, Pickens' argument against importing foreign oil is an argument that has always been a mystery to me. If foreign oil is such a vulnerable commodity, that we may be subject to it  being cut off from us, shouldn't we use up all the foreign oil we can, now, so that we save domestic supplies for when the great foreign oil cut off arrives?

In truth, there will be no great worldwide oil cut off. Most major oil producing countries count oil as their largest revenue producer, cutting off the sale of oil would mean a drastic reduction in their standards of living. Even militaristic states need oil revenues to buy weapons.


  1. How, then, do you explain the oil embargo of the early 1970's?

  2. Part of the problem was the price control response to the oil embargo. Later on, people cut energy consumption and the oil producing nations paid for trying to force US to make do with less oil since all cars became so much more gas efficient. The embargo hurt the oil producing nations more and the real pain, the long gas lines, were self-inflicted.

  3. Pickens is a complex character. His wind power interests and, more to the point, the associated transmission line rights of way, have as much to do with moving water to the DFW metroplex as they do with electricity. As to natural gas as automotive fuel there are some practical hurdles to be aware of. Here (Brazil) CNG has been subsidized and became fashionable with taxi drivers who travel the Rio- São Paulo axis. For gasoline vehicles the conversion fairly cheap and technically simple. Not so for diesel, BTW. What the drivers have told me is that long-term use of CNG results in more rapid wear of internal components -- in particular, valve stem seals -- requiring that cylinder heads be replaced with greater frequency. ooops.