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T. Boone Pickens Teams With... the Democrats?

Have you heard of T. Boone Pickens? The man who made billions in oil in Texas? Friend and supporter of George W. Bush? The man who funded the infamous Swift Boat TV commercials that played their role in bringing down John Kerry’s bid for the presidency in 2004? The man who is heavily invested in nuclear gas and… wind power? If you haven’t heard of him yet, you may just hear of him a lot in the future- and you may have heard of some of his friends.

“He’s a legendary entrepreneur,” President Obama said. “One of the things that I think we have to unify the country around is having an intelligent energy policy.”

Pickens has the ear of the Democrats, and he has lent his name to a new energy plan (the Pickens Plan) that calls, essentially, for the U.S. to reduce dependence on foreign oil an instead create natural gas vehicles. Pickens believes it can be one of the bridges between gas-powered cars and renewable energy in general. As he says, natural gas is clean, cheap and on U.S. soil.

Of course, there are issues with each of those simple, compelling arguments.

1.    Clean: It’s cleaner than oil, sure, but it’s still not a renewable resource, and you have to do an awful lot to get it out of the ground- and that process certainly isn’t clean.

2.    Cheap: Well, when gas was way up at over $140/ barrel, natural gas was a much cheaper option. But now that it is a fraction of that cost and hovering at about $2.50/ gallon around the U.S., natural gas isn’t so cheap anymore.

3.    It’s on U.S. soil: Most definitely- this is probably the most constant of the three claims- the natural gas is here, will stay here and will always be here. The issue with this is the most popular current extraction method, called hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), that uses chemicals some claim are polluting and destroying groundwater supplies.

Because converting large diesel vehicles and creating fleets of new vehicles around the country would require a lot more natural gas, all of those issues need to be considered in the light that we would need to start extracting around 30% more natural gas than we are currently taking out of the Earth- that could be a challenge. Both finding where it is that it can be safely extracted and finding the investment required to fund that kind of massive expansion.  

But there are signs that businesses are making the shift and that the White House is behind the plan. AT & T and Wal Mart are both creating large fleets of natural gas vehicles, and they are not typically early adopter types of companies. You know the technology needs to be operational and credible before they sign on to get a fleet. And in Washington Democrats who swore Pickens was a mortal enemy during the presidency of George W. Bush are moving over to his side, saying they back his plans and like his politics.

Strange bedfellows made by politics Indeed.