FLORIDA, December 10, 2012 — The debate over America’s energy future always seems to be heating up. Considering that it impacts everything from how we power our cars to whether or not rare species of birds fall victim to air pollution, this should be none too surprising.
Some believe that nuclear power is the best way forward. Others claim that it has too many drawbacks. Fossil fuels form the backbone of our current energy supply, and relatively speaking, tend to be cost efficient. Despite this, no small number of people are eager to phase them out.
Oil is often described as liquid gold, and for good reason. Its plethora of vital uses has formed a multi-trillion dollar industry which spans the globe. Nonetheless, many are concerned that an unsustainable amount of petroleum has been unearthed, and believe this will leave the world in a difficult spot during the years ahead.
T. Boone Pickens is one of our time’s most well known industrialists and philanthropists. His legacy in the energy sector truly does speak for itself — to the ears of more than a few supporters and critics. In recent years, he has turned his attention toward raising public awareness about America’s reliance on foreign oil.
Pickens spoke with me about our country’s energy policy in the past, present, and future tenses. He also shared a bit of advice for today’s aspiring entrepreneurs.
Joseph F. Cotto: Not too long ago, finding consensus on the best energy policy for America was not as difficult as it is now. In your opinion, why have the times have changed?
T. Boone Pickens: The only vote we’ve ever had was on the Natural Gas Act in the Senate which was brought five or six months ago. We had fifty-one votes for, and needed sixty because it was not considered germane to a transportation bill, which is totally unbelievable to me. Anyway, we got forty-five Democrats and six Republicans, and I was sure that it would pass, and it didn’t pass, and now, I think, we have another opportunity to accomplish it if the Senate wants to.
Harry Reid is for it, and he has more votes now than he had six months ago. Maybe it doesn’t have to be germane to the transportation bill, all you need is fifty-one votes. But the Natural Gas Act would be good to the country and if they want to pass it, it looks to me like it would be pretty easy to do now.
Cotto: Should America continue to invest in nuclear energy? Or, are the drawbacks of nuclear power too great?
Pickens: Well, I’m not so sure what the drawbacks are. It’s worked perfectly in this country. We had the one incident at Three Mile Island and I don’t know of any other problem. Nuclear has worked so well here, and maybe there have been problems around the world, but not that many, but I see no reason why you would cut out nuclear energy.
I know there’s a study going on by somebody now because I’ve been reading something about it. I can tell you what the summary will be to that study: Do not build them on the coast, and do not build them on faults. Build them inside the country on stable ground and I think that there would be no reason to believe they would fail.
Cotto: Many claim that America should continue using fossil fuels due to cost efficiency. What is your opinion about this idea?
Pickens: Well, what is going to replace fossil fuels?
Cotto: There are different ideas; solar power, some say. Another one might be nuclear energy, and then there’s geothermal energy, but that would be especially difficult, and hydroelectric power. Do you have any opinion about replacing fossil fuels, or do you think it’s something probable for America?
Pickens: None of those things that you mentioned — seventy percent of all the oil used everyday goes to transportation, and you can’t replace transportation fuels with solar or wind or geothermal. You can’t substitute them for transportation, so you’re going to use fossil fuels for the next fifty or one hundred years. Natural gas is thirty percent cleaner than diesel, so it’s at the top of the hydrocarbon chain, and it should be seriously considered for transportation fuel.
Cotto: From your standpoint, is oil depletion a problem that we are likely to face in the foreseeable future?
Pickens: Not really, because the oil and gas industry in the United States has done an unbelievable job for the country and for their stockholders. They have developed horizontal drilling — multiple cracks in horizontal holes — and consequently it’s technology developed in America that will be used around the world. All of it is good for the country because it makes us energy secure and we have the cheapest energy of anyplace in the world.
Our oil is twenty percent cheaper that the global market price, seventy-five percent cheaper for natural gas, and we have half the cost of gasoline. So, it’s an opportunity for us to take advantage of cheap energy and build the economy back on the basis of cheap energy.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering about your life and career. Do you have any advice for the aspiring entrepreneurs who might be reading this?
Pickens: I think you have the same opportunities I did when I got out of school in ‘51. I worked for a major oil company for four years and went out on my own and was very successful. The energy industry in America today is even more attractive than it was in 1951 because of the advancements that the industry has made in the last five to ten years.
So, a career in the oil and gas industry in the United States, I think, has a chance of being very, very successful.
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