December 14, 2019

Is the Pickens Plan wrong once again?

Posted on 10. Jun, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

He’s baaaack. T. Boone Pickens. In 2008, his “Pickens Plan” sounded like the solution to our energy problems and would have filled the Midwest with wind farms—backed up with natural gas-fueled power plants. At the time of his self-promoted plan, the price of natural gas peaked. He likely did quite well with his natural gas investments. He went away, and his idea of farms filled with wind turbines was forgotten.

But he’s back with a new spin: television ads and media appearances promoting, once again, natural gas use—this time in America’s fleet of trucks. With high prices at the pump and Middle East unrest, the 2011 Pickens Plan sounds good. Using natural gas for transportation fuel is, as the Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVA) ad posted on his website states: “clean, less expensive, and right here.” It seems hard to argue with and dozens of congressmen have signed on to the plan known as the NAT GAS Act (New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions) or HR 1380.

There are many pluses to his plan. Natural gas is good. Natural gas is American. Natural gas is comparatively cheap. Pickens deserves some credit. He is willing to take a bold step and make our dependence on foreign oil part of the national debate. Replacing foreign oil with American natural gas as a transportation fuel may be a good idea. Even benefiting personally from his own idea is laudable and is the foundation of capitalism and innovation.

Pickens’ new plan might be a good idea if, as a country, we were still “living large,” as we thought we were in the nineties. Then, we could maybe afford to give a billionaire his next billion. But now, in the middle of the worst economic crisis most Americans have ever seen is not the time to be adding to the deficit by giving away more subsidies to fix a system that is not broken.

If the idea of converting diesel trucks to natural gas and installing new fueling stations along the interstates is so viable, Pickens should be courting private industry such as Mac and Kenworth. He should be working with the network of truck-stop owners and trucking companies. Instead he is tempting Congress with what appears to be a juicy apple. Sadly, with subsidies for wind energy, solar power, and ethanol, the playing field is not level—a true visionary cannot compete as government deals favors for its friends (like Jeffery Immelt and GE).

The NAT GAS Act takes advantage of high oil prices with natural gas, low. With the exception of a blip during Pickens’ last plan promotion, the decline in natural gas prices tracks the discovery of new shale gas reserves made available through a process known as “fracking”—supply is now higher than demand. However, if a switch to natural gas vehicles was forced to take place, suddenly more would be used. At the same time, environmental groups want to stop the use of hydraulic fracturing, which would cut future supply. Rather than coal, the carbon-crazed culture supports natural gas-fueled electricity generation. The low-cost benefit could easily disappear as use increases.

While natural gas uses and costs could climb—we do have lots of it. If exploration was encouraged, we may well have even more. Recently, Germany announced plans to shut down their nuclear plants and replace them with natural gas. Their natural gas use will go up—but they have very little. Most of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia—which wields the supply like a weapon. Shale gas discoveries in Poland and the Ukraine have lowered prices. In an effort to maintain control of the market, Russia’s Gazprom is in support of France’s recent ban on hydraulic fracturing.

A potential EU-wide ban on fracking, coupled with rising demand for natural gas, could tighten the global market for something America has in abundance. Instead of replacing foreign oil with American natural gas and borrowing more money for new subsidies, we should limit our exposure to price volatility and lower transportation costs by encouraging exploration and extraction of our own oil. Natural gas is great for the generation of electricity and a growing population requires more energy. America’s, Europe’s, China’s and India’s needs will expand. If natural gas-powered vehicles can survive in an open market—fabulous! But let’s not borrow trouble by forcing ideas that don’t naturally work. Instead, let’s take a step to solve our economic crisis and sell something we have that everyone else wants. America could be baaack—on solid ground, with news jobs and foreign money pouring in to purchase our natural gas!

Marita Noon is the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.

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