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Pickens presents his energy plan to Notre Dame students

by Carol Elliott

October 28, 2009

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T. Boone Pickens, Texas oilman and founder and CEO of hedge fund BP Capital Management, brought his message about the need for new energy solutions to the University of Notre Dame on Oct. 26. Speaking before an audience of more than 600 students, faculty and staff members, and visitors at a town hall meeting at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, Pickens repeated his warning about America’s dependence on foreign oil and the need for students to envision a new energy future.

“We cannot continue to import oil from people who hate us,” he said. “Eventually, that will be a disaster.”

The talk was sponsored by the Mendoza College of Business and the Office of the Provost.

Pickens, 81, a longtime oil and gas industry investor and expert, presented his “Pickens Plan,” a major energy policy proposal. Originally announced on July 8, 2008, the plan promotes alternatives to oil, including wind and solar. During his talk, he described America’s increasing dependence of foreign oil dating back to the oil embargo in 1973. At that time, the United States was importing about 24 percent of its oil. Today, that figure is about 70 percent, which translates into spending about $700 billion on imported oil, said Pickens.

He expects that spending to increase to $10 trillion in the next 10 years. “That is $10 trillion leaving the U.S. and going to foreign nations, making it what I certainly believe will be the single largest transfer of wealth in human history.”

Pickens also said that the world oil production has about reached its peak, yet global demand continues to escalate. The scenario will eventually lead to a dramatic rise in oil prices to top $300 per barrel, he believes, with a corresponding rise in gasoline prices.

To avoid such a dire future, the Pickens Plan promotes a number of measures for the nation to switch to alternative forms of energy, including generating up to 22 percent of U.S. energy from wind power, adding solar power capacity and building a 21st-century electrical transmission grid. But most of Pickens’ 30-minute talk focused on replacing imported oil with domestic natural gas. He described it as the best solution at present, since it burns cleaner, is cheaper than oil as a fuel, and the country has a large reserve. In particular, Pickens pitched a plan for converting the nation’s fleet of heavy diesel trucks to being powered by natural gas, a move that was adopted in Southern California with its trash trucks.

Students and other audience members lined up at microphones after his talk for a half-hour Q&A session that included questions ranging from how Pickens felt about nuclear energy to the effect of the volatility of natural gas prices on his plan. In his answers, he reiterated many of his main points in his speech, that natural gas was currently one of the nation’s best fuel options, but that discoveries of newer, cleaner technologies was the longer-term goal. He put the onus on the students in attendance to find better energy answers.

“Our problem is huge," Pickens said. "You are my best prospect to help get this done."