T. Boone Pickens offers energy answer
T. Boone Pickens has watched the millions come and go, sometimes in a single day. He's been high and low, anointed as a savior and lambasted as a vulture. At one point, his life had all the makings of a country-western song. He was ousted from his company while going through a protracted divorce and living in a hotel.
T. Boone Pickens has watched the millions come and go, sometimes in a single day.
He's been high and low, anointed as a savior and lambasted as a vulture. At one point, his life had all the makings of a country-western song. He was ousted from his company while going through a protracted divorce and living in a hotel.
Now, at 80, the legendary - yes, they call him stuff like that these days - and sometimes controversial Texas oilman isn't quitting yet.
He has one more thing to do. He wants to solve the nation's energy crisis.
Instead of foreign oil, he wants wind. He wants natural gas. He wants solar and a smart grid.
He's got a plan, and he's been stumping heavily for it since he announced it last July, spending $58 million in the process.
Wednesday, he was in Missouri. Yesterday, he was hoofing it down from the Four Seasons to the Franklin Institute, the wind whipping his navy suit jacket.
The geologist and once-infamous corporate raider has been in the energy business for more than a half-century and is looking spry, thanks to a personal trainer.
He was headed for an 80-minute talk he would deliver as this year's recipient of the Franklin Institute's Bower Award for Business Leadership.
"It really comes down to, I've decided I was the only one that understood the problem, and I was the only one with the solution, and it was a mission for Boone, and that's about it," he said as he crossed a street.
He felt so strongly about it that he woke his new wife up at 2 one morning to tell her so. "I said, 'Madeleine, this has got to be fixed.' "
And she said, " 'I know . . . but let's go back to sleep and do it tomorrow.' "
Inside a packed Franklin lecture hall, he spoke without script or notes.
The problem, as he sees it, is foreign oil. He hammered at the statistics: With just 4 percent of the world's population, this country consumes 25 percent of its oil.
Every year, the United States imports nearly 70 percent of the oil it uses, at a cost of $500 billion, mostly from "people who don't like us" and from countries that are largely unstable.
He called it the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.
"It's crazy," he said. "We've gone deep into a trap. Nobody led us in there. We went in ourselves."
He calls himself an environmentalist, which may raise the eyebrows of those familiar with his long ties to conservative causes.
In 2004, he gave $2.5 million to Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth, which bought ads criticizing the military record of Sen. John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee.
Nowadays, he says cheap oil has allowed presidents of both parties to drift away from ubiquitous campaign promises to wean the country off foreign oil. There's been no energy plan.
So now, "can you imagine? An 80-year-old guy shows up with a plan," he said recently. "It's kind of pitiful in a way."
"Do we have the resources to solve the problem? Yes, we do," he said at the Franklin, moving toward a whiteboard and picking up a marker.
He began writing. Oil. Coal. NG. . . .
That's the biggie: natural gas.
Pickens sides with Al Gore and others when they say they want light-duty cars and trucks to go electric as soon as possible. But when it comes to trucks and buses and the like, he sees natural gas as the answer.
Compared with oil, "it's abundant, it's cheaper, it's cleaner," he said. And one big source could be Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation. "No question, Pennsylvania is going to be key," he said. It also has been controversial for its environmental effects.
Coming from west Texas, where the wind is all but constant, he also wants to see the country generate 22 percent of its electricity from wind, add some solar, and build a better grid to move all this juice around.
Pickens said he owns no natural gas: "I'm not up here trying to make a buck for myself."
He does own stock in Clean Energy Fuels, which claims to be the country's largest provider of natural gas transportation fuels.
Later, it was lunch for 24 in the Franklin's board room, where Pickens signed copies of his recent autobiography, The First Billion is the Hardest: Reflections of a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future.
Fellow Texan Herb Kelleher, retired chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines and a former Bower Award winner, introduced Pickens, saying, "Whether you want it or not, you're a damn idol."
Pickens said the nation was behind him.
At his Web site, www.pickensplan.com, he has amassed what he calls the "New Energy Army" of 1.5 million members, whom he exhorts to lobby their legislators.
He hopes to have energy legislation in place before Congress' August recess.
He roused his army via a blog and the "BooneCam." In one video, Sarah Palin comes to visit, and he jokes that she's the only governor for whom he'd wear a tie in his office.
More footage is from the Feb. 24 national energy summit.
There he is, between Gore and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Pretty good, sitting between two Nobel guys," he noted.
At one point, U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.) is shown banging the lectern, saying, "I agree with everything Boone Pickens says, and I never thought I'd say that."
Pickens has written that he believes he was "put on this Earth to make money and be generous with it." He has given close to $2 billion to charities, including more than $200 million to the athletic department at his alma mater, Oklahoma State University.
Last night, shortly after 8, in the rotunda with the massive statue of Benjamin Franklin, Pickens bent his head as Franklin CEO Dennis Wint put the medal around his neck. He turned, waved briefly, and mouthed, "Thank you, thank you."
Today he's off to San Diego, to host a public meeting on the aircraft carrier-turned-museum the Midway.
"We're still keeping a tough schedule," he told BooneCam viewers this week. "We believe this is what we've got to do."
Franklin Institute Awards
Last night, the Franklin Institute celebrated the contributions of eight trailblazers in science, business, and technology.
T. Boone Pickens of Texas received the Bower Award for Business Leadership for more than 50 years of accomplishments in energy production, his recent focus on renewable energy, and his philanthropy.
Sandra M. Faber, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who made discoveries in the properties of distant galaxies and dark matter, received the Bower Award for Achievement in Science, which comes with a $250,000 prize.
Six others received Benjamin Franklin medals.
Ruzena Bajcsy of the University of California, Berkeley: computer and cognitive science medal for work in robotics and computer vision.
Stephen J. Benkovic of Pennsylvania State University: life-science medal for work in enzymes and DNA replication.
J. Frederick Grassle of Rutgers University: earth- and environmental-science medal for research on deep-sea volvanic vents.
Richard J. Robbins of the Robbins Group L.L.C.: engineering medal for developing a hard-rock boring machine used to construct underground tunnels for transportation and other uses.
George M. Whitesides of Harvard University: chemistry medal for research in molecular self-assembly.
Lotfi A. Zadeh of the University of California, Berkeley: earth- and environmental-science medal for developments in the field of fuzzy logic.