Could Natural Gas Solve Our Oil Addiction? T. Boone Pickens Thinks So

T. Boone Pickens, a former geologist turned billionaire energy investor, believes that one way America can reduce its dependence on foreign oil is to make use of the country’s abundant, cheap natural gas reserves.

As such, he has set an example by driving a Honda Civic that runs on natural gas supplied from pipes that are used to fuel his home. Given that the price of natural gas in America is at almost record low levels, it costs Pickens less than $1 per gallon in the car he uses to drive from his home to his office. Meanwhile, gasoline is approaching the $4 per gallon national average we witnessed back in 2008.

Pickens endorses the Natural Gas Act, a bill with bipartisan support that would provide tax credits to convert commercial vehicles from diesel power to natural gas, with usage fees from the gas making up the shortfall in lost revenue.

Of it, he said that as Americans, “we’re foolish not to take advantage of [the opportunity].”

In a CNN interview Pickens said that the U.S. has gone 40 years with no energy plan, yet given abundant natural gas reserves available, if one were put in place to capitalize on these resources, it would enable the country to essentially replace the entire five million barrels of oil currently supplied each day by OPEC. This is especially true, he said, as domestic gas reserves are three times the size of oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest single producer of black gold.

Considering the U.S. natural gas supply also represents approximately a quarter of America’s daily crude consumption, the savings, at least in theory, could be significant, not only in terms of consumption but also financially. Pickens said he believes greater natural gas consumption will likely ease demand for gasoline, while greater competition from a much cheaper alternative fuel will likely cause gasoline prices to drop.

Yet although the idea of converting commercial vehicles to run on natural gas seems like a good one, in practice, it remains a difficult hurdle to overcome. Even Pickens himself pegs the cost of conversion at around $35,000 per vehicle, not exactly a viable number for many fleet companies. Furthermore, significant infrastructure challenges also remain, as natural gas filling stations are few and far between.

That said, the argument persists that we could take a page out of Pickens’ own personal book and develop a way in channeling natural gas that’s widely used for heating buildings through plumbing systems, to receptors from which vehicles can be fueled. Some have said that it would be less of a challenge than developing a hydrogen based infrastructure to support future transportation.

Indeed, some notable commercial vehicle manufacturers are exploring the concept. Recently Peterbilt Motors held a special event in Texas – as shown in the video above – to showcase natural gas technology in big rigs, with some surprising observations among those who attended.

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  • MrEnergyCzar

    It takes a lot of oil to transition away from oil…. getting rid of the need for long haul trucking is the only adaptation that would lessen the pain… think local food production…


  • natural gas is about as cheap as they come now

    instead of buying all that land from the ogallalah aquifer, t boone pickens should have spent his money on finding a way to cheaply and with great ease and speed update the distribution system to make it easy for bus depots , delivery truck depots, and personal homes but NOT trucks.

    nat gas will not compete with diesel. it will compete with fleet vehicles already running on gas, and with people who are willing to fill up their tanks at home.

    anybody thinking about buying a plug in electric would have bought a plug-in natty light gas if it were cheap and available.

    a hybrid natty gas plugin electric is a godamn no brainer.
    get home, plugin for 10 minutes and put a 10 kilo gas can in your tank and between the 2 things, you got 200 miles of range in 10 minutes and for all of 3 dollar. which would have costed at least 30 bucks of gas at the gas station and taken 5 minutes to fillup.

    but t boone was too greedy. didn’t want to put in money for the r and d , he thought he could get the politicians to spend the publics’ tax dollars on that stuff.
    sorry tboonyyyyy.

  • James Davis

    You cannot stop the addiction to oil by becoming addicted to natural gas. Spend billions, if not trillions, sitting up a system for natural gas and we will be in the same shape we are now with oil…the price for natural gas will skyrocket. Any time you let 1% of your population control the natural resources, the 99% is going to greatly suffer. Haven’t we learned that with oil???

    There is only one way to break the addiction to oil and break the chains at the gas pump, and that is to start mass producing electric cars that does not use a drop of oil or gas of any kind and supply solar panels with a storage battery to every home. You can do this with the money you would had used to set up a system for natural gas. 35 thousand dollars that it would take to convert one vehicle to natural gas can provide solar panels and a battery to several homes.

    You cannot stop the addiction to one devil by becoming addicted to another devil.

  • 9691

    You guys are not fair. CNG has been in widespread use for nearly a decade in other developed economies where the government doesn’t subsidize the price of gasoline and where it costs an arm and a leg for a liter. Many world manufacturers have started in the last decade offering factory made cars who run on both fuels. It is exactly that reason why Europe is seeing a slight increase of interest in gasoline vehicles vs. diesel. Because of CNG being cheaper than diesel. I even drove one during a trip overseas. No difference performance-wise. When you start the motor, it does it on gas, then, within the first minute it switches to CNG and you don’t feel anything. Now, most people would prefer an electric car any day over an ICE, but a CNG hybrid is much better than a pure gasoline one.

  • Duude

    Big rigs transitioning to natural gas is about the only intelligent solution I’ve heard in 20 years. The argument about fueling stations falls flat when you consider the fact the President is pushing electric vehicles which can also be fueled up at home but with an 8 hour wait. Natural gas also provides far more range than electrified vehicles. But I don’t expect the President to go down this road. If reelected I fully expect he’ll push the EPA to rule that natural gas fracking is unsafe and needs to be banned. The energy secretary stated 3 years ago that the US energy solution was to see gasoline prices much higher, like Europe. That way we’d more readily accept high priced alternatives. Cheap natural gas might actually lead to lower gasoline prices which is out of the question.

  • bo

    increased natural gas wont lead to lower gas prices because refineries make more money exporting gas. So if gas does become cheaper it will be sent out of the country. It is great to make use of the new found natural gas as long as the fracking is proved to not damage the drinking water. What makes little sense though is spending significant amount of money transferring our vehicles to natural gas because natural gas vehicles would not reach the desired goal because the price of natural gas would increase. As the price of natural gas increases the companies would do with natural gas they are doing with oil, exporting it. The prudent decision would be to create a vehicle that has a stable energy cost rather then being tied to an energy source that risks being driven up by speculators and exporters. The other up side to an electric vehicle is the fact that the technology is exportable and it motivates companies to derive profits from intellectual achievement rather then profits from extraction.

  • Tony

    I’m wondering where that $35,000 figure came from. This discussion is by no means new – Pickens has been pushing it since at least 2000. And at that time they were pegging the difference in price between a CNG automobile and a gasoline powered car at about $400. Now obviously that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can convert a gasoline car to CNG for $400. But it does mean that you could simply replace most cars for around the purchase price of a new one, which is far less than $35k in most cases. Surely a conversion would be far cheaper than that, since you’d be keeping most of the vehicle. Even a whole new engine can’t be $35k even for a commercial vehicle.

  • John K.

    CNG HVs are the optimal choice right now and for the next several years until EEStor, Envia, Li air, nano or other battery tech comes along. (Flybrid is worth watching too.)

    I’d love to see Honda combine the HV and CNG tech of its Civics. A CNG Prius would be awesome — super clean and super cheap to fill. Ford has had experience w/both CNG and HV, so a CNG Fusion HV would be doable.

    Actually, for the 50th anniversary of the Mustang, I’d LOVE a “California Special” to have a CNG V-6 w/stop-start and other EcoBoost stuff. It would be fun and sporty and embrace California’s enviro friendly future while honoring the past.

    Like the grid, natural gas already has a national infrastructure vs. hydrogen. CNG gets us off of OPEC crude immediately!

  • Reality Check

    Local food production? Not a even a viable concept unless we abandon the cities and move back to a farming society. That won’t happen, and local food production is merely an old hippy’s fantasy.

  • Reality Check

    Solar panels? Not in the real world, between the panels, electronics and the storage system to make enough electricity to charge a commuting vehicle you would triple the original price of a Leaf at a minimum.

  • Paul Sine

    While I respect your views, I think what T Boone is saying is for all of us to use Nat. Gas as a bridge fuel to stop sending our money to the Middle East. Since the 80’s Americans have sent 7 trillion to OPEC. It represents the largest transfer of wealth in recorded history.

    We NEED electric solar and wind as true renewable energy but if we are going to also use fossil fuels we might as well use American fuel (nat. gas) as opposed to sending our money oversea.

    Just a thought…