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.