Pickens Stirs Terrorism Fears to Push Natural Gas Vehicles

If it seems like a while since T. Boone Pickens has graced your television screen pushing his “Pickens Plan” for energy independence, it isn’t because he’s given up. The most recent Pickens Plan spot began airing yesterday, the first of three ads highlighting the appeal of domestically produced natural gas to power American vehicles.

Pickens and his cohorts stand vehemently in opposition to foreign crude oil, which they argue is largely sold by enemies of the United States. Foreboding music and cryptic Arabic characters associate a vague terrorist threat with the gasoline used to power the nation’s vehicles. Pickens appears on the screen offering a better solution: American natural gas.

Winds of Change

The strategy marks a change in course for the legendary Texas oilman, who suffered a string of setbacks that drove his vision out of the public discussion and back to the drawing board. First, a series of ballot initiatives that would have funded wind and natural gas investments in California failed to make headway in 2008, despite a mammoth advertising and PR campaign (mostly funded by the billionaire) aimed at drumming up grassroots support. Around the same time, oil prices crashed, knocking the wind—literally—out of the Pickens Plan’s populist appeal. Pickens seems to have dropped wind energy from both his rhetoric and his investment portfolio.

A failure to get mass-produced compressed natural gas vehicles into showrooms—or even moving through the development pipelines at car companies—was punctuated last week at the North American International Auto Show. Auto makers featured a wide range of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles, which are miles ahead right now in the race to displace gasoline as America’s transportation energy of choice.

But just because natural gas isn’t winning at the consumer level doesn’t mean it’s out of the picture completely. The New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act, or “NATGAS”, is currently working its way through Congress. The bill aims to provide major tax credits for producing natural gas and the manufacture or purchase CNG vehicles. It would also mandate that 50 percent of new vehicles purchased or placed into service by the US Government be capable of running on natural gas. With only one natural-gas model, the Honda Civic GX, available to consumers—and with extremely limited prospects of more being produced—Pickens is focusing on trucks and buses.

Another Push, By Pulling Strings

NATGAS has nearly 130 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and recently picked up the support of big-league Washington power player John Podesta, who is best known as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. That’s a job you don’t get without a big Rolodex and sharp elbows—and he’s been campaigning both alongside Pickens and on the phones to get NATGAS the support it needs to become law.

After failing to get plans moving for a massive wind farm project that has been in the works for years, Pickens cut a $2 billion wind turbine order in half, a move that has sent reverberations throughout the industry. From a business perspective, his eggs are now firrmly nestled in the CNG basket. Pickens own Clean Energy Fuels, formerly Pickens Fuel Corporation, the largest provider of natural gas for transportation in the United States. The die-hard free market oilman is now looking to Washington subsidies and fleet adoption of CNG vehicles as his last best hopes.


  • Donfred

    They did it before and crippled our truck fleets with high diesel fuel costs. Can the president help, please

    I pray to god.

  • Jay

    I myself drive a turbo charged 7 seat car (Opel Zafira CNG). The car is amazingly powerful, offers large space and produces less CO2 than a small car. Pickens is correct. CNG is a valid alternative to gasonline. While CNG powerd cars are good no matter where the compressed gas comes from, CNG really outperform all other solutions once the gas is produced from crops.
    Also, so far I do not see and disadvantage for driving a CNG – except for the limited range of about 250 miles with CNG. Yet, the car has an additional gasonline tank offering another 100 miles range.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I agree that natural gas is an important tool for weaning us off of our oil dependence. It is just best used to generate electricity for an electric car than by just burning in the car because you use about half as much if it is used in an efficient co-generation power plant than a lot of distributed vehicles.
    Additionally, a solar-thermal power plant can easily use Natural Gas in the same steam turbine that generates the electricity when the sun is not shining sufficiently.
    We will run out of natural gas eventually so it is definitely not a long-term solution to anything.

  • Samie

    Wasteful and shameful if you ask me. Who are these people trying to fool? We don’t have enough natural gas to supply a domestic fleet of vehicles. And if any one out there believes so you have another problem, you end up IMPORTING CNG. How stupid, you empower those that Pickens is trying to blame on the oil side like Iran and a new player Russia, comes in to give us problems.

    There is the point you need to encourage a more independent “fueling system” one that can offer multiple ways to power our vehicles not another centralized system. Always go to Congress to get idiotic legislation past.

  • TD

    The lobbyists trying to roll the taxpayer yet again.

    If this isn’t proof that money buys influence in our supposed democracy then nothing is. We might as well just hand the reins of power directly to the oligarchs now instead of continuing this charade of a democracy. Both parties are completely owned by corporate interests. A pox on them all.

  • Hydrogen/Nuclear

    Build more nuclear plants and power the Hydrogen car, which can go more than 40 miles like a RC Battery car.

  • Mike Johnston

    Let’s remove the political/personal grousing from the conversation and
    see what we are left with. From day one The Pickens Plan has advocated utilizing “Anything American” to move us toward a green energy economy. Yes, he is heavily invested in natural gas and wind energy but he spent 60 million dollars advertising “Anything American”.

    It seemed to me to be an incredible benefit to green energy in general to have someone step up and invest that kind of money into public awareness. Let’s face it, in a free market system someone is going to be making a ton of money off any type of energy (wind, solar, geothermal included) and it is the people who stand to make the most who will be the most vocal champions of that particular type of energy.

    General Motors does make CNG vehicles and has been selling them in Europe and South America for years. Last year Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela ordered 60,000 of them. Venezuela, Iran and Brazil are all way ahead of us on alternative vehicle fuels. If the oil producing nations switch to CNG fuel they have more oil to sell to us. They obviously understand the value of energy independence for their economies and their national security.

    See this paper from the Center For American Progress on oil and
    national security: http://bit.ly/8Wnkhl

    If you research a bit further you will see that the CAP agrees
    wholeheartedly with the idea of natural gas as a crucial addition to
    our transition to a green energy economy. In addition I was at the
    conference earlier this year where Boone Pickens, Al Gore, Bill
    Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and others were seated around a
    table and all agreed that natural gas was the only viable choice to
    move heavy trucks off of imported oil and that it should play a
    significant role in our energy future.

    Another way in which natural gas can lead us into a clean energy
    economy is by serving as a bridge to ultra clean hydrogen fuel. India is currently mixing up to 18% hydrogen into the natural gas stream there to be used as a vehicle fuel. When done like that there is no special storage and distribution network necessary for the hydrogen fuel.

    Solid Oxide Fuel Cells can also run on natural gas or a combination of natural gas and hydrogen. Internal combustion engines are only around 30% efficient in converting the energy released by burning fuel into usable energy. Fuel cells are 90% efficient and so using natural gas fuel cells would cut pollution by 60% and increase mileage by a similar percentage. Add in an additional 18% reduction in CO2 emissions if hydrogen is in the natural gas stream and we end up with 78% of our total CO2 emissions being eliminated through building on our existing natural gas infrastructure. That is more than enough to easily meet the Kyoto Protocols and very cheap in comparison to any other alternative.

    Natural gas is the only fuel I know of than can serve as a viable
    bridge to a hydrogen economy using the existing infrastructure as a
    starting point. During the transition both internal combustion engines and fuel cell vehicles could run off the same fuel so one network would serve everyone during the transition.

  • Lemac the cameL

    So you think that terrorism is a vague threat to this country and if not for T boone Pickens stirring up trouble, everything sould be just fine?

    Interesting.

  • freedml

    Last time I checked, all Hybrid cars run on gasoline. Not that they have to, but they do. And, last time I checked, there IS a CNG car in Dealer Showrooms — the Honda GX has been there since 2006 MY and has been produced since 1998. They don’t make a lot of them, and don’t advertise them, but they’re there. I have 3 and they’re great.

  • Chandra Tamirisa

    Currently, dirty coal power supplies 48% of American electricity with about 30% coming from non-fossil sources. Electricity supply from domestic clean coal (for example, the Department of Energy’s Futuregen Alliance) can shift transportation completely out of oil to all electric vehicles using the existing electricity grid to meet the primary Pickens Plan objective of eliminating imports of foreign oil and the associated global demand price shocks to inflation in the immediate term. Domestic natural gas for use in the next generation combined cycle clean coal plants to support electric vehicles and hybrid natural gas or gasoline-electrics will best allocate the domestic fossil fuel energy sources of the United States.

  • Jerry Lee Bleecker

    Not enough natural gas? There are oceans of this stuff in Canada, the US, and more …

    It’s just a part of the puzzle. We need to get on with fuel cells, natural gas vehicles as a bridge with hybrids.

    The Toyota Camry provided a natural gas / electric hybrid. Seems like a smart plan.

    Pickens is correct

  • Max Reid

    Recently Shale Gas reserve has been found which will double America’s known natgas reserves.

    World has lot more Gas than Oil, so we can move our vehicles to natgas.

    After all, countries like Pakistan & Iran have moved more than a million vehicles to natgas.

    There are nearly 11 million natgas powered vehicles worldwide.

  • Mr.Bear

    CNG, the great counter example to rapid charging stations or hydrogen fuel stations: readily available, no foreign imports, cleaner burning than gas, etc. I remember 21 years ago I saw a duel fuel gas and CNG car. CNG cars were the cars of the future.

    I guess they still are.

  • Save the Green Backs

    Global Warming is Balony Sandwich. No facts to back up global warming! We need to be energy independant of OPEC, so they do not strangle our Economy. Though it is strangling on its own right now. Low energy price has been a big growth for American, but we are drowning on Oil. We are followers in the World(of Oil) not leaders! I believe in pollution control, but global warming is a farce!

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Save the Greenbacks,
    I wish I had more of the information that allows you to be so confident that our planet isn’t heating up because of greenhouse gas emissions but, unfortunately, everything I’ve seen points to the contrary. It is too bad that that windbag, moron Gore was the first one anyone listened to about it since he blew his credibility with his Internet invention claims.
    Oh well, I definitely agree with you that we’ve got to become independent of oil either way as it is going to run out eventually and most of it is controlled by people who hate us, even today.

  • Samie

    CNG will be imported no question about that. Yes the free market system if inelastic will allow few to control how people get their fuels not acting as monopolies but oligopolies, that is adding CNG into the mix. American Progress on Oil and National Security???, that’s interesting…. but fails short…. Often too many people only want to hear what they want to hear. Shame so many get into short-term thinking.

    Next how is CNG decentralizing our energy system? With electricity you have diversification by allowing different ways to “fuel” your car. This offers greater technological advances that is easier to manage and to innovate.

    Pickens and his crowd are nervous about the mass wave of EV’s and the key point here is controlling distribution of how people fuel their cars. That is business and often people ignore this part of what Pickens wants to do. Again the key word is controlling distribution not the environment. This could reduce innovation and long-term we could end up no better than some of our current problems with petroleum.

  • John K.

    Some of you have not been paying attention to the Pickens Plan. Pickens is NOT pushing CGN for autos. He is *primarily* pushing CGN for semi rigs/18-wheelers. Try working the numbers for a EV semi hauling a full load. It won’t work.

    I, on the other hand, do like the idea of a EREV w/a CGN range extending generator. But that is just me musing, not Pickens talking.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    John K,

    Good point. I agree that hybridizing long-haul trucks probably doesn’t make sense since they already have an anemic ICE (relative to their mass) that runs pretty much at peak efficiency.
    On the other hand, local delivery trucks that do a lot of stop-and-go driving could definitely benefit from an electric or hybrid drivetrain.
    To take it a bit farther off-topic, however, I do not support long-haul trucks in general. While there is clearly some need to use trucks for long-haul, trains, more specifically, electric ones offer a sustainable long-haul form of transportation. It will probably be a long time, however, before it is economically feasible to electrify the western railroads because of the vast expanses that would need to have infrastructure added.

  • Samie

    John K

    In interviews last year, Pickens made his intentions to push CNG/LNG into passenger vehicle markets, unless things have changed this time around, he still has the same intentions, as he has not ruled out this option. So the point is that it is not out of the reach for Pickens and others to extend this lucrative business proposal to passenger vehicles as the second part of their strategy. Eg. forcing automakers to add at least 1 natural gas vehicle to their yearly lineup of vehicles. Start small, then expand as we have seen with the ridiculous legislation from the ethanol crowd. So I don’t disagree with you but look closer at the plan and you will see the flexibility into passenger vehicles and hence my concern that this will not be much different from our current petroleum distribution/market and our current security problems with petro in the long-term.

  • Shines

    No one has mentioned the other alternative with natural gas – conversion to gasoline.
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=turning-natural-gas-pollution-into-gasoline
    This would allow our existing infrastructure to continue. No need to make CNG or LNG cars.
    I also see the possibility of being able to fuel my CNG car from my home’s natural gas and thereby creating competition between electric, natural gas and conventional fuel (gasoline) for my transportation needs.
    A plug in CNG hybrid might be nice…
    Public transportation can be improved also…

  • Reggie Larger

    The terror card is more than irresponsible. For starters Xcel Energy, for one, is showing dramatic reduction in electricity demand (see SEC K-10 numbers). Truth is the existing grid is horribly inefficient. Shipping wind power, or any power, as we do is simply mindless. To NOT rethink now would be like keeping horses instead of moving into “horseless carriages”. If we are to steward America’s resources each region of the country will need to identify what THEY each can produce locally—then also share regionally. The concept we currently use of a “Central Station” factory (having one massive energy plant; i.e. nuclear, wind or coal), then maximize production, to only ship far distantances is completely backwards. In future we’ll see communities everywhere “powering up”-manufacturing power and distributing it locally AND regionally. Think thousands of smaller “stations” everywhere. Jobs would flourish and it’ll almost eliminate terrorism threat to grid. No, this argument is NOT about wind, nor gas, – it’s about market share & transmission. Those who wise enough to see quickly realize the “profit barons” are simply rushing to hold future generations captive to endless profit and control–trying to invent a profitable model at ANY cost using various industries to support the NEED. Instead, it’s time for “smart grids” using the existing transmission system. The energy paradigm is shifting and they’d rather not discuss it. Time to partner with the actual “smart” consumer & allow ratepayers to in fact participate with a far better investment. There’s an idea? Heaven forbid! Let everyone profit from American ingenuity–not just the few? And as if the American household (and economy) couldn’t use a break – not just an enormous rate hike…. bringing profits for T-Bone and the big transmission builders. And would ITC Holdings in Novi Michigan and Xcel Energy like to dance with Pickens? You do the math! All too laughable. Get that issued solved and we will be well on the way to electric cars. See: http://pecva.org/anx/index.cfm/1,516,2263,-1,html

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Reggie Larger,
    I wholeheartedly appreciate your idea of distributed power generation. That just makes good sense for the reasons you give.
    However, I have to disagree with your assertion that the grid is inefficient. Even today with most long-haul transmission based upon technology that is nearly 100 years old, the electrical grid is quite efficient at transporting energy. Modern DC transmission lines can make it even more efficient. The beauty of the grid’s efficiency is that it can permit discontinuous alternative energy sources such as solar, tidal, and wind energy to be transmitted from places where it is in abundance to those where it isn’t.
    There certainly is a risk that control of the distribution could become a monopolistic problem but local generation and storage could offset that.

  • Job001

    Pickens is old enough he may be pushing natural gas for a combination of patriotic, environmental, and altruistic rather than just financial reasons. I believe he’s wise enough to see the correct direction our country needs to go. I also suspect we need to transport some energy by pipeline rather than by electrical grid for a combination of cost, security, environmental, anti-monopoly, free-market, and efficiency reasons.
    We also have more natural gas available now and more can be produced due to new technology, and natural gas is better than coal or oil because it has less carbon and more hydrogen in it’s chemistry, so it’s relatively better for the environment.

  • John K.

    ex-EV1,

    In case you aren’t familiar w/it, you should read about *hydraulic* hybrids. UPS has started testing them and they make sense for garbage trucks, school buses, delivery vehicles and the like. IIRC, they are more efficient than electric hybrids.

  • John K.

    “Foreboding music and cryptic Arabic characters associate a vague terrorist threat”? I don’t think so. He says that we’re exporting billions of dollars to buy oil, “much of it from countries that don’t like us.” The problem is bigger than just terrorists and terrorists organizations.

    The ultimate problem is that we are *dependent* on foreign sources of energy. If our suppliers don’t like our foreign or domestic policies, they can strangle our economy. Sure, if they overplay their hand that can boomerang back to hit them w/a worldwide depression — as has happened — driving down both demand and prices. But once we recover, if we don’t start down the road to independence, the noose is still around our necks, and OPEC (Venezuela/Russia/whoever) will be more than happy to tighten it once again.

    Different note: w/a more compact Li ion battery pack, I wonder if a hybrid CNG Honda Civic GX possible? Or, since we’re dreaming, a Chevy Volt w/a EEStor ultracap and CGN powered generator?

  • John K.

    Samie,

    I haven’t kept up w/Pickens, so that is why I wrote he’s pushing “*primarily* pushing CGN for semi rigs/18-wheelers”. Last I heard/read, that was his focus, so while I’m sure he’s not against CGN cars and may well be for them, I haven’t recently heard he’s focusing on them. Plus, with the momentum of PHEV/EREV/EVs, I doubt whether he’d be able to twist the entire US auto market to do what he wants.

    What do you think of my idea of a Chevy Volt w/a CNG generator, would you be against that? Should be extremely low carbon IMO.

  • Samie

    Good idea John K.

    If you use a CNG generator as a way to power the electricity that is fine, though if possible I would rather see LNG as the fuel for the generator. What I have reservations about is using CNG as a primary fuel for lightweight passenger vehicles. If you develop electrical systems that allows different inputs into it either as a generator or as a secondary energy to fuel battery drive that is the point to diversify energy use and allow for innovation and advancements from these secondary inputs. Also with some types of natural gas you need pipe infrastructure. We would need to spend billions on that as taxpayers and to justify the costs lobbyist along with Congress would try get auto manufactures to ramp up natural gas powered vehicles.

    I also doubt that Pickens can gain enough government support to minimize the first wave of EV’s. What they can do is minimize the role of government in long-term funding or mandates for EV’s. What others want to do is minimize the 3rd or 4th generation of EV’s which could have mass public appeal and reduce lobbying interests for natural gas in cars, E85, offshore drilling, ect… If incentives were in place for distributing liquid natural gas and subsidies for new Semi’s that use LNG in the next energy bill or transportation bill, I see no need for Pickens and his investors to scare people.

  • John K.

    Samie,

    Check out Boone’s interview by Jim Cramer on “Mad Money” (on CNBC) yesterday:
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/34959130/

    Boone says his plan is to replace diesel 18-wheelers and buses and only mentions them, not autos. He says again (I forgot about this) that he sees CGN only as a transition fuel. He also explains why he’s scaling back wind power for now. Boone says he expects congress to have a bill (I guess he means introduce a bill, not pass one, much less have Obama sign one) by Memorial Day 2010.

    BTW Cramer supports the Picken’s Plan.