Texas oilman and billionaire T. Boone Pickens stopped in San Diego on Thursday to sound off on his favorite topic these days: his plan to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
The United States currently relies on international imports for approximately 70 percent of its oil -- an addiction with both economic and national security consequences, Pickens said.
“We are paying for both sides of this war,” Pickens told more than 475 people at a San Diego Rotary Club luncheon. “How could this happen to us, as smart as we are? It happened because of cheap oil.”
Oil prices have abated since the 2008 summer highs -- Pickens had predicted the price would rise to $150 a barrel -- but without any change, prices could go up to $300 a barrel in 10 years, Pickens said.
By then, the United States would be importing 75 percent of its oil, he added.
The afternoon talk was part of the marketing campaign for his “Pickens Plan,” which pushes reducing oil usage in the short-term with wind and natural gas resources while other alternative energy solutions gain traction.
Pickens launched the “Pickens Plan” in July, investing $60 million of his own funds and taking his message to the airwaves, to Congress, to President Barack Obama and anyone else who would listen.
“It had come time for me to serve,” Pickens said. “I waited a long time for someone else to do this.”
The last several months have seen some progress, he said. People are responding and signing up for the Pickens Plan online. AT&T (NYSE: T) and the American Lung Association have also joined the effort.
Pickens is also encouraged by what he has seen from Washington, such as provisions in the stimulus bill and energy bill currently going through Congress that target clean energy.
He noted that past presidents have promised to wean America off foreign oil but failed.
Pickens is also investing almost $2 billion in building a large wind farm in the Midwest wind corridor, in which landowners who elect to house wind turbines will receive royalties.
In Pickens’ plan, wind power will replace natural gas in generating up to 22 percent of the electricity, allowing natural gas to be used as a fuel source.
Natural gas is the second most abundant resource in the United States, second only to coal, Pickens said. He notes it is a finite source, but it will buy the United States maybe 20 to 25 years.
“It’s cheaper, it’s cleaner, it’s abundant, and it’s ours,” Pickens said.
He praised Southern California for its widespread use of natural gas in its trash pickup trucks: One diesel vehicle off the road is equivalent to 325 cars.
Pickens’ company is heavily invested in both wind and natural gas, but Pickens maintains that his campaign is not for his pocketbook but for posterity.
“It’s a war without guns,” he said. “If we don’t get it solved we’re going to pay a horrible price for it.”
* Video: Q&A with T. Boone Pickens
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