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Pickens embraces electric vehicles, predicts $140 oil by 2011

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Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Billionaire oil man T. Boone Pickens, who once pushed natural gas as the only way to get off of oil imports, said at today’s National Clean Energy Project (see live-blogging here):

Diesels should be replaced by natural gas. Light-duty vehicles go to the battery.

Yes, the 80-year-old Pickens has been edging slowly in that direction, since running cars and light trucks on natural gas never made much sense (see “Memo to T. Boone Pickens: Your energy plan is half-brilliant, half-dumb” and “Pickens’ natural gas plan makes no sense and will never happen“). But this was the bluntest I had heard him.

The problem for his messaging, of course, is that even if you replace half of highway diesel use with natural gas over the next decade — a huge accomplishment — that would be under 10% of all U.S. petroleum use and barely make a dent in oil imports and the trade deficit 10 years in 2020.

Pickens also said made his prediction that we will be back at $140 a barrel oil in 2 years, which I tend to agree with unless this global recession turns into a global depression, which remains possible.

He also cannot bring himself to acknowledge that it is his fellow conservatives who are the stumbling block to the high-renewable future he advocates. After all the strong, positive comments from so many speakers about the need and the practicality of a clean energy future, he warned:

“Don’t be stopped by that 10% who are going to be opposed to everything.”

Sadly, however, it ain’t 10% — it is closer to 41% in Congress, where it matters — and they are all his political allies, as I have noted many times:

He told the story of this 90-year-old guy would lived his entire life in a small town in Texas. A reporter said to the guy, you must’ve seen a lot of changes in your life, to which he replied, “Yes, and I was against every one of them.”

That is the conservative weltanschauung (see “George Will nails the difference between conservatives and progressives“).

If we do make the transition to a clean energy economy in time to avert catastrophic warming, it will be because of leadership by the kind of progressive who were at today’s summit. If we don’t, it will be because Pickens conservatives pals have succeeded in blocking action, demagoguing the issue, and convincing enough of the media and the public that business as usual is the best strategy.

I’m glad Pickens is pushing renewable energy, but he doesn’t need to preach to our choir, he needs to preach to his flock.

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19 Responses to Pickens embraces electric vehicles, predicts $140 oil by 2011

  1. charlie says:

    Substituting 10% of US petroleum use for natural gas in trucks would have a huge impact.

    First, diesel trucks provide a key part of the economic chains and expensive fuel really screws up the economy.

    Second, removing 1/2 of diesel trucks would be a massive improvement in air quality: both in cities and in rural areas.

    Third, cutting out 10% of our petroleum demand would create a huge breathing room for gasoline prices. I won’t go into out diesel exports and their impact on the price of gas, but we are talking about an enormous change.

    Yes, it wouldn’t do much for vehicle carbon emissions, but it would be a real win for the country.

  2. lgcarey says:

    Seems to me that the revised Pickins Plan would be very helpful in addressing the “other pending disaster” of Peak Oil. The US is better situated with significantly better natural gas resources than petroleum resources, and over the road big rigs are never going to run on batteries. His 2011 prediction seems consistent with IEA’s projections of last fall.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Biodiesel from Jatropha. There is already a plantation starting up in Florida. I suggest that helping Haitians to start Jatropha production would be a big win all around.

    Biomethane from algae. Easy process, result is good enough to simply pump into the existing natural gas network.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    Something to keep in mind with the natural gas angle of things. It is one of the easiest fuels to use to replace expensive oil based fuels with…the problem with that is that its market price for natural gas track oil’s climbs and dips. While we have a bunch of it here in the US, we still world prices for it.

    Last summer at the peak of oil’s prices, natural gas prices were close to 3 times what they are right now – normally natural gas prices are highest in the winter here in the US when demand is highest, but this connection with oil prices twisted them out of their normal pattern – and can be expected to happen again when oil comes back. An interesting side note here, at those prices (from last summer) I couldn’t have afforded to heat my house – I’m glad we didn’t get to experience those prices in the winter yet.

    So when oil gets back up and I have no doubt it will (just remains to be seen when we get there – god I hope we have till the summer after this one), it’ll drag natural gas prices right up through the stratosphere with them and while they’ll be cheaper than oil, it will only be relatively cheaper (and killing our ability to heat our houses with that relatively cheaper price). We should keep all the slack we can in the natural gas market as its how we keep alot of people from freezing to death – Id say push biodiesel (algea) research for big diesel vehicles.

  5. Ronald says:

    Pickens had some critics of his plan from the truck and engine buyers and builders who said natural gas engines cost 1/3rd more. I read that many diesel engine manufactorers are spending alot of money building to the newer low sulfer engines and wanted to pay that off before building a new engine type.

    Some place natural gas might work out somewhat, even for cars, is Alaska. Apparently natural gas is stranded up there, like wind power is stranded in North Dakota, not enough transmission pipelines to get it to markets. But then Alaska has only a few hundred thousand vehicles, so it wouldn’t make much difference.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Yes, biodiesel from algae is coming. But Jatropha is sooner and more certain.

  7. charlie says:

    @Sasparilla; great point on natural gas supply and prices.

    driving is probably more important that heating your house, at least in the warmer half of the country!

    But lets all remember that T. Boone wants to make sure there is a strong demand for natural gas for the next 40 years, and he thinks the best way to do that is vehicles.

  8. Smart guy says:

    Thanks for the tip, I just put some money in USO (U.S. Oil Fund) today.

  9. Hightest says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on streaming today’s Nat’l Clean Energy project. I didn’t really have the time to watch but I did, filing stuff, cleaning desk top, et al. It was splendid. I would send anyone to it. There’s a place here to click on .
    It took awhile to get used to a whole room full of powerful people in powerful jobs, one after another, talking good sense, all pragmatists. Perfect example: Elections do matter.
    T. Boone learned a bit. I learned a lot.

  10. TedN5 says:

    I watched the National Clean Energy Project roundtable including Pickens’ statement. While I found the overall discussion encouraging and Pickens’ position less at odds with an energy future sensitive to the climate crisis than it has been, he still has a long way to go. For instance, he specifically exempted oil from Canadian tar sands from the petroleum imports that he wants to reduce. With a carbon footprint 4 to 5 times larger than the production and consumption of conventional oil (plus other serious environmental impacts), tar sands mining has to be first capped at current levels and then gradually cut back.

    President Obama’s own response to an oil from tar sands question in his Candian news conference wasn’t particularly encouraging either. He implied that developing technolgy to sequester CO2 would probably be the answer. This is a pipe dream when the subject is coal fired power plants, it is sheer folly when directed to oil from tar sands!

  11. fpteditors says:

    Electric cars will encourage sprawl and any savings will quickly be absorbed by growth. We cannot grow our way out. The earth is finite.

  12. There are two crises: the CO2 crisis (global climate change) and the energy crisis (replacing foreign oil). By design or by inattention, the discussion of global climate change frequently gets hijacked by plans for alternative fuels. Let’s be aware that changing the subject is an effective debating tactic for the deniers. Let’s hope that President Obama can find time to learn more about sequestration before he takes a position on it.

    Natural gas still produces CO2, and so do biofuels. Electricity for electric cars is made mostly by burning fossil fuel (mainly coal), and solar and wind make only a tiny contribution to the grid.

    We need to find a way to deal with post-combustion CO2, and sequestration (underground dumping of pressurized lethal gas) is a laughable idea. The GAO convincingly scolded DOE for its reliance on sequestration as the solution for CO2 emissions. http://www.coalpowermag.com/environmental/GAO-Lack-of-U-S-Greenhouse-Strategy-Slowing-Carbon-Capture_168.html

  13. Here’s a link to the GAO report on sequestration:
    http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081080.pdf

  14. DG says:

    fpteditors,

    If you’re talking particularly about suburban sprawl, the combustion engine encouraged sprawl and was itself encouraged by the U.S.’s highway projects and various economic incentives. It doesn’t seem likely to me that electric cars by themselves will encourage more sprawl. Perhaps you’re pointing out that the electric car won’t be limited by gas prices, which have the potential to be taxed or supplied-demanded into limiting people’s daily commutes. Hopefully this latest economic downturn will encourage a different kind of lifestyle and limit the wrong incentives. I remember reading that re-urbanization was already afoot before the worst of the housing crash, with more people moving back into cities. Good article on this in The Atlantic this month: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200903/meltdown-geography, which speaks to some of the policies and financing that encouraged suburban growth (particularly on page 6). I’d like to think that the electric car will supplement good public transportation for those who won’t do without in a city, and simply replace it for those who are already sprawled. Remember that no one really wants to spend an hour (or sometimes two) driving to and from work — we got here because houses were too cheap and everyone wanted their own thousands of sq. ft. and lawn. The car doesn’t really seem like the source of the problem to me, though certainly without so many cars we wouldn’t have the option for so much diffusion.

  15. fpteditors says:

    There are globally 55 million net new cars every year. Electric cars are essentially a switch from oil to coal. The auto is wasteful before it turns one wheel. It is a throwaway commodity which promotes the idea of houses and businesses off the public transport grid. These are additionally wasteful in heating, cooling, and land-use.
    Transport is a system. The mode must have critical mass. Autosprawl has critical mass only because the taxpayer picks up the tab for climate disruption, oil wars, low-aquifers, parking, 40% of road construction and maintenance, medical costs, bureaucracy, etc, etc. A study in Orange County showed that fuel taxes could not even cover the cost of collisions.
    Now we have a stimulus bill with $30B for roads, and separate bailouts for auto companies. We are not just heading the wrong way, we are speeding up.

  16. Jim Bullis says:

    Re ftpeditors:

    Right you are about the electric car being a switch from oil to coal. It will be hard to work it out otherwise when a million BTU from coal at currrent contracting prices is about $1, and a million BTU of natural gas goes for about $4 to about $12 and a million BTU from diesel or gasoline has been running $10 to $22 on the wholesale market.

    However, a large number if not most of the people of the world choose to live in a way that is not compatible with a public transport grid. We might wish otherwise, but it seems this represents values that are real. Rather than try to plan the world into submission, maybe it would be worth trying to fix the problems you list but still enable the way people would like to live.

    The car as we know it is clearly a problem, but maybe it would be easier to change the car than to try to create a “critical mass” of public transport. Changing the car has to overcome 100 years of automobile tradition, which has evolved from a willing partnership of manufacturers and the public, with government as an extension of both partners.

    The 4 wheeled car, flat bottomed and low to the ground, with width to enable carrying people side by side was a logical result of combining a motor with a carriage. Some in the early days attempted to make the car a little more like the horse, where people would ride in tandem. These were called “cycle car” companies. Such innovators were ill fated, given the powers of such as Henry Ford to mass manufacture and the US government to assure cheap gasoline with the oil depletion allowance. This resulted in setting the automobile as we know it in stone. Innovation eventually dwindled away to be replaced by fashion changes from time to time. This has been a monstrous mistake.

    A second major mistake was set up when our system of electric power production was planned based on almost free fuel. It mattered not at all that more heat was thrown away in making of electricity than actually got converted into that form of energy. And so it is today, by almost a factor of two.

    It is possible to fix both these mistakes without forcing relocation of the population.

    As examples, see the site linked by clicking my name. Maybe other answers would also be possible. Certainly there will be a need to rethink the way we do things, but I suggest this might happen when people are confronted with being captured by a transportation grid.

  17. fpteditors says:

    “However, … people … choose to live in a way that is not compatible with a public transport grid. … plan the world into submission…”

    Here is where you have it exactly backwards. The billions in subsidies for the auto system and the deliberate dismantling of streetcars are not individual lifestyle choices. They are predatory actions by major powers. Start here:
    http://frepubtra.blogspot.com/2008/08/autosprawl-was-forced-on-us.html

  18. Jim Bullis says:

    fpt,

    I guess we see things differently.

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