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Pickens: Natural Gas Autos Can Help

It is refreshing to see in Washington, D.C., legislation boasting broad, bipartisan support. One such bill is the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act — H.R. 1835 in the House and S. 1408 in the Senate.

There is a finite amount of oil available in the world. It is about 85 million barrels a day. Americans use about a quarter of that oil every day. Oil dropped to about $35 per barrel when the world spun into the recession, but now it is back at about $80 per barrel. And as the economies of the European Union, China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Korea and the other industrialized nations emerge from the recession, the competition for that oil will intensify.

As the Chinese understand, the way supply balances with demand is through price.

The Chinese have locked up more than 5.2 billion barrels of oil for delivery over the next decade or so. They are buying that oil through their state-owned oil company, which is financed by their state-owned bank.

In September 2009, we imported 357 million barrels of oil at a cost of $25 billion. That represented about 63 percent of the oil we consumed in September. At current prices, we will spend about a third of a trillion dollars on imported oil over a 12-month period. That is money circulating through the economies of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela instead of South Carolina, North Dakota and Virginia.

About 70 percent of the oil we import is used as transportation fuel, refined into gasoline or diesel. We have about 250 million cars and light trucks in the national fleet. There are 6.5 million heavy-duty trucks and 18-wheelers moving goods around and across America.

Batteries may be ready for major deployment within the next decade, hydrogen fuel cells perhaps a bit further out. A battery won’t push an 18-wheeler, and while we wait for fuel cells, we rely on oil from countries in unstable regions, which do not have our best interests at heart.

The one resource that can substitute for diesel in heavy-duty trucks is natural gas, of which we have more than a 100-year supply.

Recent advances in drilling techniques have made available the vast amounts of natural gas contained in the major shale deposits under Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Appalachia. The Potential Gas Committee study, in conjunction with the Colorado School of Mines, has estimated as much as 2,000 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas available for commercial recovery. By my analysis, that represents more than twice the energy that there is in the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia.

Natural gas vehicles are proven technology. There are 10 million NGVs in the world, but only 130,000 in the United States. The NAT GAS Act will help jump-start the NGV industry in America. It will grant tax credits to fleet owners to begin replacing their fleets with NGVs.

Taxis and government vehicles, school and municipal buses, express delivery and utility trucks — in fact, any fleet that generally goes home to the “barn” each night — is a candidate for moving away from burning imported gasoline or diesel to running on domestic natural gas.

Natural gas is one of the most widely distributed natural resources in the country. Gas lines run up and down nearly every street in every community in America. Heavy-duty and fleet vehicles tend to run the same routes on a regular schedule. Drivers stop at the same places to eat, rest and refuel, so the infrastructure to service those vehicles is a relatively simple issue to solve.

Natural gas produces about half the greenhouse gases as gasoline and emits almost no particulate matter in combustion. Anyone who has waited for the school bus with their child at the curb on a cold winter morning knows how diesel burns.

Finally, depending upon foreign sources for so much of the oil we need is a security issue. Anyone old enough to remember the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s still shudders at the thought of even-odd license plates deciding which day you could buy gasoline.

And in 1974, we imported less than a quarter of the oil we needed. Today it is nearly two-thirds. The shock to our economy, much less our culture, with a similar embargo would be, to put it mildly, dramatic.

Strengthen national security. New jobs. Cleaner air. Better economy.

That’s a lot from one bipartisan piece of legislation. H.R. 1835 and S. 1408 should come to a vote this fall so we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

T. Boone Pickens is the architect of the Pickens Plan to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. For more information about natural gas as a transportation fuel, visit pickensplan.com.

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