Pickens estimates that America’s reliance on foreign oil will be cut in half if 8 million 18-wheel trucks make the switch. The ultimate goal, as he explains it, is to “get off OPEC oil.”
He has also built a grass-roots base, dubbed the Pickens Army, of 1.7 million individuals whom he calls on to lobby Congress on behalf of his agenda.
These activists help counter the growing opposition that Pickens faces on natural gas from oil companies to environmentalists.
Bruce Hamilton, deputy executive director of the Sierra Club, said any excitement “about the fact that there was a major fossil fuel kingpin saying we’re addicted to oil and we need to be massively investing in wind power” has since faded.
Hamilton said Pickens “stands to make a lot of money” from natural gas, a resource that the Sierra Club has said lacks regulation. Companies are not required to disclose what chemicals they use to draw natural gas out of the ground.
Pickens denies the charge, saying his Texas ranch has “a minor amount” of natural gas wells.
The Pickens Army has also helped the oilman remain relevant in Washington, even as his bold energy agenda whittles down to a narrow focus on natural gas, said Frank Maisano, an energy specialist at Bracewell & Giuliani.
“A lot of people think natural gas fleet vehicles are a good idea. Is he the inventor of that approach? No,” Maisano said. “The Pickens Plan was very wide at one point, and that’s what got a lot of attention to it. But that has fallen to the wayside.”
Pickens insists he is still interested in wind power in the long term. The American Wind Energy Association, which in 2009 named Pickens “Industry Person of the Year,” has defended him on that basis.
But Peter Kelley, a vice president of the industry group, added that he sees no reason to wait to implement wind energy.
“We agree that natural gas prices won’t stay as low as they are today for very long, and that’s one of the reasons we believe wind energy needs to be a bigger part of our energy mix all along, so electric utilities can lock in long-term low rates today,” he said.