Natural gas for national security?

WASHINGTON–National security is T. Boone Pickens’ primary reason for coming up with a plan to end America’s dependence on foreign oil, specifically oil from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The U.S. imports 12 millions barrels of oil a day and five million come from OPEC, and the oil tycoon believes that makes the United States essentially a financier of terrorism that emanates from oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.

“We are paying for the Taliban by purchasing oil from OPEC,” Pickens said. “That’s the oil that I am focused on.”

Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management, spoke at a town hall meeting at the National Defense University in Washington on May 19. He spoke to a crowded room about the “Pickens Plan,” and focused on the importance of converting the nation’s fleet of 18-wheelers from diesel to natural gas.

In 1970, the nation imported 24 percent of the oil it used. Today, it imports more than 65 percent, according to Pickens. Fifty-seven percent of all oil consumed in the U.S. is imported and 70 percent of all oil consumed in the U.S. is used for transportation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In his speech at the NDU, Pickens alluded to an April 15 Wall Street Journal article by the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, R. James Woolsey, stating it as a good description of why our dependence on oil is a security issue.

Woolsey writes:

“Oil profits enhance the ability of dictators and autocrats to dominate their people. This is one reason that eight of the top nine oil exporters (Norway is the exception) are dictatorships or autocratic kingdoms, as are virtually all of the 22 states that depend on oil and gas for at least two-thirds of their exports.”

Richard Andres, energy security policy chair at the National Defense University, also said in an interview that countries that are most dependent on oil for income are often dictatorships. His concern is the enormous amount of money we are sending to these countries. In 2008, the U.S. spent $475 billion on foreign oil.

“Many of those countries are very vocal about their disagreements with the U.S. and are using the money to fund military– often indirectly to fund terrorists groups,” Andres said. “By relying on foreign oil, the U.S. is supporting both sides on the war on terror.”

Pickens described how his plan to convert the eight million 18-wheelers, buses, delivery trucks and utility vehicles to run off of natural gas would cut the nation’s dependence on OPEC oil in half. Nearly 33 percent of every barrel of oil we import is used by 18-wheelers moving goods across the country.

“Any vehicle which returns to the “barn” each night where refueling is a simple matter, should be replaced by vehicles running on clean, cheap, domestic natural gas rather than imported gasoline or diesel fuel,” Pickens states on his website

Some question Pickens’ motives, since he is the founder and largest shareholder of Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the biggest provider of natural gas for transportation needs in the U.S.

The Pickens plan is a part of the Senate climate bill introduced by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., earlier this month and Pickens said his part of the plan has bipartisan support.

North American has at least a 120-year supply of natural gas and that supply is growing, according to a June 2008 study by Navigant Consulting.

“The only way to solve the problem is to get on your own resources. It’s the only way. Either that or quit driving,” Pickens said. “I like wind, solar, but they don’t move vehicles.”

He explained that he would like to see more electric cars on the road as well, but he is pushing for 18-wheelers because they are too large to run off current battery technology.

Ron Bengtson, the founder of American Energy Independence, said that the Pickens Plan will not deliver since personal vehicles will not be able to run off natural gas. You can get an automobile converted to run off natural gas, he said, but currently there are no filling stations.

“What we really need in place is not to shift from gas to natural gas,” Bengston said, “but to have existing gas engines run on alcohol fuels.” He added that there are many other options besides corn ethanol, such as methanol.

Andres said that the military is already taking steps to run off of alternative fuels. He said that the military has certified all aircraft in the Air Force and half of the Navy fleet to run off of alternative fuels.

“No one has the money to be first mover in industry to take on new expensive fuel or alternative technology,” Andres said. “But if the military can start those industries moving, the prices will drop radically once the technology is ready.”

Andres supports Pickens’ idea to convert 18-wheelers and other heavy vehicles to natural gas. He also said algae biofuel is very promising as an alternative fuel.

Pickens criticized Barack Obama and other U.S. presidents in the past 40 years for not coming up with a solid plan to end our dependence of foreign oil, warning that China already has a plan. Pickens has spent millions of his own dollars promoting his plan.

“I am really truly inspired by Pickens on his own, trying to push through something that in the end is good for the country,” Andres said. “This requires a visionary, someone outside the beltway who is not worried about getting re-elected.”

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