ISM Dispatch: My Interview With T. Boone Pickens

After T. Boone Pickens’ keynote session at ISM earlier this week, I had the chance to ask him a number of questions on energy policy and the future of logistics/fleet issues in the US. His responses (and his on-stage discussion) were fascinating and showcase his ability to bridge politics and business – not to mention understand different parts of the commercial supply chain, from getting resources out of the ground to using them to fuel commerce and the movement of goods.

The first question I asked Mr. Pickens was what he would do if he were made the equivalent of supreme commander of allied powers (i.e., President, Prime Minister, Tsar – all wrapped up in one) regarding energy policy decisions. Without skipping a beat, he tossed out three priorities: First, getting the Keystone Pipeline project completed. Second, making the US energy independent by “getting us on our own resources.” And third, stopping the funding of oil for the rest of the world that benefits China and other countries at our cost (e.g., by providing security in the Middle East).

I next asked Mr. Pickens, who is quite free-market in his orientation, if there was any role for tax incentives on a fleet/vehicle basis for natural gas to make the cost equation more of a no-brainer (today it is not). He said that if he could, he would make it a priority to make sure that all federal vehicles ran on US resources exclusively (e.g., WTI, natural gas, and ethanol). Second, Pickens remarked that he would provide tax credits for users of alternative fuel vehicles and implement a system of taxing fuel to fund such capital and maintenance investments as highways on an “as you go” basis tied to consumption.

The final question I had asked Mr. Pickens was simple: when do you think 50 percent of the US truckload fleet will be powered by natural gas?

His response? Less than ten years.

Having not really known Pickens aside from his natural gas advocacy before the ISM conference, I came away with the impression that his general orientation is to one of energy independence for the US, regardless of fuel type or source. To achieve this, in his view, we’ll likely need to use a range of resources – including coal and natural gas (“mined” through fracking – including stopping the drilling moratoriums in New York and California). His bottom line seems reasonable and non-partisan, however difficult it may be to achieve given current policies: let’s find a way to stop importing outside oil.

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