As the nations three largest coal producers emphasized their role to congress as providers of cheap electricity and attempted to diminish the case for natural gas and the emerging conventional wisdom that North Americas natural gas supply is abundant enough and cheap enough to replace coal. T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oil tycoon turned clean energy activist was on the opposing side of that argument and urged Congress to promote U.S. natural gas as a fuel for trucks and to boost gas as a source of “green” jobs.
“Because of cheap oil, we keep drifting, drifting,” Pickens stated, reminding committee members that the U.S imports two-thirds of its oil supply.
“In January 2010, our trade deficit for the month was $37.3 billion,” he stated in the same harsh voice that narrates TV commercials raising the specter of U.S. dependence on foreign energy. “$27.5 billion of that was money we sent overseas to import oil.”
For Pickens, this is where national security, development of relatively clean energy sources, a U.S. economic resurgence and global warming roll into a single argument. Gas companies and industry lobbyists claim the United States has a 100-year supply, and perhaps a 200-year supply, of domestic natural gas and are pushing back against the traditional coal industry argument that coal remains the cheapest and most abundant fuel for power generation. Gas, its industry lobbyists say, is also cheap and abundant, and cleaner than coal. Burning gas produces about half of the greenhouse gas emissions of coal.
“As Americans we have to look at green jobs and a green economy, not as a ‘feel-good’ effort, but as a global war to protect American jobs,” he stated.
Pickens has spent millions of dollars on national ad campaigns promoting natural gas vehicles, and he has a lot more riding on a gamble that gas will ultimately end up a winner when the energy and climate policy debate shakes out. Clean Energy Fuels Inc. stock symbol CLNE, in which he has a substantial interest, upgrades fueling stations to accommodate natural gas. The company’s stock price has realized over a 600% jump over the last few years from an all time low of about $3.23 a share to an all time high of $23.70, the stock currently trades at about $18.70. In that time, Pickens has continued to press for favorable government policies and subsidies on the airwaves and to members of Congress.