Pickens Plan Requires More Digging

Lots of Questions Unanswered, States Public Policy Group

Washington, DC – Key questions remain unanswered about the so-called “Pickens Plan,” an energy plan being promoted across the U.S. in an expensive marketing campaign by billionaire T. Boone Pickens, says a new paper released by the non-profit National Center for Public Policy Research.

The paper, “The Pickens Plan: Questions Unanswered,” by Reece Epstein and David A. Ridenour, says Pickens’ “advocacy could have an enormous impact on America’s energy policy for decades to come.”  Yet, they say, the plan raises a host of unanswered questions.

David Ridenour and Reece Epstein are vice president and research associate, respectively, of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

“On the surface, Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens appears to be the man with all the energy answers,” said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research.  “Pickens says his ‘Pickens Plan’ can cut America’s dependency on foreign oil by one-third over the next ten years.  It sounds attractive at a time when Capitol Hill is getting nowhere in the pursuit of energy independence.  But would the Pickens Plan really work?  What would it cost taxpayers?  Do parts of it raise Constitutional questions?  And would private parties – including Mr. Pickens himself – benefit financially?”

“A man on a mission, Pickens has set aside $58 million to ensure his energy plan is heard loud and clear,” added Ridenour, “and he’s got people listening, but America should not choose an energy policy based on the appeal of a billionaire’s folksy commercials.  The fine print must be examined.  In this case, the fine print reveals the Pickens Plan requires billions in government subsidies and the widespread use of government eminent domain powers.  It also would further enrich Mr. Pickens.”

Aspects of the Pickens Plan examined in the paper include:

* Pickens “refers to the fall in oil production since 2005 as a justification for his claim that oil production has permanently peaked due to dwindling supplies… But we should not conclude by this that oil reserves have peaked.  In fact, much of the fall in production since 2005 resulted from the affairs of men rather than dry wells,” the paper states. Pickens, the paper says,  is echoing concerns made in 1919 by the head of the U.S. Geological Survey “that America would run out of oil by 1928.”  The paper also quotes National Geographic, which reported that “Concerns about oil droughts is nearly as old as the petroleum industry itself.”

* Addressing findings from the U.S. Geological Survey that the East and West Coasts could yield a staggering 86 billion barrels of oil, Pickens told the Senate, “Those guys work on that a lot more than I do… I just don’t agree with it.”  Unbelievably, “Pickens’ unsupported assertion wasn’t questioned by a single member of the Committee,” note the authors.

* Authors Epstein and Ridenour say significant new oil discoveries increase the supply of oil by tens of billions of barrels.  Other untapped unconventional methods of oil extraction, such as liquefying shale in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, “could yield one trillion barrels of oil, an amount equal to the world’s total consumption of oil since production began in 1959,” if Congress does not keep this oil off-limits.

* The authors say rising production costs don’t prove Pickens’ claim “that cheap and easy oil is gone.”  They write: “It is true that, as the most accessible sources of oil are depleted, upward pressure is placed on production costs because there is a shift to less accessible sources.  But there is also a downward pressure on the costs of conventional and unconventional oil production due to technological advances… Since 2001, production costs have started to climb again, in part due to congressional limits on production from new sources.  As the most easily-accessible oil in a reserve is depleted, production shifts to less accessible oil in the increasingly-depleted site, or it shifts to new, previously-untapped reserves.  Because government has limited the ability of producers in the United States to shift to economically-attractive new sites, production costs have risen more than otherwise necessary.”

* While Pickens supports the use of nuclear energy, he believes “there’s only one energy source that can dramatically reduce the amount of oil we have to import each year, and that’s natural gas.”  Pickens may be underestimating the value of nuclear power, the authors say.  In France, 80 percent of electricity is generated from nuclear energy; the U.S. produces only a quarter of that, the report states, and nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides into the air.  “In addition, nuclear power plants create very little waste.  If the average American used nuclear power exclusively for his energy needs, his spent nuclear waste over a lifetime would be small enough to fit into a soda can,” the authors state.

* The paper compares wind power, recommended by Pickens, to nuclear power.  The authors conclude that wind power costs several times more than nuclear power after government subsidies and incentives.  While the authors view wind energy as a viable source, they also believe that because of “the challenges inherent in using wind for 20 percent of our electricity, a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly reconstruction of America’s energy infrastructure should include nuclear power as a major component.”

* Pickens isn’t vocal about the problems associated with natural gas vehicles, say Ridenour and Epstein.  In Pickens’ view, those vehicles “combine top performance with low emissions…”   What Pickens is not explaining, the authors say, is that converting a gasoline powered car, like the Honda Civic GX, “to natural gas adds about 200 pounds of weight to the vehicle, cuts trunk space in half and drains about 20 percent of the engine’s power… the GX costs a stunning 64 percent more than the standard model, or about $24,590 for the compact sedan.”  Add to this the time and money necessary to purchase a home fueling station.  A staggering 20 hours is what it takes to fill a natural gas tank, which costs about $5,000 to purchase and install.  A 20-hour fill-up gives the GX a range of only 250 miles; an overnight fill-up does even worse, with only 100 miles.  How feasible is for the average consumer? The authors also note that widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles would require a massive retooling of America’s infrastructure.  While natural gas makes sense for bus and corporate fleets because of the increase in fuel efficiency, “for most consumers, technological and infrastructure advances are required before natural gas vehicles become a viable alternative to gasoline vehicles,” the authors advise. 

* Pickens admits, although not in his ads, that government aid is needed to make his plan feasible.  The Pickens Plan requires federal tax credits to cover a significant portion of the cost of wind energy, for example.

* To the authors, perhaps the most troublesome part of Pickens’ Plan includes a far-reaching expansion of the use of eminent domain.  There is no disputing that Pickens Plan’s success hinges on the widespread confiscation of private property.  Eminent domain would certainly be necessary for placement of the 100,000 windmills necessary to generate 20 percent of this country’s electricity needs by 2030, says the authors, combined with 12,650 miles of power lines needed to transport electricity to both coastlines.

* Pickens admits the Pickens Plan’s reliance on the widespread use of eminent domain power.  Pickens says land access problems should be resolved using “the route that Eisenhower used with the interstate highway system.”  Ridenour and Epstein examine some little-remembered pitfalls of Eisenhower’s “route,” including the large numbers of people forcibly dislocated from their homes, high costs, and the tendency of government to displace homes in low-income areas first (resulting in a disproportionate negative impact on minorities so extensive that housing displacements in some areas were referred to as “negro removals,” and were the cause of extensive rioting).

* If the Pickens Plan is adopted, T. Boone Pickens, already a billionaire, will almost inevitably become even wealthier, the authors believe.  Pickens has earned his wealth in the energy industry and chairs BP Capital Management, a hedge fund that invests in the exact things Pickens is promoting – natural gas and wind energy.  A Pickens firm, Mesa Power, plans to invest ten billion dollars in the world’s largest wind farm.  If Pickens is successful in his Pickens Plan lobbying for an extension of wind power tax credits until 2018, Pickens’ firm “stands to receive between $1.66 billion and about $3 billion in PTC payments alone over ten years, a significant portion of its original investment,” report Epstein and Ridenour.

* A rise in number of natural gas vehicles would also certainly boost Pickens’ profits.  “According to Fox News, Pickens ‘owns about 90 of the 500 publicly available natural gas stations with another of his companies, Clean Energy,'” the report says.

While it is clear T. Boone Pickens has the ear of many, Ridenour and Epstein believe his interest is more than a concern about our country’s energy woes.  “I’m 80 years old and have $4 billion.  I don’t need any more money,” Pickens claims.  While that is certainly true, the authors say, “He’ll make a great deal more money, much of it through government subsidies, if his plan is adopted.”

They conclude: “If the Pickens Plan is really all about doing what is best for the country and not for himself, Pickens could demonstrate his sincerity by renouncing the government subsidies he is lobbying for.  That should be easy for a man who says he doesn’t need any more money.”

“The Pickens Plan: Questions Unanswered,” published by the National Center for Public Policy Research in September 2008, is available online at https://nationalcenter.org/NPA574.html.


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.