by Danielle Sakowitz
It’s so easy to imagine the world 50 years from now. Children playing beneath spinning windmills on every suburban house’s lawn. Solar panels topping the roof of every home. Battery powered cars whoosh by on highways. That’s if we listen to T. Boone Pickens.
T. Boone Pickens is a multi-billionaire, founder of one of America’s largest oil companies; chairman of a hedge fund, and surprisingly to some a passionate environmentalist.
“You can be an environmentalist and also be an oil producer, and that’s the way I always saw myself. So I never felt like I destroyed anything. The environment to me was always very important. So drilling a hole in the ground you could still be an environmentalist,” describes Pickens.
I was invited into T. Boone Pickens’ world and my passport was kidsnewsinc.com . You can learn a lot in a short amount of time speaking with him.
Pickens, still active and outspoken at the age of 81, is speaking up and against about the United States’ dependency on foreign oil.
“We’re using 25% of the oil with 4% of the population. I don’t like it. I don’t think it looks good for the United States,” Pickens states. We find ourselves importing almost 70% of our oil and a great part of that is coming from countries that are really unfriendly to the United States. Not very smart on our part," he explains.
What differentiates Pickens from others is that he has a plan. His website, www.pickensplan.com, boldly states: WE MUST BREAK AMERICA’S ADDICTION TO FOREIGN OIL. Pickens believes that with the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, the United States will reduce dependency on foreign oil. Additionally, Pickens states that using natural gas powered cars would help contribute to the solution.
“I think that the bridge fuel for the next 25 years…will be natural gas,” he predicts.
Thomas Boone Pickens Jr. grew up in Holdenville, Oklahoma during the depression, and was a budding businessman from his first job.
“My first serious first job was I got a paper route when I was 12 years old,” he recalls. “You know, the route that I had, that I do remember in the depression because it was in the poorest part of town. And people didn’t want to pay. They wanted the paper but they didn’t want to pay. So you had to be diligent and go back and go back and try to catch them. Because they wouldn’t answer the door. They would take the paper. I did learn something there. You’ve got to keep asking them to pay. That was good training; if they didn’t pay you didn’t let them get off the hook. You just stay after them until they do pay you.”
Pickens also learned that making connections with people was the key. The more he got to know his customers, the more willing they were to honor their debts and pay him. A skill, even now at 81, Pickens takes pride in.
Pickens’ biggest influences to this date are still his mom and his grandmother. He enjoyed his close-knit family; his aunt lived right next door and was his school teacher. His parents, with two different personalities, were perfect for him. His dad was relaxed and laid back, while his mom always kept him on his toes.
“My dad was an interesting guy. He was a pretty lighthearted person. He was a reasonably hard worker. When he took time off he always wanted to go fishing. He loved to fish. I always would go fishing with him,” Pickens reminisces.
“My mom was more serious than my dad was. She did require that I reached a level of commitment. Her sister, my aunt, lived next door and she was my school teacher. They worked together to keep me heading in the right direction and always be serious about my school work.”
After graduating from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University), Pickens worked at Phillips Petroleum till 1954.
“They were good to me. I had been advanced and promoted right along,” Pickens remembers of his former company.
Then, in 1954, Pickens took a huge risk. He formed his own firm, Mesa Petroleum, which in less than 30 years became one of America’s largest oil companies.
“I just felt I wanted to get out on my own. I felt that if I got out there, there was no telling how good I could do.” Pickens states, with confidence in his voice.
In fact, Pickens was always confident. Especially when he talks about running for governor of Texas in 1986 and 1990, which he wisely decided not to do.
“I think I would have been frustrated. Government works so slowly. I like to make decisions and move quickly,” Pickens says, looking back on his choice. Nonetheless, he still believes he could have won, “I always feel I’m going to win.” he chuckles.
Pickens is bursting with ideas: natural gas vehicles, wind farms, and a plan to replace foreign oil. But why hasn’t any of this happened yet? Pickens explains that “we didn’t have the leadership in Washington,” previously and recently supported Barack Obama on his presidential campaign.
Unfortunately for Pickens (and the rest of America), a bill he collaborated on with several Senators for natural gas vehicles won’t be a reality for 3-5 years! While he anticipates the passing of the bill in Congress to be “after the August Recess, sometime in the fall of this year,” the construction, distribution, and testing of vehicles will take of the bulk of the time.
Recently, Pickens has been accused of abandoning plans for a wind farm in Texas. When in reality, it was just postponed.
“We started to receive the turbines in the first quarter of 2011 and the transmission for the power from those turbines will not be available until 2013. So I’ll have to move that wind farm to another place… it’s probably going to take 2 or 3 different projects.” Pickens explains.
And finally, the oil crisis. It’s inevitable with today’s society.
“We don’t have one resource that’s going to solve the problem. What will happen is by using all of our resources that will become the solution,” Pickens describes, speaking about natural gas, as well as solar and wind power.
So, why are we still hung up over using foreign oil?
“We had too much cheap oil available to us,” Pickens says. But in the long run, it’s not really that cheap. “Well, foreign oil is not in the United States, so the $400 or $500 million dollars a year that you spend on foreign oil that goes straight out of the country and is gone,” Pickens blatantly states.
If we could save 200 million dollars, Pickens estimates we could create one million jobs all over the country, and therefore helping us get out of the recession.
“200 million dollars would create a lot of jobs. Creating jobs would create profits. Profits create taxes. And taxes are going to help the economy,” he elucidates.
With all this, it’s hard to believe Pickens is 81; he has the energy and ideas of someone half of his age!
“I feel like there’s more to do, and I’ve got several projects I will try to do in the next few years,” Pickens says.
He still works out most mornings, part of his personal and corporate commitment to physical fitness, which, Pickens says, was a lesson learned from his grandmother.
“She believed you should take care of your body and protect it and you would live longer and feel better. I don’t want to get old and feel bad,” he states.
It seems like everyone talks about what they want to do, but only a few actually do it. Pickens falls into the latter and without him, this environmental crisis might have no end. Thankfully, we have a doer and not a talker on our hands.
Windmill photo by Chris Hoyle