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Full of (Natural) Gas

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

A moment of personal privilege.

One of the ways I supplement my income, allowing me to spend countless hours researching, writing, and publishing Mullings; then responding to the many nanny-nanny-boo-boo emails about the typos, malapropisms, and outright factual failures which so many of you glory in sending, is to do some writing for commercial enterprises.

One such enterprise is the Pickens Plan, founded and largely funded by Texas oil & gas man T. Boone Pickens.

As uncomfortable as I am about tooting my own horn …

I'm bringing this up now because the Senate is going to try and get an energy bill to the floor next week and, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) said yesterday, according to the NY Times:

"he was prepared to incorporate a plan championed by T. Boone Pickens, the oil and gas executive, to sharply expand the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel in large vehicle fleets. The proposal, supported by Senators Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, would provide tax breaks for natural-gas-powered vehicles and fueling stations."

Boone Pickens is one of the few billionaires I have ever spent any significant amount of time with. I once had breakfast with Bill Gates and Newt Gingrich when Newt was speaker, so that pretty much covers my billionaire elbow-rubbing.

When Pickens announced the Pickens Plan in July 2008 he promised to keep clear of partisan politics. Very few Democrats believed him. But, over the ensuing two years he did not take sides in the Presidential campaign, and has spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with and in the offices of everyone from Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to John Kerry (D-Mass).

If you have been following American politics for more than 20 minutes, you understand the import of Pickens and Kerry sitting in the same office at the same time.

Pickens has spent north of $60 million promoting the idea that we need to reduce our dependence on OPEC oil and we can do that by using our enormous domestic reserves of natural gas.

He may make a couple of bucks out of this, but as he has thought this out pretty fully and, as he says "I'm 82 years old. I don't have time for R &D."

I've written about this a good deal: America has over a 100-year supply of natural gas. We have more natural gas reserves in North America than the Saudis have oil. How much more? According to the CIA's Factbook, Saudi Arabia has 264 billion barrels of oil. We have seven hundred billion barrels of oil equivalent in our natural gas reserves - about 2.5 times more.

Boone's vision is to spend the next seven-or-so years moving our national fleet of eight million 18-wheelers off foreign diesel and onto domestic natural gas. Over-the-road trucks tend to run the same routes back and forth so the issue of building a refueling infrastructure for America's 250 million passenger cars and light trucks is not difficult to solve.

Why not go right to batteries? Because batteries won't push an 18-wheeler. There is no current substitute for heavy-duty trucks running on foreign oil but domestic natural gas.

We continue to import oil to power our national fleets at the rate of about a billion dollars a day. Oil imports account for a huge proportion of our trade deficit and our money is funding the infrastructure and social programs of countries which are unstable, don't have our interests at heart, or both.

Boone told me the other day that he was too young for World War II, was not eligible for Korea and was too old for Vietnam. He said that spending the past two years (and all that money) trying to get Americans familiar with the dangers of our dependence on foreign oil was his way of repaying the debt to his country of not having served in uniform.

I understand that.

As anyone who has ever dealt with the Congress knows, until a bill has been voted on, passed by the House and the Senate, and signed by the President it is nothing more than a hope and a prayer.

I hope Boone gets his bill. For him, and for us.

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