It starts with getting into the transportation sector. When I started the Pickens Plan in 2008, there were about 200,000 vehicles on natural gas in the world; now there’s about 16 million. That growth’s coming from everywhere but the U.S. Places like Iran and Argentina. China’s already got 40,000 trucks on LNG [liquefied natural gas], and they import the stuff. And here we are in the U.S., with more natural gas than any other country in the world, and we aren’t doing a thing about it. It’s just amazing to me that these dumb f---s in D.C. don’t see this opportunity and try to capitalize on it.
The best thing to do is focus on heavy-duty trucks and give them a tax credit. It could work like a toll road, what you call a pay-for system. If you use it, you pay for it. So you give these guys a break upfront to convert to natural gas trucks, and then you tax the natural gas.
You don’t put natural gas in your corner gasoline station. You put natural gas in a truck stop. It’s a fuel that competes against diesel. There are about 8 million heavy-duty trucks in the U.S. If you convert them to natural gas, that boosts consumption by about 15 billion to 20 billion cubic feet a day. Right now we do about 70 billion cubic feet a day. So that extra demand would immediately boost the price and get drills moving again. Today natural gas is about $2.79 a gallon, compared with about $4.79 for diesel. That’s a huge advantage. But here’s the thing: If you take natural gas from about $4 (per thousand cubic feet) to $6, you only increase it by about 28¢ a gallon. So it’s cleaner by 30 percent and still cheaper by almost a half.
• Pickens is founder, chairman, and CEO of the hedge fund BP Capital. As told to Matthew Philips