Engineering News

Pickens, Kennedy Share Energy Views
April 22, 2011

They are still miles apart politically in many ways, but T. Boone Pickens and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. dug deep into some common ground Wednesday.

The oilman and environmentalist joined forces to discuss clean energy during the first annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel & Convention Center. Pickens participated in a question-and-answer session with Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis, Kennedy gave a luncheon keynote address and then sat with Pickens for another Q-and-A with Hargis.

They disagreed on cap-and-trade economics and whether hydraulic fracturing, a method for natural gas extraction, is causing problems for groundwater. Yet Pickens and Kennedy are strongly aligned on the "Pickens Plan" to encourage the conversion of transportation fleets to compressed natural gas and cut the need for imported oil.

"You guys have a lot in common," Hargis joked at one point during the joint Q-and-A. More than most people might think, if Wednesday's conference was any indication.

Pickens conceded some of Kennedy's points on forced pooling of gas well pads to reduce the landscape footprint and the belief that the transition to incentivize clean energy technologies can revitalize the American economy.

"We don't agree on everything, but we agree on America," Pickens said. "I want it clean, you want it clean."

Kennedy pulled no punches despite giving his speech in the heartland of American oil and gas exploration. He derided the coal industry and imported oil, arguing that the concept of "cheap energy" was a lie because of the unseen costs of coal and oil, which include air and water pollution, health issues such as asthma and the international specter of terrorism, respectively.

The member of the Kennedy's New England political dynasty wore his liberal stripes on his sleeve, from supporting cap-and-trade ideals to tax carbon emissions. Yet the environmental lawyer and author said he is a "free-market capitalist" at heart, convinced that creating a new clean economy will generate safer and higher paying jobs for generations to come.

"The mantra by polluters is that we have to choose between prosperity and the environment," he said. "That's a false choice. It loads the cost of our national prosperity on the backs of our children."

Pickens, who made his initial billions as an oilman with Mesa Petroleum, may not go that far. However, he has invested millions in wind energy and the campaign to eliminate as much as 2.5 million barrels of imported oil per day by converting 18-wheelers to CNG.

His Pickens Plan, backed by 1.7 million online supporters and a precursor to the natural gas incentive bill recently introduced into Congress, now has close to 200 bipartisan Capitol Hill co-sponsors, he noted. However, the NatGas Act has bogged down in Congress before, which Pickens conceded but would not allow to dampen his enthusiasm.

He predicted that the latest bill will pass the House within 30 days, clear the Senate by late summer and be signed into law by the end of the year. Pickens counted President Barack Obama as one of his supporters, although Obama had expressed some reservations about hydraulic fracturing methods one day earlier.

"I have no concerns," Pickens said about the president's loyalties to the concept of natural gas fleets. "He's doing fine. He's going to be for our energy plan."

Kennedy doesn't share Pickens' optimism about federal natural gas incentives. He believes the better political track is state by state, citing CNG laws in Colorado as important first steps.

"One thing I can't be optimistic about is the political system," said the son of late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of late President John F. Kennedy.

The Sustainable Enterprise Conference, which included a daylong schedule of speakers and panel forums, was presented by OSU's Spears School of Business. The event also included speakers from American Electric Power, Williams Cos. Inc., Dr Pepper Snapple and the Nature Conservancy.

Source: Tulsa World, Okla.

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