WASHINGTON — Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, echoing his message from a weeks-long advertising blitz, urged Congress on Tuesday to embrace a largely untapped potential of wind power to help free the United States from its dependence on foreign oil.
"Our country is in a deep hole, and it's time to stop digging," Pickens told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in a series of Capitol Hill appearances that included meetings with congressional leaders of both parties.
Pickens, ranked by Forbes as the 117th richest man in America, has amassed a $3 billion fortune as one of the nation’s most successful oilmen. But the 80-year-old entrepreneur is now urging Americans to quickly shift to other forms of energy to escape what he called a national security crisis over the nation’s "addiction" to foreign oil.
The United States spends $700 billion a year — four times the cost of the Iraq war — to buy oil from foreign countries, some of whom are hostile to the United States, Pickens said. Over the next decade, $10 trillion will leave the country to buy foreign oil.
"It will be the greatest transfer of wealth from one country to other parts of the world in the history of mankind," he said.
Pickens said he has committed $58 million "to tell this story," including a series of television ads and Internet presentations that have coincided with public anger over record-high gasoline prices, now above $4 a gallon. He has also bought a natural gas-powered Honda Civic GX to underscore his commitment to alternative energy.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, committee chairman, called Pickens’ ideas both "visionary" and "practical."
"I hope you stick with it," said Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut. "Knowing you, you will stick with it."
Pickens said that the United States could generate at least 20 percent of its electricity by tapping power from the nation's "wind corridor," a vast stretch of territory from west Texas to the Canadian border.
That would then enable the nation’s abundant natural gas resources, now widely used to generate electricity, to be used for powering transportation. American automobile manufacturers should dramatically ramp up natural gas-powered vehicles, he said, and government vehicle fleets should be powered exclusively on natural gas.
If implemented, he said, the "Pickens Plan" could reduce dependency on foreign oil by more than a third, saving at least $230 billion a year.
Pickens' company, Mesa Power, is building the world's biggest wind farm near Pampa in the Texas Panhandle. When completed, the $10 billion complex will double the nation’s wind energy output.
Another major complex is located in Sweetwater in west Texas. Flat, open areas throughout America's midsection also hold the potential for hosting thousands of wind turbines, but Pickens said government action may be required to acquire land for transmissions lines to move wind-generated electricity to urban markets hundreds of miles away.