Commentary: Saying no to OPEC the T. Boone Pickens way

Last week, while attending a National Conference of Editorial Writers meeting in Dallas, I had the opportunity to hear T. Boone Pickens talk energy.

The billionaire oilman's vision distills down to a single goal: stop importing oil from OPEC, by whatever means necessary: "No plan will get you foreign oil."

I don't think anybody can convincingly defend America's decades-long failure to write an energy plan. The United States consumes 21 million barrels of oil a day, and imports 13 million. Of that, 5 million barrels come from OPEC nations.

But what does "no OPEC oil" mean in reality? Westerners might not like all of the details:

— The centerpiece is natural gas — a cheaper and cleaner energy source that America has in abundance. However, only 134,000 American vehicles run on natural gas (one local example is Valley Regional Transit's bus fleet). Pickens would like to see America's 8 million 18-wheelers convert to natural gas, which would halve America's need for OPEC oil.

Getting the natural gas from the source to the consumer is a tricky proposition. As the Statesman's Rocky Barker reported Sunday, the energy company El Paso Corp. is locked in a battle with ranchers over its 675-mile natural gas pipeline south of the Idaho border — and the company's agreement to finance accounts that could buy up grazing permits.

Increased dependence on natural gas means more pipeline projects — and potential conflicts with traditional land uses and habitat and wildlife preservation.

— Pickens is for ethanol — or hybrids, or batteries, or natural gas. Basically, any oil source that could be developed domestically.

"I'd rather have it than OPEC oil," Pickens said of ethanol. "I don't care what it costs."

To read the complete editorial, visit www.idahostatesman.com.