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 clucks 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. —As told to Matthew Philips
• Pickens is founder, chairman, and CEO of the hedge fund BP Capital.