The Smell Of Snake Oil In The Wind

T. Boone Pickens, as Thomas Boone Pickens likes to be called, has been all over the media recently with his Pickens Plan.  The wealthy oil man and former corporate raider is touting himself as the country’s energy crisis savior and global warming re-mediator, or as it would seem, all around American hero.

Pickens has had a long, mostly successful run, and according to an article by Karen Breslau in the current issue of Newsweek has a personal worth of approximately $3 Billion.  Now Pickens, it seems, wants everyone to know he has seen the future, and in the future oil, particularly foreign oil will not be as readily available as it seems to be today.  No kidding.  According to Pickens his Pickens Plan will rescue us all and will work like this: he will lead the investment of $10 Billion to build the world’s largest wind farm in the Texas panhandle by erecting 1,700 to 2,000 wind turbines producing up to 4 giga watts of electricity.  The wind fueled electricity would then replace the need to generate electricity by burning natural gas, and that would free up the natural gas to be used to fuel automobiles converted to natural gas.  Thus reducing our dependence upon foreign oil and reducing motor vehicle emissions (natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline).

While Mr. Pickens comes across in his television spots as sincere, knowledgeable and committed, he also avoids discussing all of the facts that are relevant to his proposal.  While Pickens’ wind farms might account for fueling 20% of our electrical power plants that are currently fueled by natural gas, at a very nice profit to Mr. Pickens, they will have no bearing on the 100 coal burning plants that produce 57% of the nation’s electricity. Coal fired furnaces are by far much more deadly to the atmosphere and living organisms than the gas fired furnaces that the wind turbines would replace.   While natural gas fueled vehicles might arguably be cleaner burning than gasoline powered vehicles, the fact is they will still burn fossil fuels, of which there are a finite amount under the Earth’s crust, and still result in spewing carcinogens in to the atmosphere.  The United States would still also be captive to foreign oil, and dependent upon another foreign power, Canada, which is where the bulk of the natural gas fields exist in the North American continent.

Visitors to the Pickens Plan web site probably will not find any disclosures describing Mr. Pickens’ holdings in natural gas distribution, or his motivation to increase the consumption of natural gas as an automotive fuel and thus improve his bottom line, not to mention his cornering the market on wind power.  Nor will they find any advocacy to dismantle coal fired electrical power plants as more wind farms are developed.  Pickens would have us focus only on reducing our dependency on evil foreign oil, but not on appreciably mitigating the ultimate effects of global warming on the planet.

What is really needed is a comprehensive national initiative, modeled on the United States Apollo moon program of the 1960’s and on the war effort of the 1940’s that included the Manhattan Project, bringing together the best scientists, engineers and industrial infrastructure, and human resources our country can muster, and develop a 21st century paradigm for the generation of electrical and automotive power.  Something that is not dependent upon a finite amount of carbon based Earth resources.  Something that through the process of generating energy does not negatively impact the ability for life to continue and thrive on this planet by destroying any part of the environment whether on land, sea or air.

What we need to do is figure out how to harness the renewable constants that exist not just on our planet, but in our solar system.  We need to achieve a much higher degree of leverage over solar power, the sun is a constant, the sun will remain “alive” for eons to come.  We need to leverage wind power, as long as there are weather systems circulating on this plant, there will be wind power.  We need to learn how to leverage gravity, gravity is what keeps the Earth in orbit around the sun, keeps the moon in orbit around the Earth, controls the tides.  Tidal power will generate electricity.  We need to perfect, if we can, hydrogen generation.  Motor vehicles that are powered by hydrogen power cells are just being developed, these are very fuel efficient and non polluting (the only emission from a hydrogen powered car is water vapor from the exhaust), but the current cost in fossil fuel and pollution to generate supplies of hydrogen gas for fuel negates any displacement of costs and pollutants associated with gasoline engines.

Replacing gasoline powered engines with natural gas is only a stop-gap, until the natural gas supply runs out.  The combination of wind power and natural gas bandwagon that Pickens would have us all jump aboard sounds more like a snake oil salesman’s gimmick.  It might sound like the solution to all of our energy problems, but it only postpones the inevitable, if we don’t figure out how to create power in a non-destructive manner.

Snake oil is right up T. Boone Pickens’ alley, he is the same guy who donated $3 Million to fund the Swift Boat smear attacks on John Kerry, trying to sell the country on those lies.

Cross posted at The Sirens Chronicles.

Updated 21-Aug-08:

See Scott Thill’s post at AlterNet calling out the Pickens Plan as just a shell game.

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