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Busing the Natural Gas Way

Value Added: The United States may have enough natural gas to fuel our country for another century. The challenge is how to get our vehicles running on it.
Busing the Natural Gas Way

Busing the Natural Gas Way

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Pickens Plan

Show Dates

Show 1139: Busing the Natural Gas Way

Air date: September 25, 2011



Rob McClendon: Until recently, natural gas was a secondary player in the energy game. More expensive than coal and dirtier than nuclear energy, its potential was limited. That is until just a few years ago when new drilling methods began tapping into enormous quantities of gas from shale rock. It’s now estimated the U.S. may have enough natural gas to fuel our country for another century. The challenge now is how to get our vehicles running on it. When students step onto this bus, they’re taking a turn towards a future that runs on domestic fuel. On a campus bathed in orange, OSU's commuter buses are going green, with compressed natural gas. All 18 buses in the school’s transportation fleet have converted to CNG.

Gov. Mary Fallin: It’s, it’s a good thing for the state of Oklahoma; it’s a win-win situation for everyone. And it certainly is a very clean form of energy; it’s environmentally friendly.

Rob: Gov. Mary Fallin, an alternative energy advocate, and OSU supporter T. Boone Pickens were on hand to officially open Oklahoma State University’s compressed natural gas fueling station.

T. Boone Pickens: I want to see on the side of that J.B. Hunt truck, “I’m on U.S. natural gas,” not OPEC oil.

Rob: Climbing aboard the bus.

Governor: We’re holding on.

Male voice: We don’t want to lose the governor.


Male voice: The president’s OK.

Rob: The OSU president took the dignitaries on a quick swing through campus, an important first step to opening CNG fueling stations around the state.

Governor: That’s the critical need, is that we need more infrastructure, fuel stations, in Oklahoma for CNG, so we can encourage more Oklahomans, more companies, to be able to use CNG vehicles or buses or fleets or trucks, whatever that might be.

Rob: Not a problem, according to the energy billionaire.

Pickens: Don’t worry about it; infrastructure will come. California started this because of air quality, not OPEC oil, and, they did it 20 years ago. They’ve got 1,500 stations out there. People make money off those stations. Clean energy makes money fueling those buses, and so they’ll put the stations in. Just, once you start, it’ll go, I promise you.

Rob: But there is a long way to go to get there. Currently, only a handful of CNG stations dot the state, most of those private.

Pickens: I mean, listen, America will get on board; you will, I will. The next car you buy, you’ll look very seriously at domestic fuel, instead of foreign oil. It has to happen for the country. We cannot continue. Cause for 40 years without an energy plan, 40 years, if we go forward 10 years with no energy plan, we’ll be importing 75 percent of our oil instead of 66 percent. And we’ll be paying $300 or $400 a barrel for it. We can’t, there’s no way we can sustain that. It’ll kill our economy. So you gotta get it fixed now. This is the time to fix it.

Rob: And that may take some help from Washington. Currently, over 200 lawmakers in the House Of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans have signed onto a bill that would provide $5 billion in subsidies for natural gas-powered 18-wheelers, which is the key component of the Pickens Plan that the alternative energy advocate unveiled in 2008.

Pickens: Now, how do I see this whole thing unfolding, is natural gas is the only thing that replaces diesel. Diesel, I assume, is foreign.

Rob: OK.

Pickens: So every gallon of natural gas that I use to, uh, on an 18-wheeler, and that's where I want to go with this, is to the heavy-duty equipment in America, six and a half million 18-wheelers in America. I don't want anybody to shut one down, I don't want ‘em to retrofit it; I want, in the future, for them to buy a vehicle that does run on natural gas. That'll work.

Rob: And we don’t have the infrastructure right now to be able to do that. But you see that the easiest place to get, the soonest.

Pickens: That's the easiest place to make a real impact.

Rob: So the infrastructure investment that the new administration’s talking about, you see this fitting in, just dovetailing with it?

Pickens: Oh, it's perfect; it's perfect. I mean, this is jobs, and it also is a reduction. But remember this, it also is money spent in the United States. Everything we spend on a resource in the United States means, we're not importing foreign oil. OK, let's talk about that just for a second. We have an imbalance of payments which is about, believe it or not, $700 billion. That $700 billion is used over and over again. But now, we have reduced the cost of the oil, so the 700 billion that we had pouring out six months ago is not the case. It's less than half that. Is that good? Of course it's good. It's good for our economy. But we also have the security problem. The security problem does not go away with reduction in price; it is still almost 70 percent. We can't do that; it doesn't make sense. The rest of the world thinks we're stupid for doing that, to get ourselves committed to foreign countries that, most of ’em, are not even friends of ours. And if you don't think we're paying for both sides of the war, I mean, I think that's generally accepted everywhere, that we are paying for both sides of the war. OK, now, when you, when you bring, lower that imbalance of payments, that's money being spent in the United States, which creates jobs, which pays taxes, profits are made, and the economy moves forward. There are no losers in the deal.

Rob: But talk about irony. I went down to Brazil in 2004 to do a story about ethanol, and I was riding around in cars that were powered by natural gas.

Pickens: Uh huh.

Rob: So the rest of the world is using natural gas, even places that, you know, don't necessarily need to.

Pickens: Iran’s switching all their vehicles over to natural gas. Why?

Rob: And they have huge natural gas reserves, don't they?

Pickens: Just like we do. We have huge natural gas reserves. So why do we do it? Why do they do it? Because it's cleaner, it's cheaper, it's abundant, and it's ours. That's why you do it. And then they sell their oil to somebody else, like us.

Rob: Now since we recorded that interview in 2008, a growing national debt and the changing climate in Washington has dramatically shrunk any subsidies coming out of D.C., and so far, private industry hasn’t invested in anything approaching the number of fueling stations to make compressed natural gas widely available. And both Gov. Fallin and T. Boone Pickens agree that is the missing link in any successful future for compressed natural gas.

Now if you would like to learn more about the Pickens Plan or hear the Texas billionaire’s thoughts on the future of our nation, simply head to and click on this week’s value added.