Energy legend sees need for ethanol

Source: By Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today • Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014

 T. Boone Pickens

The outlook for energy in the United States has changed dramatically in the past several years, Pickens says. The increased use of fracking and the ability to access “source rock” such as shale for oil and natural gas has completely changed the picture, he says.

“It’s unbelievable what’s happened in our country,” he says of the energy boom. “You now have horizontal drilling, which really is the key to it.”

Horizontal drilling, or fracking, isn’t new, he adds. The Halliburton company was experimenting with it as early as 1953. But, its recent growth means the United States will now be able to “get off the enemy’s oil” from the Middle East.

The access to more North American oil reserves, as well as large natural-gas supplies, will mean lower energy prices for the foreseeable future, he says.

That will bring some manufacturing jobs back to the United States as the energy savings offset the labor costs that pulled some of that manufacturing to other countries. The fact labor costs will likely go up in those other nations will also contribute to that trend.

And, natural gas is the real key to that overall trend.

“We’re like the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” he says.

Pickens says that other forms of energy, such as ethanol and wind energy, will not go away.

“I think you will need it all,” he says. “Solar isn’t there yet, but will get there.”

Pickens says he would choose ethanol over Middle Eastern oil. He says the biofuel will be a small but important part of the answer.

He invested heavily in wind energy a few years ago, before natural gas supplies shot up. He concedes his large wind energy investment cost him a considerable amount of money, in part because wind energy is only profitable if natural gas prices remain above about $6.

When natural-gas supplies shot up and prices for it plummeted, Pickens lost money. He says he also did not do a good job as a businessman of hedging his investment against that possibility.

Wind energy should remain a solid option, he says, brushing off suggestions Iowa’s large investment in wind energy could end up being a bad idea if natural-gas prices remain low.

When the talk turned to politics, Boone, a noted conservative, was critical of President Obama and of both parties in Congress. But, he was particularly critical of the waging of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East.

Calling Iraq “a dumb war,” he told farmers gathered at the meeting the United States had all of the operational aircraft carriers in the world and said the United States push for armaments should tell Americans “you’re either real smart or real dumb.” The Jan. 24 expo was organized by the realty firm People’s Co.