Q&A TEDTalks

An alternative to alternative energy: T. Boone Pickens at TED2012

Posted by: Helen Walters

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

“We’ve run into a giant fracking problem,” says TED curator Chris Anderson by way of introducing the next speaker, energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who comes to the stage to talk about methods to solve the energy crisis facing the United States. Or as he puts it, his “alternative to alternative energy” and what he sees as the urgent need for the United States to get off its addiction to OPEC oil. “It’s pretty clear to me we would prefer to have [energy that's] cleaner, cheaper, domestic and ours,” he says. “And we have that: natural gas.”

To Pickens, the United States needs to escape its OPEC dependence as quickly as humanly possible. The world uses 89 million barrels of oil every day at an annual cost of $3 trillion, $1 trillion of which goes to OPEC. “It’s the greatest transfer of wealth from one group to another in the history of mankind–and it continues,” he says indignantly, before asking a fairly simple question: why does the United States own 11 aircraft carriers, five of which are based almost permanently in the Middle East? “They’re there to keep the shipping lanes open and make oil available,” he answers.

There’s a proportional problem, too. The U.S. uses 20 million barrels of oil a day. That’s 25% of all the oil used in the world every day–for just 4% of the population. “Somehow that doesn’t seem right. That’s not sustainable. So where do we go from here?”

But while some call for us to change our behaviors or try to temper our energy usage, Pickens says simply that we’re set to double demand in the years from 1990 to 2040. To him, that means we have to figure out a way to sate that demand some time soon. And while China has a plan; the United States has no such thing. “In the history of America, we’ve never had an energy plan. We don’t even realize the resources we have available to us,” he says, before adding some disparaging thoughts about the government’s ability to understand what it’s dealing with. “I had people in Washington last week tell me the Saudis can produce oil for $5 a barrel,” he says. “That has nothing to do with it. There is no free market for oil. What they have to pay for it is what we’ll pay for it.” (An oilman’s aside, he can’t resist challenging Saudi claims of their holding 250 billion barrels of oil: “I don’t believe it. It’s probably 175 billion barrels. They say they’re right, but whatever.”)

So where are we headed? In Pickens’ eyes, in one direction, towards natural gas, which he describes as a “bridge fuel” to a cleaner future. “It will do everything we want it to do,” says Pickens. “It’s 25% cleaner than oil; it’s ours, and we have an abundance of it.” And it solves many of our energy needs”–including transportation, which accounts for 70% of current oil usage. That’s why he’s particularly targeting the conversion of heavy duty, 18-wheeler trucks. “Take them to natural gas, reduce carbon by 30% and cut our imports by 3 million barrels.”

It’s a first step towards energy autonomy, Pickens’ only real concern. As for where natural gas is bridging us to? Pickens doesn’t say. “I don’t have to worry about where the bridge goes at my age. That’s your concern.”


Chris Anderson has questions. In a highly entertaining exchange on stage, the oilman never misses a beat. An edited version of the conversation follows:

Chris Anderson: Natural gas is a fossil fuel. You believe in climate change. Why doesn’t that bother you?

T. Boone Pickens: Well, you have to use something. [laughter]

CA: So the argument that natural gas is a bridge fuel makes sense. Everyone will be happy to see a shift from oil and coal. But if that’s as far as it goes, are we screwed?

TBP: Like I said, I don’t have to worry.

CA: Do you support a carbon tax?

TBP: I don’t believe in a price on carbon, because the government is going to control it and they’re going to fail.

CA: We have a question from the audience: What about methane release from fracking?

TBP: What’s fracking? [a pause, a look from Chris] I’m kidding. I witnessed my first frack job in 1953. I hear the president say the DOE invented it 30 years ago and I don’t know what he’s talking about. I fracked over 3,000 wells in my life and never had a problem with an aquifer. I don’t understand why the media is focused on eastern Pennsylvania.

CA: If someone here comes to you with a plan that really has potential, are you willing to invest even if it won’t maximize profits, but will maximize the future?

TBP: I lost $150 million on wind so sure. I’m all about solving energy for America.

Watch T. Boone Pickens’ TEDTalk >>

Comments (22)

  • Pingback: Uniting a Fractured Republic | Socialist Agenda Webzine

  • Julie Lens commented on Oct 29 2012

    All this debate about creating a new natural gas from the earth really won’t get us anywhere we need to be focusing our energy on creative new ways of generating green fume free energy. There is a guy in the UK who has been running his car off water for the last 2 years so don’t tell me there is no way. Another thing i’m quite annoyed about is while the Eastern sea board is getting smashed by this huge hurricane nobody realises that there is alot more worst to come if this issue of energy is not dealt with. We just listed some of the top ten most graphic videos and images of hurricane sandy so this should make you think….http://alternativereviewcentre.com/top-ten-hurricane-sandy-web-cams-and-footage/

  • Pingback: Oil and Gas News | Lousiana Oil and Gas Association

  • Pingback: Will the U.S. export fracking to the rest of the world? | 24X7 USA Times

  • Pingback: Will the US export fracking to the rest of the world? | RefineryNews.com

  • Pingback: Will the U.S. export fracking to the rest of the world?

  • Pingback: TED2012 remixed: It’s Time for TED | 2012: What's the 'real' truth?

  • Pingback: Monday Mantra—Enough With the Aiming! « stacystyle's blog

  • julesdylan stuer commented on Mar 19 2012

    Trash to natural gas, methane, and ethanol is the cheapest and most effective way to harvest gas! Contact Advanced Luxury Networks for a desalinization plan that has no waste, naturally cleans the gulf, and produces gas, steam, heat, wind, and solar energy! Thanks for your consideration T-Boone and others!

  • Pingback: TED2012 remixed: It’s Time for TED « Curio.us

  • Dennis Moldenhauer commented on Mar 14 2012

    i really do not understand why everyone wants to push an energy project that is material driven and has the same potential to be horded and metered out just like oil, it has been proven time and time again and over and over again that renewable energy has been suppressed. just as an example: searl’s work with his magnetic generator, and many others working in the same field. Free energy is not new it never has been, as far as the oil industry is can you really blame them! we created the monster and continue to feed it!!!
    just one question on the oil industry and you can look this up, how many refineries does the United States have? the answer would be the same if the question was asked 30 years ago!
    truth is we will not commit to changeing our ways in this matter til we change our attatitude towards new ideas and new processes! example: check our the laws on the books you will find that it doesn’t matter what is presented as an alternative unless it is run by, metered by, or regulated by government it is shelved and turned classified. when did this happen? 1952.
    interesting consept but it has the smell of the same old same old.
    i invite constructive thoughts on this matter. any reply’s that contain offensive language will not be answered and/or reported.
    thank you for reading this and i look forward to the replies.

  • Alex Trembath commented on Mar 13 2012

    Good post. The Breakthrough Institute has compiled a summary of all writings and research into the history of US federal government investment in shale gas. In the post, we respond to some of the criticisms leveled in your analysis. Follow the link for the full summary: http://thebreakthrough.org/blo….._and.shtml

    Notably, claims that fracking has been in use since the 1940s are an accurate but misleading reaction to our investigation. Hydraulic fracturing was used in the 1940s in limestone deposits, not shale deposits, the latter of which are much more technically difficult to drill commercially. Before efforts initiated by the federal government and contributed to by gas companies like Mitchell Energy, operators would drill through shale to get to limestone, unable to tap the vast quantities of gas in shale.

    Gas industry officials like Dan Steward, former Vice President of Mitchell Energy, emphasized in interviews the importance of government involvement in shale gas research. George Mitchell himself regularly lobbied for DOE fossil energy research spending during the 1980s when Congress repeatedly attempted to zero out DOE research budgets.

    If government investment in shale was displacing private investment, that would be news to the dozens of gas company partners that collaborated in early pilot testing and demonstration projects and worked with Congress to establish the Gas Research Institute, which would apply with FERC for research proposals using the revenues from a federally approved surcharge on natural gas. Mitchell Energy worked with the federal government for subsidization of their first horizontal drill in 1991, 5 years after a joint DOE-private venture successfully completed the very first multi-fracture horizontal well.

    This is to say nothing of the 20-year tax credit for unconventional gas, or the application of microseismic imaging, an innovation sourced from Sandia National Labs that was originally unassociated with shale research and proved absolutely essential to drilling operations.

    The history is clear that in many cases of technological development, private gas companies were eager partners with federal R&D and demonstration efforts.

  • Pingback: “It’s Time for TED”: TED2012 remixed by John Boswell | Krantenkoppen Tech

  • Leslie Vogel commented on Mar 2 2012

    Scam behind the boom, link to Rolling Stone Article, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-big-fracking-bubble-the-scam-behind-the-gas-boom-20120301 Why keep bluffing and touting the industry is bridging any gap or lessening any dependency when we continue to sell it to China? How exactly does that contribute to anything productive?

  • commented on Mar 2 2012

    Natural gas IS preferable to dependence on foreign oil, and even preferable to dependence on any non-renewable energy sources, such as domestic petroleum and coal and destruction of national forests!

  • Kit Tyler commented on Mar 2 2012

    They’ve been touting gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ since at least 1981. That’s the longest bridge in history! Big oil and gas have no interest in seeing that bridge actually connect to anything. It just goes on and on while they invest in increasingly destructive extreme energy extraction methods to blast every last ounce of fossil fuel out of the earth. Super Fracks anyone?

    • Adam Lambert commented on Mar 4 2012

      What is your alternative? You provide evidence of problems but no solution. Be practical or else you contribute nothing. I think T. Boone is right. Transition public transit systems and Trucks to run on natural gas. Govt creates the demand but let the private sector figure out how to meet the demand. Some oversight may be needed, which would be a lot better place to spend our money than us sending our money overseas to the middle east. I’ve deployed to the region 3 times and it’s time to step on their throats and their throat is oil.

  • Pingback: Pickens at TED: Natural Gas a ‘Bridge’ to Energy Autonomy | RefineryNews.com

  • Pingback: Nathan Myhrvold demonstrates the T. Boone is off his rocker « A Man With A Ph.D.

  • Pingback: Best TED talk so far in 2012 « A Man With A Ph.D.

  • Leslie Vogel commented on Mar 1 2012

    Its not about Eastern Pennsylvania, Its also about South Western Pennsylvania, Wyoming, North Dakota, New York New Jersey, Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Australia, Germany, France, Ireland, multiple African nations, and many many more. Its about clean drinking water not just from ground source waters but downstream municipalities being contaminated by fracking waster water which can not be filtered out. How those municipalities are seeing increased numbers of birth defects, cancer rates, and ten fold increased levels of carcinogens in their drinking waters. Its about waste treatment facilities not being regulated or equipped to handle the waste “Flowback” waters. Its about how those facilities sell the sediments from that flow back which is radioactive and also contained dangerous levels of carcinogens to farmers for use on their crop fields spreading the contaminates into the food supply. Lastly its about how we will explain to future generations how it was done for economic reasons and not for sustainability. The US imports far less Oil than we used to yet our exports of refined oil have increased. Its about how the natural gas industry is taping all these resources and leaving the gas below the ground until the price comes to a more profitable level. Its about how the majority of natural gas which is extracted is being shipped overseas and not utilized in the United States because its more expensive over seas and offers a richer profit. Its about government subsidies and government waste into a totally misrepresented resource.

    I”m sickened that TED offers T. Boone Pickens a spot on the podium but doesn’t offer a rebuttal position to people such as Josh Fox, or the thousands who are being poisoned by the natural gas industry. Today I’ve lost a lot of respect for TED and what it has stood for in the past. I am reserving the remaining respect I can for after I see the video and hear what T. Boone Pickens has to say. After all it is better to understand both sides before deciding my final feelings. I only know that thus far the presentations appear pretty biased.

    • Ian Goddard commented on Apr 24 2012

      Very sad posting! Firstly you tread all over freedom of speech and are so closed minded that you do not want anyone to disagree with you! Secondly, more and more people are seeing the truth about the climate. Humans are NOT changing it! In countries like Australia were politicians have done all they can to shove AGW down the throats of the populace, 50% reject the whole premise. The same is holding true for the USA. We are burning billions of $’s pursuing this farce while that money would be much better spent improving the lives of the millions living in dire poverty, many because of the UN’s (and your’s) fake policies of saving the earth from AGW!