Exactly 115 years after America’s first gasoline-powered car was unveiled by Charles and Frank Duryea, the United States faces a fork in the road and, with it, a fundamental choice about the future of energy. At the center of this debate, the most unlikely of figures brought his plan for independence from oil to Gaston Hall yesterday: an oil tycoon.

T. Boone Pickens, the multi-billionaire oil tycoon and chair of BP Capital Management, said that the country must radically shift its focus toward energy independence.

“I know what I am talking about,” he said. “And we cannot pay $700 billion for oil a year for very long.”

Pickens outlined in his address the state of oil production in the country: Peaking in 1970 at 10 million barrels a day, production has now fallen to only five million a day. World production of oil stands at 85 million barrels a day, he said, while the United States uses 21 million of those barrels daily. Ultimately, he said, the problem lies in the reality that America only has “4 percent of the population, and 3 percent of the [oil] resources.”

The Oklahoman, who is spending $58 million on marketing his alternative energy plan, said that oil dependency is a problem that leaders have been trying to ignore and table for some time.

“I threatened to start carrying a whistle, and would blow it whenever a politician would say something wrong about energy,” Pickens said. “But somebody has got to tell the people of this country . . . about the problems that are going to face us and what that is going to be like.”

Pickens proposed in his speech that the nation switch its focus to wind energy. After drawing several pie charts on white boards located on stage, Pickens said that 22 percent of the power generated in the country comes from natural gas, a clean, cheap and abundant resource that is underutilized in the United States. By creating wind farms in the Midwest, a region world-renowned for its high and constant wind speeds that would produce over 40 percent of the time, he said, many of the natural gas resources could be taken from power generation and used in transportation.

Biofuels, most notably ethanol, have already supplemented gasoline content across the country, but, according to Pickens, this is not a long-term solution.

“[Biofuels] have been a hard thing to sell, and [they] are a hard thing to explain. Now we’ve run the price of corn up to the point where those in Mexico are complaining about the price of tortillas!” the oil tycoon said.

Pickens said electric cars are part of his solution, but admitted there are some limitations in how effective they can be. For instance, while he characterized senator Barack Obama’s plan to have one million “plug-in-cars” in the United States as a step in the right direction, he said that it is only that – a step.

“There are 250,000,000 automobiles in this country, [and] 1,000,000 is nothing . . . that’s not even scratching the surface,” he said.

Pickens noted the country’s recent growth in natural gas, particularly in the technological development to extract it and the total tripling of natural gas reserves over the past three years.

He said natural gas will serve as a “bridge” to the future, relieving Americans from high energy prices from imported resources while also “revitalizing rural America with the construction of wind farms,” pointing to the model of Sweetwater, Texas, in which Pickens helped to develop a wind energy industry in the rural town. Today, the area has more than 3,000 turbines.

The oil tycoon said that America’s unfounded dependence on oil becomes even more accentuated when compared to the situations in other countries.

“The Germans, they don’t have oil but they have wind; not even good wind, but they have wind. France doesn’t have oil, but they are 80-percent nuclear. We don’t have oil, but we act like we do,” he said.

As for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Pickens said the future does not lie in the pipeline either, which will only produce two million barrels of oil a day compared to its current rate of one million a day.

“This is not my problem. I am 80,” Pickens said to the audience at least four times during the address. “I’ve got enough money. I don’t need it. I’d rather be playing golf. I am spending $58 million dollars to do [what I am doing]. It is all up to you.”

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