T. Boone Pickens is either best known as a corporate raider in the 1980s or as the buffoon who shelled out $3 million to fund the Swift Boat ads that killed John Kerry's presidential candidacy in 2004. (Pickens has recently been in the news for reneging on a promise to pay $1 million to anyone who could prove that the aforementioned ads were false. It was proven, but the cheap bastard refused to pay.)
Now Pickens has launched a media campaign in which he starts off by saying, "Ah've bin an oalman all mah lahf." He then says that we're facing an oil crisis "that we can't drill our way out of." (I'll bet him a million dollars that he doesn't know that you're not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.)
He says that he has a plan to help make America energy-independent, and he wants you to check it out at
pickensplan.com. What it amounts to is that he wants us to use wind energy to generate electricity, and use the natural gas that we'd save to power automobiles.
One's first reaction is that, wow, politics does make strange bedfellows. Somebody had better warn Al Gore, because cheap people like Pickens tend to hog the covers on cold nights.
While most other oil executives are salivating over new places to drill, Pickens is saying that we have to move away from oil. His Web site claims that we send $700 billion out of this country every year for oil. That may be true, but he (like most politicians) fails to mention that our biggest supplier is Canada, and that country's recent oil-shale discoveries in Alberta may soon help us become much less dependent on oil from the Middle East.
Still, Pickens, having sucked his share of the oil market dry, wants to move on. Basically, the same geographical formations (the Rocky Mountains towering over the Great Plains to the east) that are responsible for the United States' enduring up to 90 percent of the world's tornadoes each year also make for some powerful winds on an almost year-round basis in the corridor from north Texas up through North Dakota. Pickens wants to build wind-generated turbines to generate electricity.
Pretty much anything that would allow us to give the Middle East the middle finger is OK with me, and I was about to salute Pickens--that is, until I came across an article in Business Week that showed how Pickens was using one face to talk up wind energy while his other face was busy buying up all the water rights in the Texas Panhandle. It seems that old T. Boone wants to corner the water market and sell the increasingly-in-short-supply commodity to the booming Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex at an eye-popping profit.
For the past several years, Pickens has been buying up water rights to land over the southern end of the giant Ogallala Aquifer, the nation's largest. Pickens now owns more water than any other individual in the country, and because of quirks in Texas law, his supply is about to get much larger. Texas groundwater use is governed by "right of capture," which amounts to: If you have a large enough pump, you can suck your land and everybody else's around you dry in the process. (This is the basis for the "I drink your milkshake" line in There Will Be Blood.)
Pickens wants to pump the water out and ship it 250 miles to Dallas, which has resisted his overtures thus far, but with its booming population and dwindling supplies of groundwater, won't be able to forever. The problem for Pickens is that the pipeline would go through 11 counties and over 600 tracts of private land. He can afford to pump the water and build the pipeline, but buying up all that land would be cost-prohibitive.
Now, if he could find a way to have the government help him get that land through eminent domain, that would make things a lot easier. And what do you know: The Texas Legislature passed a bill that had an add-on provision (that several legislators swear they knew nothing about) that would allow a water-supply district to transmit alternative energy and move water along a single right of way.
Shortly thereafter, Pickens formed a water district on his ranch in Roberts County, Texas, one that, by law, gave him the right to claim a swath of land between his ranch and Dallas for almost no money at all. The 250-foot-wide corridor will be used to build giant wind-generated electricity-transmission towers that will straddle the water pipeline below.
Some studies suggest that by the year 2030, half of the world's population will face a severe water shortage. At current projections, Dallas could be the hardest hit of all U.S. cities, even more so than Phoenix or Tucson. But the now-80-year-old Pickens and/or his successors will be glad to slake the city's thirst for an astronomical price.
It looks like he's going to get his way. The thought of wind-generated electricity is still a good one, but know that this man doesn't have a micron of altruism about him. Many people think that the thought of water being sold for private profit is, well, criminal, but Pickens disagrees. He told Business Week, "Water is a commodity. Heck, isn't it like oil?"