A Free-Market Energy Blog

The Strange Case of T. Boone Pickens

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 9, 2009

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) spoke here in Houston today at a conference sponsored by the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (hosted by CERA chairman Daniel Yergin). Trying to defuse controversy (he is addressing an industry that he dislikes), Markey told the Houston Chronicle: “The headline should be: ‘I agree with T. Boone Pickens’.”Well, that’s the problem. Markey agrees with a man who has pretty much flamed out as an oil and gas producer and whose gargantuan ego has made him cross not only his own industry but his own long-held political philosophy.

So this brings us to the strange case of T. Boone Pickens.

Why is he spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money on a national campaign (the Pickens Plan) that will:

1) badly hurt the oil industry with his Natural Gas Vehicle conversion plan; and

2) leave the natural gas industry holding the bag when wind is forced on the market and vehicles are not converted to natural gas?

Boone does trot out high-sounding reasons: national security, less air pollution, and green jobs. But when one does the math, the Pickens Plan becomes a ratepayer, consumer, and taxpayer boondoggle (Boonedoggle?).

What Boone wants–and what he has achieved–is politically correct stardom in the twilight of his life.

Darn!  Imagine if Boone had spent $50 million exposing climate alarmism and explaining how free-market capitalism at home and abroad is the key to “energy security”?  What if he explained that the major threats to energy sustainability are policies promoted in the name of energy sustainability, such as a forced conversion from energies that consumers voluntarily buy—because of price and reliability—to politically correct wind and solar?

Bad Capitalist

Instead, Boone is a sad example of a capitalist against capitalism.

Milton Friedman once stated: “The two greatest enemies of free enterprise in the United States … have been, on the one hand, my fellow intellectuals and, on the other hand, the business corporations of this country.” And he is exactly right when it comes to T. Boone, not to mention other corporate chieftens in and outside of the energy sector.

It is small consolation that T. Boone once was attuned to the perils of government planning. Remembered the Boone of old? Try these quotations from his earlier autobiographies (he has three, the latest one of which I reviewed):

I am a conservative…. I believe the greatest opportunity lies in a free marketplace. There are powerful forces afoot trying to restrict that freedom in the interests of the vested and already wealthy.  I am talking about a relatively small collection of corporate executives who would use the engine of American commerce for their own narrow ends.
—— T. Boone Pickens, Jr., Boone. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987, pp. xi–xii; ibid, The Luckiest Guy in the World. Washington, D.C.: BeardBooks, 2000.

We must reduce the influence of big business in Washington…. The way to do that is to kill the protectionist game.
—— T. Boone Pickens, Jr. Boone. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987, p. 287; ibid., The Luckiest Guy in the World).

Senator Bob Packwood said in the spring of 1986: “Boone Pickens is the only businessman I know that if Congress would leave him alone he would never come to Washington.”
—— T. Boone Pickens, Jr. Boone. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987, p. 287; ibid., The Luckiest Guy in the World.

The government doesn’t step up and say, “Now, how much do you need for giving it a try, fella? That’s why America is so far superior to the rest of the world’s economies.
—— T. Boone Pickens, Jr. The Luckiest Guy in the World. Washington, D.C.: BeardBooks, 2000, p. 297.

Imagine how a young Boone would have tongue-lashed the old Boone: “Are you crazy? Windpower? Government? Has your gargantuan ego overwhelmed your energy and political sense, indeed your common-sense?”


  1. Pickens Plan II: Retreat as Prelude to Failure? (worth reading Sunday) — MasterResource  

    […] “The Strange Case of T. Boone Pickens (Rob Bradley: Feb. 9, 2009) […]


  2. Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), T. Boone Pickens, and the Enron Legacy of Windpower — MasterResource  

    […] Boone Pickens destroyed the company he build up–Mesa Petroleum–earlier in his career. He was extremely fortunate in his commodity price bets as an oil speculator, making billions of dollars, but his good luck seems to have run thin, as he has lost one or two billion dollars more recently.  PickensPlan I has been defeated by real world event, and PickensPlan II is on life support. Indeed, T. Boone is a strange and sad case of a capitalist against capitalism. […]


  3. Chesapeake Energy: A Free Market Restart? | Institute for Energy Research  

    […] All this is to “just say no” to New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011 (HR 1380), the brainchild of unrepentant political capitalist T. Boone Pickens. […]


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