It wouldn’t be a proper T. Boone Pickens speech without a wild predication or two, and the legendary oilman made a handful at Hart Energy’s 2011 DUG (Developing Unconventional Gas) East conference in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

For starters: Crude oil prices will top $150/bbl in the first quarter of 2012, he said.

Next, the price difference between oil and natural gas will lead the nation’s heavy trucking industry to convert its fleets to natural gas within the next eight years, but federal legislation could cut that transition time in half. “This is happening fast in the country. If you passed a bill, it would happen faster,” Pickens said.

That inevitability, Pickens said, comes from the boom in shale gas production.

Pickens is particularly keen on legislation moving through Congress that echoes aspects of the “Pickens Plan” he launched three years ago, and he predicted that there is a “better than 50/50 chance” of the bill getting passed this year.

A U.S. Senate version of the House proposal for creating more use of natural gas in transportation was unveiled earlier in the week as an alternative means of expanding tax credits for gas infrastructure and vehicles, according to a trio of senators sponsoring the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011 (NAT GAS Act).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was joined by Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in proposing the legislation that they claim would boost domestic production of vehicles capable of running on natural gas — either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). To pay for tax credits for vehicles and fueling infrastructure the senators are proposing a temporary user fee on the use of CNG and LNG in vehicles. Pickens has been pushing for passage of the NAT GAS Act for years (see Daily GPI, April 15, 2010).

Although Pickens said natural gas will win on its own and admits that incentivizing demand could be seen as “picking a winner” in the fuel business, he said a failure to act would be a de facto vote for foreign oil. “We’ll have the opportunity to go down as the dumbest crowd that ever came to town if we send clean natural gas out of the United States and import oil from OPEC,” he said.

Asked whether that meant he opposed exporting liquefied natural gas, Pickens said he wouldn’t stop LNG exports “at this point,” but might in the future.

And finally, Pickens predicted the imminent death of Saudi King Abdullah, describing the leader of the oil-rich Gulf States as being “86 years old, 300 pounds and diabetic.” Pickens added, “Now you tell me what the actuarial table will be on him. It’ll be in days or weeks. It’s not going to be in years.”