Independent oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens said Wednesday he was heartened by President Obama’s remarks on energy security and predicted the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act (NAT GAS Act) would pass Congress with strong bipartisan support and be signed into law by Obama by year-end.

The bill calls for requiring 10% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be powered by natural gas by Dec. 31, 2018 and mandates that every retail automotive fueling station have at least one pump dispensing natural gas by Jan. 1, 2018.

“I’m hopeful this time that the House has the leadership and this goes through quickly,” Pickens said, adding that he was confident more than 300 members of the House would vote for it. “And I think we’ve got great support in the Senate. We’re going to see all this [enacted] pretty quickly. This is tremendous bipartisan bill. I know how Congress feels, and there’s not any place where I can see there’s any criticism of using domestic fuels in preference to foreign oil.”

Pickens said the bill will be introduced next week in the U.S. House of Representatives by John Sullivan (R-OK), Dan Boren (D-OK), John Larson (D-CT) and Kevin Brady (R-TX) (see related story).

“With the president’s endorsement today, I’m hoping that we can reverse four decades of failed promises to solve the foreign oil problem,” Pickens said (see Daily GPI, Jan. 13, 2010).

Pickens made his fortune in the oil business, but in 2008 he unveiled his “Pickens Plan” to cut America’s dependence on foreign oil by more than one-third within 10 years. The plan calls for shifting the nation to using domestic renewable sources and natural gas as a transportation fuel (see Daily GPI, July 9, 2008).

On Wednesday Pickens said he thought the key to success lay with switching the nation’s heavy truck fleet from diesel to natural gas. He figures that all trucks could be replaced or refitted to be fueled by natural gas in seven years.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight, but we’ve got to get started somewhere,” he said. “You’ve got to get an oar in the water. We’ve never had an energy plan in this country, so this is just the first step to solving the problem. I think you could pretty well rotate all of them out in seven years.”

Pickens cited recent figures from a truck manufacturer that show that 280,000 new 18-wheeler trucks were being built in the U.S. for shipment in 2012. He said that 20% of the trucks, 56,000 vehicles, would be fueled by natural gas.

He added that California was leading the way with converting heavy truck fleets from diesel to natural gas. “It’s an air quality issue in California, but in the rest of the United States they haven’t quite focused on that yet. But that’s a place to see it happen. They started three years ago, and over 20% are now on natural gas. They’re just naturally phasing them out; as they retire the diesel trucks they buy natural gas trucks.”

In a speech Wednesday Obama highlighted the importance of natural gas to the nation’s energy future (see related story).

Asked if he thought opposition to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by some environmental groups would derail passage of the bill, Pickens said no. “I’ve seen nothing that concerns me about fracking except conversation at this point,” Pickens said. “I have personally fracked over 3,000 wells [so] I have much confidence in it. I think the fracking issue will clear up on investigation. Let’s just let [the discussion] unfold.”

He was also mildly critical of plans to export liquefied natural gas from the U.S. (see Daily GPI, March 24; Dec. 16, 2010).

“We have an abundance of natural gas, [but] I would hope that we would move quickly enough that we would develop demand for natural gas so we would not export it,” Pickens said. “We’ve got to wonder about ourselves when we start exporting clean, abundant, domestic fuel and [continue] buying dirty oil from unfriendly nations. I think that in and of itself will push us in the direction of our own resource.”

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