(Recasts, adds latest wind figures from industry group,
natural gas analyst, background; adds byline)
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, July 22 Oil prices will hit $300 a
barrel in 10 years if the United States fails to reduce its
dependence on foreign imports, billionaire oil investor T.
Boone Pickens told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday.
The United States imports nearly 70 percent of its oil and
Pickens said the world's top petroleum-consuming nation would
import 80 percent in a decade if it does not aggressively tap
its own natural gas and renewable resources.
"If we continue to drift, oil will hit $300 a barrel in 10
years," Pickens testified at a hearing of the U.S. Senate
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
He testified as the Senate planned to debate energy
legislation amid calls for more oil drilling to help lower oil
prices which hit a record this month of over $147 a barrel.
Pickens has been touring the country pushing a plan under
which domestic natural gas supplies would be used to power cars
instead of electrical power plants. The federal government and
private investors would build a massive wind farm system in the
middle of the country from Mexico to Canada to provide
Pickens, who heads the hedge fund BP Capital, stands to
benefit from such a program. He's building a 4,000 megawatt,
$10 billion wind farm in northern Texas that should start
generating power in 2011.
Industry group the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)
has said the Pickens plan could work if the government renews
the production tax credit for renewable energy, preferably for
longer than a year or two.
Growth in U.S. wind power has been dramatic. Preliminary
figures show the United States in July may have surpassed
Germany as the world's largest generator of wind power, AWEA
"We're on track to doing that, if it hasn't happened
already," said an AWEA spokeswoman.
Wind could generate 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030,
only slightly less than natural gas currently fires, the
Department of Energy said in a report.
Building transmission lines and securing corridors to bring
wind power from the heartland to the coasts would be a major
"I think we're talking eminent domain," Pickens told
reporters after the hearing, referring to the practice in which
the government sometimes seizes private property with monetary
compensation. He said bringing the power to the coasts would
take an effort similar to former president Dwight Eisenhower's
building of the national highway system during the Cold War.
It could cost hundreds of billions of dollars to develop
wind power. Pickens said reduced crude oil imports could pay.
Natural gas analysts were less certain the country can
convert quickly from its gasoline- and diesel-based vehicle
transport and fueling systems.
Chris Kostas, analyst at Energy Security Analysis Inc in
Boston, said growing oil demand from developing countries like
China and India could keep crude prices rising even if the
United States succeeded in cutting oil imports.
Some 8 million vehicles in the world run on natural gas,
with only about 140,000 in the United States, said Pickens, who
owns a Honda car that runs on natural gas.
House Democrats were to hold a closed door caucus meeting
with Pickens on Tuesday evening to discuss his plan.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio)