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Texas Oil Tycoon Urges US to Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil

Longtime Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is calling on the U.S. government to take steps to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. He is promoting an energy plan that features wind and natural gas - a proposal he discussed with lawmakers at a congressional hearing Tuesday. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

T. Boone Pickens is a man with a mission.

"I only have one enemy, and that's foreign oil," he said. "That's what I want to get rid of. My plan will reduce our dependency on foreign oil by 38 percent."

Pickens told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the United States imports nearly 70 percent of its oil today, up from 24 percent in 1970. He said many of the countries supplying the oil are not friendly to the United States.

Pickens warned of negative consequences in 10 years if the United States does not take any action.

"If we continue to drift like we're drifting, you're going to be importing 80 percent of your oil, and I promise you, it will be over $300 a barrel," he said.

The 80-year-old billionaire, who is founder and chairman of the BP Capital hedge fund, is spending $58 million on television and radio advertisements to promote his plan. The proposal relies on domestically produced natural gas and investment in domestic renewable energy sources such as wind power.

Pickens is the former owner of the independent oil company, Mesa Petroleum, and has launched what is believed to be the world's largest wind farm in Texas.

Committee chairman Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who calls himself an independent Democrat, supports Pickens' plan, and agreed with his call for cutting U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"The near-total dependence of our economy, the energy sector and particularly the transportation sector, on oil is weakening our nation's position in the world, while enriching and strengthening a lot of countries in the rest of the world, many of them volatile and some of them just plain hostile to the United States of America," he said.

But Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, took issue with Pickens' support of natural gas as an alternative to gasoline for transportation.

He told the committee that 63 percent of the world's natural gas reserves are under the control of Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and that these countries are working to establish a natural gas cartel that will rival the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC.

"This is a spectacularly bad idea for us to shift our transportation sector from one resource that we don't have to another that we don't have," said Luft. "So we don't want to give at this point in time a gift to Iran."

Luft advocates using alcohol-based fuels instead, such as ethanol and methanol - which can be made from agricultural waste, coal and industrial trash.

Another witness, Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Laboratory, expressed support for Pickens' wind energy proposal. He said Europe is way ahead of the United States in harnessing this renewable resource.

"In Europe, there are plans by 2030 to generate 150 gigawatts of off-shore wind capacity for Europe," he said. "They are calling wind energy and off-shore wind the third industrial revolution. They have created over 300,000 jobs in Europe in wind and wind-related businesses. We can do the same."

The hearing came as the Senate voted to begin debate on legislation to limit speculation in oil markets that has been blamed for some of the recent increase in oil prices. The bill would require the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to set limits on trading in oil markets by investors and speculators.