Pickens: How will Barack Obama and Mitt Romney get us off foreign oil?

"If energy isn't a focal point of the

"If energy isn't a focal point of the debate, the real loser will be the American public," writes T. Boone Pickens. (Credit: Richard Milholland / Tribune Media Services)

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When President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney meet again for the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, the battleground will be foreign and domestic policy issues. Afterward, we will talk about who won and lost, but know this: If energy isn't a focal point of the debate, the real loser will be the American public.

Energy is a critical element of our foreign policy strategies. Our military presence in the Middle East is tied to our insatiable appetite for their oil. Worse, we're funding both sides of the war. Some of the money we pay for their oil winds up in the hands of terrorists, who are determined to cripple our nation.

Energy is also a key element of our domestic policies. America needs to know whether either candidate has the vision and the political will to develop our expanding crude oil and natural gas reserves and provide the impetus for job growth and economic revitalization across our country.


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Then we need action. A plan without action is not a plan. It's a speech.

For 44 years we have been promised energy independence. During that time we've transitioned from being the world's energy superpower to the world's energy police. Seventeen million barrels of oil flow through the Strait of Hormuz every day. The United States gets only 2 million-plus of that. With the U.S. Navy's presence there, we shoulder 100 percent of the cost for 13 percent of the oil.

We have the cheapest energy in the world. We should produce more of our own abundant resources and rebuild our economy on the back of that energy. Advances in horizontal drilling and hydrofracking leave us with a current estimated crude oil reserve base of 100 billion barrels and 1,500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That's an increase of 250 percent in oil and 200 times more natural gas than in the 1970s.

So, how will I grade the candidates on energy? Attacking America's oil and gas industry is a nonstarter. Let's not stymie those who are developing our rich energy future.

I'll listen closely to what Obama and Romney are proposing, and to whether they have even a rudimentary understanding of energy. Putting an emphasis on wind and solar, or other alternatives, as a solution to our dependence on OPEC oil, would be uninformed. Oil accounts for only about 1 percent of electricity produced in the United States.

By far the largest use of imported oil is as our primary transportation fuel. We're spending more than $1 billion each day on foreign oil. It's the most significant contributor to our trade deficit.

There is a national fixation with the electric car. That's not a meaningful solution -- yet. The president has talked about a goal of 1 million electric cars on the road as an answer to our pollution and imported oil concerns. There are 250 million vehicles in America. A million electric cars equals only 4/10 of 1 percent of the total. Additionally, electric cars are recharged off the grid, where about 70 percent of our electricity is produced from coal and natural gas.

The best way to reduce our reliance on OPEC imports is to focus on replacing our 8.5 million heavy-duty trucks burning dirty, expensive, imported diesel with fleets running on cheaper, cleaner domestic natural gas. Unlike the way you drive, over-the-road trucks tend to run the same routes on a regular basis, so putting natural gas refueling facilities at truck stops on major interstate highway routes is not a complex logistical issue. We don't need government dollars to build that infrastructure. Private industry will.

Natural gas cost $2 less than diesel. If a truck uses 20,000 gallons of fuel a year, the payoff for the fleet owner is obvious. Natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gases and essentially no particulate matter, another major advantage over imported diesel.

We have the resources to get there. What we need is leadership, a plan and follow-through. Energy must be a focal point of this debate; the American electorate will be dealt a losing hand if it's not.

T. Boone Pickens is chairman and CEO of BP Capital, a hedge fund that trades in energy equities and commodities, and architect of the Pickens Plan, an energy plan for America.

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