NEIL KING, The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2009
Dallas billionaire T. Boone Pickens and FedEx Corp. chief executive Fred Smith are now duking it out—over, of all things, the virtues of natural gas as a transportation fuel.
Since announcing the Pickens Plan in July, the oilman-cum-wind power booster has spent over $60 million, along with countless hours zig-zagging the country in his corporate jet, to promote his plan for using wind power and natural-gas vehicles to break the country’s foreign-oil habit. The Oklahoma-born oil magnate insists the U.S. could cut its oil imports by one-third in 10 years by mandating that all new long-haul trucks dump diesel in favor of liquefied natural gas.
He just unveiled yet another TV ad and is building up his Pickens Army online—now 1.35 million strong and counting—in order to pressure the new Congress to translate his plan into law.
But Mr. Pickens has his opponents, including FedEx CEO Fred Smith, who favors electrification of the transporation fleet. Mr. Smith argues that hybrids are the way to go, and is putting his money where his mouth is. With 80,000 motorized vehicles, FedEx now boasts the largest fleet of commercial hybrid trucks in North America.
Without naming Mr. Pickens, the company’s director of sustainability, Mitch Jackson, upped the ante on Sunday with a blog item blasting natural gas as transport fuel of the future. After citing a list of reasons against using natural gas instead of diesel, Mr. Jackson concludes that “substituting one fossil fuel for another may mean we’re shifting our energy supply, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going anywhere.”
Mr. Pickens then let it rip with a rebuttal that accuses Mr. Jackson of making a “flawed argument” by misunderstanding the country’s natural-gas reserves and overstating the value of diesel hybrids.
“Not only does Jackson need to do more homework on the domestic availability and clean air benefits of natural gas,” Mr. Pickens writes in his Daily Pickens blog, “he needs to realize that deploying vehicles that use slightly less foreign oil – vehicles that have little testing or are not available in the marketplace – will not solve America’s energy crisis.”
Mr. Pickens has won allies in his natural-gas fight, including an array of lawmakers in Washington and army of online supporters. Fedex rival UPS is turning some of its fleet over to natural gas, and WalMart is eyeing a similar plan.
But along with FedEx, the American Trucking Association is not keen on the idea. And ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson took his own swipe at it in a speech on Thursday, saying the plan “has a number of flaws in its assumptions” and could end up increasing U.S. reliance on foreign oil.