Andrew Littlefair is the CEO and co-founder of Clean Energy Fuels, the leading provider of natural gas for transportation in North America. Clean Energy provides CNG and LNG fuels to solid waste, trucking, and transit fleets, among others, and currently operates some 500 fueling stations in the United States and Canada, as well as manufacturing related equipment and technologies.
In this video segment, Littlefair shares his experiences with T. Boone Pickens, Mesa Petroleum, and the Reagan White House before Pickens Fuel Corp was reborn as Clean Energy Fuels in 2001. The use of natural gas for transportation was initially an environmental play, he says -- the economic argument came later. This is the first segment of many more to come over the next several weeks. Keep an eye on Fool.com for more!
Jason Hall: Hey Fools, Jason Hall with The Motley Fool, here with Andrew Littlefair, CEO and co-founder of Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE).
Andrew Littlefair: Welcome, Jason.
Hall: Thank you so much. I appreciate your having us here today, and sitting down with us.
Before we really talk about Clean Energy Fuels, I'd like to talk a little bit about your experience before Clean Energy Fuels, which was Pickens Fuel Corp, before that with Mesa, and a little bit of time with the Reagan administration.
Littlefair: Right. I grew up in Southern California. I went to the University of Southern California, but I was kind of a political animal. My first job was in the Reagan White House and I spent about from 1983-87 as an advance man there -- a political appointee.
Then I left there and became Pickens' assistant, so I left Washington, D.C. and moved to Amarillo. I had an expanding role there at Mesa. As you may know, Mesa was a large producer of oil and gas, mostly natural gas.
We had a lot of natural gas. The price of gas was very low, so Boone's idea was, "We get a nice upgrade on our reserves if we can move it in the transportation sector." Now, that was a long time ago. That was 1990, so we were kind of on the cutting edge of that. I was involved in that.
Then in '97, when Mesa was recapitalized, I came back to California to start Pickens Fuel Corp with Boone's money -- I was the only employee. We started acquiring some stations. Our largest franchise was from Southern California Gas Company. For the first few years, we operated as Pickens Fuel Corp.
We sold out, at one point, 75% of the company to BC Gas, which was a large utility in Canada, then Boone bought back that 75% in about 2003. I've been here from the beginning, and that's how it all worked.
My political background was important. Early on, natural gas as a transportation fuel was really an environmental play. It didn't have very good economics in those days, so that's why Southern California made sense. My political experience helped me navigate the policies that were promoting clean air stuff. That's less important today, but that was my background.
Hall: At that time, oil was almost single digits a barrel, right?
Littlefair: I tell you what, the month we opened Pickens Fuel Corp -- I think I'm right on this -- in 1997, oil was $10 a barrel, so we were selling natural gas at the pump at $0.87 a gallon but gasoline was $1.20 or $1.20, so the economics weren't there like they are today.
It was really environmental. In those days, we were burning dramatically cleaner. We still are cleaner on carbon, and we're still better at the tailpipe. We don't have the carcinogens that diesel has, and the toxicity.
Gasoline and diesel have gotten cleaner in 2007 and 2010 -- we're still cleaner.
Hall: Nonetheless, the tailpipe emissions for natural gas are still noticeably lower.
Littlefair: We're still much cleaner.