As a co-founder and the largest shareholder of Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE), T. Boone Pickens knows a thing or two about natural gas for transportation. As someone who's been hands-on in the oil and gas world for 60 years, he knows a lot about the economics of energy.
In the video below, he tells Motley Fool contributor Jason Hall how America's abundance of natural gas is leading to both growth in NGVs for heavy trucking, but also how manufacturers of plastics and fertilizers -- heavy users of natural gas as a feedstock -- are moving manufacturing jobs back to America. For more, check out the video, or read the transcript below.
Jason Hall: Now, you mentioned natural gas for transportation. It seems like, over the past 8-10 months, there's finally started to be some pretty serious momentum in heavy trucking. We've seen some momentum over the past several years, and some public transit and waste removal and that sort of thing.
But it seems that heavy trucking, because of that 25-30 billion gallons of diesel (annually), is a pretty significant thing.
T. Boone Pickens: That's over 3 million barrels a day of imported crude. Not all of it comes from imports, but you know what I mean. If you did put it to that, and you took out the diesel used for heavy duty trucks, you could reduce the 4 million barrels from OPEC by 75%.
Hall: One of the things about making that kind of transition that people often don't necessarily understand real clearly, if you could speak to it, is the concern that, "Okay, if we increase the demand for natural gas by shifting a lot of transportation to it, it's going to cause the price of natural gas to skyrocket." That's not necessarily the case at all, is it?
Pickens: What is the superior hydrocarbon? It's natural gas. It is cleaner, and it's a better fuel if you use it in all the ways that you can use the natural gas. But it is superior to oil. Now, compare them on a BTU basis. It's 6:1.
Hall: The actual energy content.
Pickens: That's right. On a BTU basis, 6:1 is what it is, so $100 oil would be $16 natural gas. We have never seen natural gas higher than $13, and that was just for a minute.
Hall: It's when we didn't think we had any.
Pickens: That's right. It ran up to $13. Now, you've been all the way back down to $2 from that point. Today, natural gas is $4.50, so you're still 1/3 of the BTU equivalency, and you're not giving any credit for it being cleaner.
Now, let's look around the world. What is the natural gas price in the Mideast?
Hall: A lot higher than it is here.
Hall: Japan's the same way.
Pickens: Same way -- and it has even been higher. Europe, a little less -- $12/$13 -- but the countries there that have the reserves in the Mideast and all, they will index their natural gas to the oil.
Hall: Right, so it moves hand-in-hand.
Pickens: It makes sense.
Here, it's two markets, and that is what people have said. "If we get it over to transportation fuel, the price will go up." Well, yes the price will go up. The price is too cheap, where you are.
But today you say, "Well, it's too cheap. We have all this gas. Let's take advantage of it." You are taking advantage of it. There are businesses moving back to the United States.
Governor Corbett, in Pennsylvania, told me a couple of years ago, "I have companies that have moved back into Pennsylvania I never thought would come back." Why? Because of cheap energy, is why they've come back. You have plastics coming back. Fertilizer is a huge business in the United States because you're using natural gas for the production of fertilizer.
It's interesting to see attitudes and all, and how this all unfolds, but focus on this point. There are 1,850 drilling rigs running in the United States today. They're broken down this way: 350 of them are on natural gas, and 1,500 of them are on oil.
It's because the oil price is $100 a barrel, so the rigs work where they can make the most money. It all makes sense -- 350. What's going to happen is, as your rig count has gone down, your production of natural gas will go down also. As it goes down, the price goes up.
Hall: You were talking about the energy content and the cost -- just to put it in some real-world numbers. It works out, for every dollar that natural gas moves up or down, it's only about $0.12 per gallon equivalent, for transportation.
Pickens: That's exactly right. For instance, you're $4, say, for natural gas today.
Hall: That's about $0.50 a gallon, roughly, is the commodity cost.
Pickens: Yes. You can double that ...
Hall: And it doesn't move the price that much.
Hall: Right. I think that's a really important point that most people just don't always necessarily understand.