Investor T. Boone Pickens has made a fortune over the years running an energy-oriented hedge fund, and in recent years he's been placing big bets on the natural gas and wind industries.
The 83-year-old founder and CEO of BP Capital has been one of the most fervent supporters of natural gas, promoting its usage throughout the country and trying to convince lawmakers, including President Obama, that natural gas could be the energy solution that ends the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
The U.S. has an abundance of natural gas, which is found in rock and shale formations. Booming production and growing investment in the field has led to a natural gas supply glut, pushing the price down nearly 50% over the past 12 months. A new government report found that natural gas held in storage is 55.4% above the five-year average. Although natural gas prices have rallied more than 20% in the past week, prices are still down 19% since Jan 1. Pickens predicts that the downward spiral may finally be over.
"It's pitifully low, but we have probably seen the bottom," he tells Aaron Task at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.
As for gasoline prices, Pickens says they could easily reach $4 a gallon this summer. Gasoline prices have dropped more than 12 cents per gallon in the last four weeks. The U.S. average price of unleaded gasoline hit a peak of $3.941 a gallon on April 2. U.S. oil prices have fallen 3% in one month. One reason for the unexpected drop in prices is the relaxing of tensions between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear energy program.
According to The New York Times, tighter economic sanctions on Iran has led to a resumption of direct negotiations with Iranian leaders, therefore reducing the possibility of conflict. Pickens says Iran played a small role in the rise of global energy prices. While he isn't expecting an imminent attack on Iran, if one were to take place, he believes it would be initiated by Israel in the late summer or early fall.
Pickens' biggest concern right now centers on what he sees as the Obama administration's lack of an energy policy. He says special interests are blocking real energy reform, and he singles out Koch Industries, a chemical, fertilizer and refining juggernaut run by brothers David and Charles Koch, as the main culprit.
"The biggest deterrent to an energy plan in America is Koch Industries," he says. "They do not want an energy plan for America because they have the cheapest natural gas price they've ever had, and they're in the fertilizer business and they're in the chemical business. So their margins are huge. And they do not want you to have an energy plan, because if you had a plan, then natural gas prices would come up."
The Obama administration may be lacking a cohesive, straightforward approach to America's energy independence, but fossil fuel production has greatly expanded since Obama took office. The president has approved drilling permits in federal lands and waters that were previously off limits to oil and gas companies, much to the chagrin of environmentalists. From 2005 to 2011 the amount of foreign energy sources imported by the U.S. fell by 15%. Obama rejected the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in January, but he has recently expressed support for building the southern portion of the pipeline that would extend from Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico.
"It's very hard to get an energy plan," Pickens laments. "It isn't a failure of the Democrats. It's not a failure of the Republicans. It's a bipartisan failure. Over the years neither party could provide the leadership to have an energy plan."