Oil Tycoon T. Boone Pickens

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T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens talks with reporters in New York, June 21, 2005. Jeff Zelevansky/Reuters/Corbis hide caption

toggle caption Jeff Zelevansky/Reuters/Corbis

As part of Morning Edition's series The Long View, we hear from oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens. Pickens says he still gets his hands dirty and doesn't plan to retire until he dies.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Today we're hearing more of The Long View from people of long experience. Just before the new year the editor Lewis Lapham told us we can't grow up without history. An aide to Franklin Roosevelt gave us some history. Mike Wallace spoke of recording it. The author P.D. James told us what doesn't change in a changing world, while Odetta gave us the long view of music.

(Soundbite of song)

ODETTA: (Singing) When you wake up in the morning, you hear the big bell ring.

INSKEEP: Today we continue with T. Boone Pickens. He became famous--or in some circles notorious--as a corporate raider trying to take over oil companies. Pickens started in the 1950s as an oil company geologist.

Mr. T. BOONE PICKENS (Oil Tycoon): See, I got married pretty young and I was 20 when I got married, and then I had four children by the time I was 30 years old. And so my first years were to how I was going to put food on the table. I've had people ask me--said, `What kind of master plan did you have back, you know, in your early career?' I didn't have--the master plan I had was get everybody fed. And then at--so, OK, say you figured that out by the time you were 35. Then I would say in that period I started to put some things together and feel like I knew the kind of direction I was going to go.

INSKEEP: And there must have been a moment, too, when you said, `OK, I've got this degree in geology, but I want to get out of the engineering part of this and move over to the business side.'

Mr. PICKENS: Well, but I never did get out of it. No, I've got four rigs running right now. I'm still in that end of the business.

INSKEEP: We last spoke to you in August 2004 when prices were headed up. You predicted they'd go up even further. They did. Now, however, they've settled down a little bit. What are you now expecting oil prices to do over the next few years?

Mr. PICKENS: Oh, I think oil prices will go down. We now are temporarily oversupplied. I think '06 will be a pretty lackluster year. For the far out, the long look at it, you'll control demand with price. As price goes up, demand will throttle back. It'll be kind of herky-jerky. And, you know, 10 years from now, who knows? Be $100, $150 a barrel.

INSKEEP: You really think that there will be three-digit oil prices in a decade?

Mr. PICKENS: Oh, I don't think there's any question about it. Now don't tag me to say it three-digit oil prices next year. I'm not saying that at all. Oh, but sometime in the future, sure, you'll see three-digit oil prices.

INSKEEP: And when you said demand will throttle back, what does that mean for the average person?

Mr. PICKENS: Oh, I think you'll get--you know, SUVs will be a dinosaur pretty quick. The Congress will have to pass CAFE standards that will force the automakers to make engines that'll get more mileage per gallon. All these things will come together, and it'll all work and we'll digest it. It's not a panic, it's not something that's going to happen overnight, but it'll happen over time. And you won't go to the grocery store three or four times a week; you'll go one time. But all those things taken into the mix will cut down on demand.

INSKEEP: We spoke earlier this year to the CEO of BP, British Petroleum, and he said that his company's estimate, if he looked out several years, was that oil would go down to around $40 a barrel and stay there. Other companies have estimates that go even lower. What do you think the major companies are missing that you're seeing?

Mr. PICKENS: You know, I don't know what major oil companies think about. I don't get their estimates. And, you know, BP's a mystery to me, but they sold out of the foundation of their production in the North Sea, which told me that they believed the North Sea was finished. At the same time I hear their CEO talking about there's plenty of oil around and he sees prices going down instead of up. And I don't--something about it. They've got a different spreadsheet than I have. So...

INSKEEP: Their CEO seemed to think that we would all become so much more efficient that the supply of oil, the availability of oil would be able to match demand.

Mr. PICKENS: Yeah. Is that what he said?

INSKEEP: That was--in summary, yes, that's what he said.

Mr. PICKENS: Well, but do you know--and that's kind of what I said, too; that we are going to become more efficient because of the cost of fuel. And so, I don't know, maybe their CEO and--we're saying the same thing, up until you get to the part about price.

INSKEEP: Mr. Pickens, I don't know how many years you intend to be at this, but do you expect a significantly changed oil industry by the time you retire, whenever that may be?

Mr. PICKENS: Well, I won't retire, so that's out. If you ask me when I die, they told me over at Southwestern Medical that I'll live to be 114. I'd be blind and couldn't hear, but they said that, `You may make it to 114.' I'm 77 now, so, I don't know, give me five more years and I think it'll be changed a lot in five years.

INSKEEP: Because the price will go up permanently, in your opinion?

Mr. PICKENS: Oh, yeah. I mean, I don't think you can increase production globally more than what it is right now.

INSKEEP: Where do you expect that we'll go next for energy?

Mr. PICKENS: I don't know. It's--you know, there will be other unconventional forms of oil and gas produced, which the price is going to dictate how those are developed because you can't make money, they're not going to be developed. But in thinking about that, you think, `Well, is that going to happen if the price of oil goes down?' Probably not. So I don't know. It's--you know, `when' is a factor. There's no question that when the energy's going to be developed at some level--I don't know about solar, but probably something will be developed. And the reason those haven't been developed up to now to, you know, any proportion of the energy supply is because the economics are not there to cause it to happen. All these happen because of--you know, whether they'll make money or not.

INSKEEP: Tell me what goes through your mind when you--on those rare occasions when you still go out and you get your hands dirty or you look over a log of how much production there's been in a particular well. That must take you way back.

Mr. PICKENS: Oh, I don't know that it does. You know, you think of somebody that--well, like a baseball player, you know? He retires, and he hit 50 home runs several years. Well, I think he talks a lot about those 50 home runs. I don't feel that way. That's not the feelings that I have when I'm around the fireplace. And I was at the ranch hunting yesterday, and I was with Scott Ford, the CEO of Alltel. And Scott and I were just talking about ideas and who was going to make money and how it was going to be made, but we didn't spend much time about when I hit 50 home runs back in 1975. You know, I just don't think I look at life the same way some people do.

INSKEEP: That's The Long View from T. Boone Pickens. You can hear more conversations at npr.org and hear Kurt Vonnegut next week.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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