Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens comes to the Baker Institute to promote his energy plan

America should reduce its dependence on foreign oil by shifting to natural gas, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens told a standing-room-only crowd at Rice University, urging students to join his grassroots campaign and look for their own solutions to what he termed "the biggest problem that's ever faced America other than a war."

"You and the generation to come are going to have to figure this out," Pickens said in a Jan. 6 lecture on "The Pickens Plan," hosted by the Baker Institute Energy Forum. "And the way you start is to figure out how to use our resources instead of depending on resources from people that are not even friendly to us."

To that end, he has embarked on a personal, multimillion-dollar effort, which he calls the Pickens Plan, to bring attention to the country"s energy woes and his ideas to address them.

One of the key elements of the plan is to gradually replace aging fleets of heavy-duty trucks, buses and municipal vehicles, which consume disproportionate amounts of imported oil, with vehicles that run on natural gas. "The technology is very well known," Pickens said.

Already, large bus fleets from Beijing to Los Angeles are powered by natural gas, Pickens said. Major American automakers sell natural gas-powered cars in Europe and South America, but not the United States; the only original-equipment car in the United States that runs on natural gas is the Honda Civic GX, he added.

"We have plenty of natural gas to solve this problem," said Pickens, citing vast shale gas reservoirs in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, among other places.

Natural gas, a finite energy source, can serve as a "bridge" that will give the United States "30 years to make it to the next generation of transportation fuel," Pickens said. "We're importing almost 70 percent of the oil that we use. We have a country that has used oil like we have oil."

Pickens also said he is counting on President-elect Barack Obama to honor a campaign pledge to end oil imports from the Middle East in 10 years.

Pickens, who founded the company that became Mesa Petroleum in 1956, is currently the founder, chairman and CEO of BP Capital, L.P.

In addition to the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, his lecture was co-sponsored by the Energy & Environmental Systems Institute, the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the Center for the Study of Environment and Society at Rice University.

Learn more about the Baker Institute Energy Forum.

Learn more about the Pickens Plan.