Imagine an 80-year old Oklahoman-turned-Texas oilman starring in a movie, There Will Be Water.
Not too far fetched, actually.
T. Boone Pickens thinks water is the new oil. Here's the cover story from the 23 June 2008 issue of BusinessWeek. The artwork is from the magazine.
Pickens was a so-called "corporate raider" (he prefers the term "shareholder activist") in the 1970s and 1980s when he and his company, Mesa Petroleum, took on the "big boys" like Gulf Oil and Unocal.
He was one of the major financial backers of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group.
But oil is a thing of the past for Pickens; the article claims he is now the largest single individual owner of water rights in the USA. He owns a huge ranch in Roberts County, TX, and would like to pump ground water from the Ogallala aquifer beneath his ranch and sell it to thirsty Texas cities.
How much? Try 200,000 acre-feet per year. He can pump this much because of Texas' quaint ground water law, "the right of capture", aka "The Law of the Biggest Pump." If you own land, you can sink a well and pump virtually to your heart's content. Doesn't matter whether you own one acre or 68,000, the size of Pickens' ranch.
Pickens claims he is pumping in "self-defense"; if he doesn't, someone else will pump his water from underneath him. So he might as well sell the water.
But so far, none has taken him up on his offer. He thinks that the Dallas-Fort Worth area is a potential buyer - not now, but eventually. Before he can sell his water he needs to construct a 250-mile long pipeline. The article describes how how will accomplish this. Fascinating.
I've heard Pickens speak twice, both at conferences: July 2002 in Traverse City, MI, and April 2005, at the inaugural Ground Water Summit in San Antonio. He was trying to peddle his water to San Antonio, but the city was not interested - at least not at the price he was asking.
I had actually invited him to keynote the San Antonio conference and it was fitting: our first Summit, in Texas, in a place reliant on ground water, during a time when Pickens was hawking his water.
Pickens is a cross between a "good ol' boy" - and I do not mean that as a pejorative term - and a shrewd businessman. He has been good to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University (see my post on his generosity and its down side). He's made and lost a couple of fortunes.
When I addressed him as "Mr. Pickens" he said, "Call me Boone, son." He gave a good talk in San Antonio, and although it was short on details, it was humorous, with an almost "Aw shucks, I'm just an Okie boy who's done well" attitude. I liked him; he was polite, and his "handlers", with whom I dealt, were equally so.
Anyway, read this article. It's very good and describes some of the legislative somersaults necessary to implement Pickens' plans.
The article also notes that Royal Dutch Shell is buying up ground water rights in Colorado in anticipation of its oil-shale operation, which will require large amounts of water.
Maude Barlow, where are you now?
"Water is a commodity. Heck, isn't it like oil?" -- T. Boone Pickens