Sheila McNulty Billionaire oilman T Boone Pickens makes his move on water

T Boone Pickens has been wrong before. The billionaire oil man discusses those times openly in his book, The First Billion is the Hardest. But mostly being wrong for Pickens is really a matter of timing – not substance.

And that is why it is interesting to note, in a recent interview, how keen he has become about wind – and now, water.

Pickens was so sure about the future of wind that, until the economic crisis, he was pushing it full force, with plans for the world’s biggest wind farm, in the Texas Panhandle. He has shelved those plans, because of transmission issues in getting the wind power generated to the urban centres where it is needed.

But that does not mean he has changed his mind about wind. In fact he has done three wind farm deals in recent months. Just none of them are the big farms with which he had captured the public’s attention. It does not matter. Pickens believes wind will contine to take on a growing role in the US energy supply, and the big wind farm will one day be built: “It will be done. But it may be 10 years from now,” he says.  That is because Pickens believes the future will belong to a portfolio of energy sources.

But he also has his eye on something else – water. Pickens realises that water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity and has been snapping up water rights for the day that the resource is in such demand that it has real value.

While others are talking about how rivers and streams are drying up and global warming is going to change the face of the earth, Pickens is making his move. He is now the US’ biggest private holder of permitted groundwater rights through his company, Mesa Water. Again, his timing might be off. He might be early to be making a move on water. But history – and Pickens’ bank balance – indicate, in the end, he is often right.

In Pickens’ eyes, water is going to have a lot of value going forward.

Related links:

Houston: Where energy is king (FT)
The water-energy nexus (FT Energy Source)