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Thursday, May 23
The Indiana Daily Student

Oilman T. Boone Pickens visits IU on Friday to discuss his alternative energy plan

Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens will present high-profile plans to reshape American energy consumption during a speech on campus Friday.

University leaders describe the speech as a rare chance to sponge wisdom from one of the country’s most successful and progressive entrepreneurs.

Pickens, 81, launched a $58 million ad campaign in 2008 to support his plan, which calls for generating more than 20 percent of the country’s energy from wind while replacing imported oil with domestic natural gas.

Oil import rates have jumped from 24 percent in 1970 to more than 65 percent currently, according to the plan.

“If we are depending on foreign sources for nearly two-thirds of our oil, we are in a precarious position in an unpredictable world,” Pickens said in the plan.

Pickens will be in Bloomington at the request of friend and venture capitalist Gary Anderson, a member of the Kelley Dean’s Council.

In addition, his speech comes at no cost to the University, said Tatiana Kolovou, a lecturer in the Kelley School of Business, who helped organize the speech.

Several state legislators and business leaders are expected to attend.

“The issues he’s talking about are not just related to students,” Kolovou said. “They’re related to all of us.” 

Pickens led Mesa Petroleum, an independent oil company, for four decades.
More recently, he became one of the world’s most successful investment fund operators with BP Capital Management, which is valued at more than $4 billion.

“He’s come from a 20th century petroleum-based economy and he has turned his thinking and entrepreneurial activities toward a 21st century renewable-based energy economy,” said Michael Hamburger, a professor of geological sciences who has helped lead campus sustainability initiatives.  

President Michael McRobbie, who was scheduled to return Wednesday from a trip to Asia with Gov. Mitch Daniels, will introduce Pickens at the lecture.

McRobbie has prioritized campus sustainability and energy-saving initiatives in recent years following criticism that former campus sustainability efforts were not far-enough reaching.

Between 2007 and 2009, IU’s overall sustainability grade has risen from a D+ to a C, according to ratings by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

Though the current grade is average, the institute awarded IU with an A in investment priorities for its focus on renewable energy funds.

For Kelley School of Business Dean Dan Smith, Pickens’ visit is part of his school’s effort to emphasize social responsibility.

“Sustainability has become an important consideration for all leaders today,” Smith wrote in an e-mail, “and our concern that students understand how to create sustainable enterprises is a natural extension of our more general interest in corporate social responsibility.”

Despite the year-long push, it remains unclear whether Pickens’ advocacy is working. In Denver last month, he told a group of lawmakers that the U.S. had so far done little to reduce oil imports.

Pickens’ grassroots movement is unique for executives more accustomed to boardrooms and the corporate ladder, with supporters who sign up on his Web site comprising the “Pickens Army.”

The campaign, with its sleek Web site, snappy catch phrases and references to the Obama presidential campaign, appears to hone the interests of several distinct groups: environmentalist liberals, national security-concerned conservatives and those looking to slash the federal deficit among them.

As a result, Pickens’ efforts have largely escaped partisan criticism.

On campus, Smith described reaction to the entrepreneurs’ visit as “overwhelmingly positive.”

“People realize that having such a high profile leader at IU helps the overall reputation of the entire University,” Smith said.

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