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T. Boone Pickens, the 'Oracle of Oil' turned natural gas supporter, dies at 91

Highlights

60-year career spanned many energy sources

Strong opposition to US dependence on imported oil

T. Boone Pickens, a power player in the oil industry for decades who spent his final years as an advocate for natural gas, died Wednesday in Dallas. He was 91 years old.

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Pickens' career in the oil and gas sector spanned more than 60 years, starting as a roughneck with Texaco while he attended Oklahoma State University. After three years at Phillips Petroleum, he and two other investors started an oil and gas company in 1954 that became Mesa Petroleum.

He took the company public in 1964 and saw it become one of the largest independent oil and gas producers in the nation. He would run Mesa until he was forced out in 1996, but with his four decades in the industry and his hedge fund, BP Capital Management, Pickens remained a powerful voice in the industry for another 20 years.

Nicknamed the "Oracle of Oil," Pickens repeatedly attempted to seize control of other, larger producers while at Mesa. His targets included Phillips, Unocal and Gulf Oil. None of his efforts succeeded, but Mesa shareholders benefited considerably each time.

He was accused of "greenmailing" companies -- buying a small percentage of another producer's stock, then attempting a takeover bid, frequently leading his target to be bought out by a larger competitor. He denied it, but those who followed his lead in the marketplace consistently benefited from the efforts.

"When you are hunting elephants, don't get distracted chasing rabbits," Pickens was quoted on his website as saying.

In spite of making billions in the oil patch during his career, Pickens became an advocate for other energy sources later in life. Those included renewable energy sources such as wind.

"Nobody accuses me of not being green. I'm in the wind business," Pickens said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program in 2012.

PICKENS PLAN

His biggest non-oil investment, however, was in natural gas.

In his "Pickens Plan," the energy magnate urged the US to invest more in the use of natural gas, especially in the transportation sector. That move, he said, would combat both climate change and the nation's dependence on foreign oil sources. To that end, in July 2008 he launched a self-funded $100 million, grass-roots campaign in opposition to the US's dependence on imported oil.

"Natural gas is the second-largest energy resource in the country," Pickens said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in 2008. "If we take the natural gas we're using for electrical generation and move it to transportation, we can replace 38% of our foreign oil imports."

The plan generated plenty of headlines but made little headway. Still, Pickens continued to advocate for gas and renewables until he took what he called "a Texas-sized fall" in July 2017. He closed up BP Capital a few months later, but remained active online.

-- Mark Passwaters, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Dyna Mariel Bade, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Gary Gentile, newsdesk@spglobal.com