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Pickens Fueling Natural Gas Push

OKLAHOMA CITY -- If T. Boone Pickens gets his way, Richard Kolodziej can finally buy himself an American-made car.

Kolodziej drives a Honda (HMC) Civic GX, the only vehicle made in the U.S. that runs on compressed natural gas. If he lived in Europe or South America, he could choose a CNG-powered Ford (F) or Chevy instead.

"General Motors (GM) makes 18 or 19 different models" of CNG vehicles, Kolodziej says. "Around the world, everybody makes them."

As president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America, Kolodziej keeps track of such things. He can tell you how many CNG vehicles travel the globe (8.7 million), rattle off the countries that have embraced them already (Argentina, Italy, even Iran) and estimate the cheap price of their fuel (between $1 and $2 a gallon). At some point, he also admits that just 120,000 CNG vehicles (or 1.4% of the worldwide fleet) dot his own country's highways.

These days, however, Kolodziej prefers to speak in the future tense. He talks a lot about "The Pickens Plan ," a bold energy program that would finally transform CNG into a mainstream transportation fuel.

To be sure, the U.S. faces no shortage of that particular fuel. Thanks to recent discoveries by big drillers like Chesapeake Energy (CHK), experts say, the U.S. has managed to boost its reserves and now has enough natural gas to last another century.

Still, Pickens feels that the U.S. could put that fuel to better use. The longtime oilman estimates that the U.S. relies on natural gas to generate about 22% of the country's electricity. If wind was used to fuel those power plants instead, he says, it could pump that natural gas into vehicles that run on oil-based fuels right now. By focusing first on the fuel-hungry vehicles that move the nation's goods, he concludes, the U.S. could slash its oil consumption by one-third over the course of the next 10 years.

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