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T. Boone Pickens: Jack of All Trades, Master of One

Josh Matlock's picture

T. Boone Pickens is a jack-of-all-trades and master of one: making money. Pickens has managed to leave his mark in the areas of oil and gas, cattle, corporate raiding, hedge fund management, politics, philanthropy, and yes, even water peddling. Not only has he left his mark, he continues marking. Pickens, at 77 years of age, says he is not retiring until he dies and does not sit around reminiscing about the success he has had in the past. Instead, Pickens says he is always figuring how to make more money. Yet, not only does Pickens delight in adding to his fortune, but he also enjoys giving it away.

Pickens has given a great deal of his wealth to politicians, political committees, and philanthropic enterprises. Through the years, Republican candidates have directly received over $700,000 in contributions, and Democratic candidates just under $25,000. In addition to contributing generously to Republican candidates, Pickens has also given well over $5 million to committees such as the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, Swift Boat Vets and POW's for Truth, and the Progress for America Voter Fund. The amounts of Pickens' political contributions have significantly increased over the past five years, and at tremendous cost to Democratic candidates. For example, Pickens helped bankroll the Swift Boat Vets and POW's for Truth to the tune of $3 million. If the recent past is any indication of Pickens' future level of contribution and involvement, Democratic candidates should brace themselves for what could come. However, it appears John McCain may be the next Swift Boat victim, with Pickens powering the Giuliani train as a member of his finance committee for a 2008 presidential bid.

As for Pickens' philanthropy, The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranks him fifth among top donors in 2005 with gifts of $229.2 million that included a $165 million donation to Oklahoma State University and a $7 million donation to The American Red Cross — the largest gift in the history of the organization. In 2006, Pickens gave away $175 million, of which $135 million was for launching The T. Boone Pickens Foundation. Also, Pickens gave $2 million to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Texas, $5 million to Texas Woman's University, $1 million to M.D. Anderson's cancer research, and $1 million to The Phoenix House.

Pickens likes giving his money away, but says he enjoys making it just a little more than he does giving it. However, Pickens only recently added significantly to his wealth, affording him the capacity to give as much as he has. It was not too long ago during the 90s that Pickens experienced his self-proclaimed "dark decade" after making some decisions that led to the loss of his long-held and successful company, Mesa Petroleum. He went through a bit of a depressed period, but soon after rebounded by starting a new investment company called BP Capital. Since then, Pickens' wealth has grown at a remarkable rate, with Forbes reporting him at a net worth of $2.7 billion. Yet despite Pickens' great success with BP Capital, he continues searching for the next big moneymaker. He believes it to be water.

Pickens is currently leading a group of over 100 Texas landowners that call themselves Mesa Water. Pickens and his Mesa Water landowners are located in Roberts, Hemphill, Lipscomb, and Ochiltree counties in the Texas panhandle.

According to Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District (PGWCD) regulations, their pumping is limited to one acre-foot per year per surface acre; 50 percent of the 1998 aquifer volume must still remain in 2048; and they may only sell water for municipal use within Texas. With these restrictions in place, Pickens' Mesa Water advertises they are prepared to deliver 320,000 acre-feet of water annually to any needy Texas municipality. Nonetheless, Pickens must build a projected $1 to $2 billion pipeline before water is deliverable. Pickens says he has financing secured for construction. All that remains is closing the deal. As of yet there are no takers. The water's cost appears to be a sticking point. Depending on pipeline distances, water will have to sell in the neighborhood of $800 an acre-foot in Dallas, $1000 in San Antonio, or $1400 in El Paso. With plenty of viable alternatives proposed in the 2007 State Water Plan, Pickens will have an uphill battle getting someone to buy his water. Only time will tell whether Pickens' water venture pans out or ends as a bust. Regardless, rest assured BP Capital continues churning out profits, and Pickens remains a master of making money.

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