Nation & World

Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens dies at age 91

He was less successful in building up renewable energy

Reuters

Investor T. Boone Pickens speaks in Washington, D.C., in 2014.
Reuters Investor T. Boone Pickens speaks in Washington, D.C., in 2014.

OKLAHOMA CITY — T. Boone Pickens, a brash and quotable oil tycoon who grew even wealthier through corporate takeover attempts, died Wednesday. He was 91.

Pickens died of natural causes under hospice care at his Dallas home, a spokesman said. Pickens suffered a series of strokes in 2017 and was hospitalized that July after what he called a “Texas-sized fall.”

An only child who grew up in a small railroad town in Oklahoma, Pickens followed his father into the oil and gas business. At an early age, he formed his own company and built a reputation as a maverick, unafraid to compete against oil-industry giants.

In the 1980s, Pickens switched from drilling for oil to plumbing for riches on Wall Street. He led bids to take over big oil companies including Gulf, Phillips and Unocal, castigating their executives as looking out only for themselves while ignoring the shareholders.

Even when Pickens and other so-called corporate raiders failed to gain control of their targets, they scored huge payoffs by selling their shares back to the company and dropping their hostile takeover bids.

Later in his career, Pickens championed renewable energy including wind power. He argued that the United States needed to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

He sought out politicians to support his “Pickens Plan,” which envisioned an armada of wind turbines across the middle of the country that could generate enough power to free up natural gas for use in vehicles.

“I’ve been an oilman all my life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of,” he said in 2009.

Pickens’ advocacy for renewable energy led to some unusual alliances. He had donated to many Republican candidates since the 1980s, and in the 2004 presidential campaign he helped bankroll television ads by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that attacked Democratic nominee John Kerry.

A few years later, Pickens endorsed a Kerry proposal to limit climate change.

Pickens couldn’t duplicate his oil riches in renewable energy. In 2009, he scrapped plans for a huge Texas wind farm after running into difficulty getting transmission lines approved, and eventually his renewables business failed.

“It doesn’t mean that wind is dead,” Pickens said at the time. “It just means we got a little bit too quick off the blocks.”

In 2007, Forbes magazine estimated Pickens’ net worth at $3 billion. He eventually slid below $1 billion and off the magazine’s list of wealthiest Americans.

In 2016, the magazine put his worth at $500 million.

There were difficult times in his personal life. In 2005, Pickens looked on as one of his sons, Michael, was arrested on securities-fraud charges — he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to repay $1.2 million.

After his fall in July 2017, he wrote on LinkedIn that he was still mentally strong, but “I clearly am in the fourth quarter.”

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