Monday, August 04, 2008

Water Thrown on Pickens Plan

Andrew Tobias points to this column from the Tucson Weekly. After first setting the stage (i.e., Pickens is not a trustworthy person, as we all know), the column's author gets to the heart of the matter:

I was about to salute Pickens--that is, until I came across an article in Business Week that showed how Pickens was using one face to talk up wind energy while his other face was busy buying up all the water rights in the Texas Panhandle. It seems that old T. Boone wants to corner the water market and sell the increasingly-in-short-supply commodity to the booming Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex at an eye-popping profit.

For the past several years, Pickens has been buying up water rights to land over the southern end of the giant Ogallala Aquifer, the nation's largest. Pickens now owns more water than any other individual in the country, and because of quirks in Texas law, his supply is about to get much larger. Texas groundwater use is governed by "right of capture," which amounts to: If you have a large enough pump, you can suck your land and everybody else's around you dry in the process. (This is the basis for the "I drink your milkshake" line in There Will Be Blood.)

Pickens wants to pump the water out and ship it 250 miles to Dallas, which has resisted his overtures thus far, but with its booming population and dwindling supplies of groundwater, won't be able to forever. The problem for Pickens is that the pipeline would go through 11 counties and over 600 tracts of private land. He can afford to pump the water and build the pipeline, but buying up all that land would be cost-prohibitive.

Now, if he could find a way to have the government help him get that land through eminent domain, that would make things a lot easier. And what do you know: The Texas Legislature passed a bill that had an add-on provision (that several legislators swear they knew nothing about) that would allow a water-supply district to transmit alternative energy and move water along a single right of way.

I'm not sure how to assess the water right-of-way issue. Even if Pickens is successful in cornering the water market for Dallas/Ft. Worth, how big of a deal is that? Is the water right-of-way a smaller add-on to the power right-of-way, or the real, secret reason he wants the power right-of-way in the first place? Dunno.

No comments: