DALLAS — Arabic script is about to appear on television sets across the country, with the Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens helpfully reading an English translation.
“Go back to sleep, America; the oil crisis is over,” Mr. Pickens intones, deadpan, in the new video. Seductive Middle Eastern music plays in the background.
But suddenly, the picture switches to American troops on a desert battlefield as flames leap skyward, and Mr. Pickens declares, “I don’t think so!”
What, exactly, is he up to now?
The Texas billionaire spent much of the last two years, and $62 million of his fortune, on an advertising and public relations offensive in which he tried to persuade Americans to embrace his Pickens plan. It called for a vast expansion of wind energy to displace natural gas, freeing the natural gas for use in vehicles, thus displacing foreign oil.
No American with a television set could escape Mr. Pickens’s argument last year. But somehow, a mass conversion to natural gas cars failed to ensue.
So now Mr. Pickens is turning up the volume, and changing his pitch with some extra alarm bells. He is opening his wallet to spend millions more on a new campaign, with the first advertisements scheduled to be broadcast Thursday on cable stations across the country.
His aides hope that a stronger message, focused on national security, will be effective after the attempted Christmas Day airliner bombing and other terrorist actions. They say they discussed whether using the Arabic lettering might be viewed as incendiary or offensive, but concluded that any added attention would be good for the cause.
“We’re infidels with most of these people and they have no use for us,” the 81-year-old oilman said in an interview on the way to a speech here recently. “We’re getting more and more dependent on the wrong people.”
The Pickens campaign has been suspended since October, when Mr. Pickens decided that health care was drowning out the energy debate. But he says he thinks the energy policy will soon move back to the top of Washington’s agenda.
This time, he has tweaked the Pickens plan in a way that just happens to conform with his changing business interests.
The man who made much of his fortune on oil, then in recent years turned to wind power, is now underplaying wind as a possible solution, while continuing to promote natural gas. Some of his stakes in companies would be more valuable if natural gas consumption were to rise.
Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, emitting fewer greenhouse gases than coal or oil. Many experts say they think it is underused as a power and transportation fuel, especially after new technologies recently unlocked huge reserves in shale gas fields across the country.
Proponents of natural gas took a back seat when the House of Representatives passed a climate bill last year, as lawmakers from coal-producing states dug in to keep coal as the nation’s principal fuel for electricity production. Natural gas may get a warmer hearing in the Senate, but its prospects there are also in doubt.
Skeptics say putting in the infrastructure for natural gas vehicles would be too expensive, and battery-powered electric cars and hybrids are a better alternative. And worries are growing that the techniques used to blast through shale rock to release gas could pollute drinking water.
“It’s very hard to move mountains on energy policy, and Pickens has not yet even moved a hill,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy expert at Rice University in Houston. “The problem that Pickens faces is that in this country if you are from the oil industry, people are naturally suspicious of what you say on energy policy.”