"Work eight hours and sleep eight hours, and make sure that they are not the same eight hours."

T. Boone Pickens

A number of people had a problem with my characterization of T. Boone Pickens as a carpetbagger we ought to keep an eye on after he barnstormed through Utah last week to drum up support for his "Pickens Plan."

As he told the 2,000 people who attended his rally at the Salt Palace, T. Boone wants America to shake off the shackles of dependence on foreign oil by developing and utilizing our own natural resources for energy, specifically wind and natural gas.

Since Pickens, who at $2.3 billion ranks 117th on the Forbes money list of richest Americans, owns the company that is North America's largest supplier of compressed natural gas (CNG) and is in the process of developing what will be the continent's largest wind farm, I editorialized that his stake in the energy revolution could be much more personal than patriotic — more capitalistic than philanthropic.

One reader, Jack Eames, wrote: "It seems to me that is the very core of what is wrong with our democratic system; everyone is afraid that someone else is going to make some money that we ourselves are not going to make."

Another reader, Clayson Lyman, e-mailed this: "Your innuendo (that someone needs to keep an eye on ol' T. Boone) is completely uncalled for and is a slap in the face to any entrepreneur who has the guts to step up and speak up and take a stand. It's men like ol' T. Boone who have made America great. I take great exception to your making it sound like he is a slick car salesman."

But I do think he is like a slick car salesman — and I mean it as both a compliment and a warning.

When a man writes his memoir and titles it "The First Billion is the Hardest," hold on to your wallets.

T. Boone's visit should serve as a wake-up call to all Utahns that the natural-gas boom is quickly shaping up as the next gold rush — and we're at the epicenter.

David Tabet of the Utah Geological Survey confirms that Utah has extensive reserves of natural gas.

"Based on various assessments of Utah's producing basins made from 1995 through 2003, the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the mean undiscovered (natural) gas resource in Utah is 17,433 Bcf of gas," he responded when I asked him how much gas lies under Utah's crust.

Bcf, by the way, stands for billion cubic feet.

So we have 17,433 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and that's probably a conservative estimate.

Tabet says at current rates of supply, that would last about 45 years.

That doesn't exactly qualify Utah as Saudi Arabia, but it's a start.

As we speak, all sorts of peripheral businesses tied into natural gas are springing up. It's estimated that well more than 25 companies in Utah alone are either now in business or are going into the business of installing CNG tanks in vehicles that currently run on gasoline. Car dealers are scrambling to order more CNG-burning cars. Still other companies are offering dispensing tanks that can fill up your CNG vehicle while it sits at home in your garage.

Like the original gold rush, the more competitive it gets, the uglier it will probably get. Already, a fight is brewing among conversion-tank companies about what qualifies as legal under EPA governmental guidelines. Some say virtually all vehicles qualify for the CNG tanks. Others say very few qualify. Promises and guarantees are being made on Web sites that it may not be possible to keep.

Let the buyer beware.

And that's all I'm saying about T. Boone Pickens, a man who would understandably like to corner all aspects of the natural-gas market so he can charge what he wants — and get started on making that easy third, and fourth, and fifth billion.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.