Alternative Fuel Found? Natural Gas May Hold Key to Lower Prices at the Pump
June 12, 2011
By CASEY JUNKINS Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register
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WHEELING - Anywhere you go to buy gasoline in the Wheeling area these days, you end up dishing out more than $3.50 per gallon, a price that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago.
However, you can purchase a unit of compressed natural gas, which will let you travel the same distance as a gallon of gasoline, for about $2. Not to mention the fact that much of the oil used to refine your $4 per gallon gasoline is imported from the Middle East, while the $2 natural gas is likely produced in the U.S. - possibly even in the local region.
Denise McCourt, director of communications for Washington, D.C.-based Natural Gas Vehicles for America, believes natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale underlying the Upper Ohio Valley may hold the key to reducing our nation's dependence on foreign oil.
"Just a few years ago, people thought natural gas was a precious commodity. Now it is abundant," she said. "The game changer about shale gas is that gas is abundant. "Our estimate is that there are about 112,000 natural gas vehicles on the road today in the U.S, with the greatest concentration in California, where alternative fuels have been helping the state address its severe air pollution issues," McCourt added.
Some school buses in Los Angeles are now using compressed natural gas in place of gasoline, while some of California's garbage truck fleets are now using the natural gas. Also, Atlanta is now running some of its public buses on natural gas.
"It means American energy and American jobs," McCourt said of the shale gas. "I think there is a real sense that this can make a difference. Supply is the number one question for making a switch in your fleet."
However, with only about 1,000 compressed natural gas filling stations in the nation right now, even someone who wants to buy such a vehicle may have a hard time finding somewhere to fuel up.
In the local area, the Marathon service station in Elm Grove used to have a natural gas filling station, back when energy companies were using natural gas fueled vehicles. That filling station closed more than a decade ago, and currently there is no where in the local area to fill a vehicle with natural gas.
"Infrastructure is the main obstacle. If (companies) are going to switch to natural gas, that encourages infrastructure," McCourt said.
During its 2011 session, the West Virginia Legislature adopted new tax credits to encourage the purchase of natural gas vehicles, and provide credits for those looking to build alternative fuel filling facilities.
In terms of available passenger natural gas vehicles, one of the most popular is the Honda Civic GX, which will be renamed the Honda Civic Natural Gas for the 2012 model year. It now carries a fuel economy rating of 28 miles per gallon equivalent.
"Inherently clean-burning natural gas has a proven track record as an extremely low-emission, domestically produced transportation fuel," said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co. "The new Civic Natural Gas makes it even more convenient to tap into this desirable and abundant resource."
Travis Windle, spokesman for the Canonsburg, Pa.-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, cited a Penn State University study that notes Marcellus Shale natural gas production in Pennsylvania alone, by 2020, could exceed 13.5 billion cubic feet per day.
"In a single day, it could replace the diesel fuel used in 9,000 vehicles for an entire year; in a single day, it could replace one-third of the 390 million gallons of gasoline used by Americans each day," he said of how Marcellus gas production could impact motor vehicle fuel in the future..