Study Promotes Natural Gas Vehicle Fleets [Citizens Voice, Wilkes-Barre, PA]
Converting fleet vehicles from diesel to natural gas in Pennsylvania will help propel wider adoption of the cleaner-burning energy source as a transportation fuel, according to a natural gas industry report released Tuesday.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition's plan for creating a "Pennsylvania Clean Transportation Corridor" envisions a $208 million investment in the state by both private and public sectors - enough to buy or retrofit 850 heavy-duty trucks and build 17 refueling stations at strategic locations, including in Pittston Township near the junction of Interstates 81 and 476.
Focusing on vehicle fleets, like city buses, trash haulers and regional trucking operations, helps overcome the "chicken and egg" problem of spurring investment in fueling stations without a steady market of natural gas vehicles or trying to sell natural gas trucks without a guarantee of a filling station nearby, coalition president Kathryn Klaber said.
"The foundation of a fueling infrastructure needs to come from the fleet vehicles - the long-haul trucks and the come-back-to-base types of trucks," she said, adding that the envisioned filling stations would be open to the public "so the early adopters on the personal vehicle side will have the ability to fuel their vehicles."
The coalition of natural gas operators drilling in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale wants to grow the market for the gas they produce, but the report details how the expanded use of natural gas in vehicles has broader benefits. Natural gas costs less than diesel or gasoline, can be sourced from the state rather than foreign oil reserves and creates fewer smog-producing pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions.
The proposed corridor could replace 9.2 million gallons of diesel fuel with 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas produced from the state each year, saving fleet operators $9.2 million in fuel costs annually while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 21,000 metric tons, according to the report.
Although natural gas is much less expensive than diesel - more than a dollar less per diesel gallon, according to the report - the U.S. Department of Energy notes that natural gas vehicles can travel fewer miles per gallon equivalent because of the lower energy content of natural gas.
Klaber said the proposed corridor would be "a public-private partnership no matter how you look at it," but the coalition does not suggest how much money state, local or federal governments should invest to develop it, saying those decisions will be made by legislators.
Pennsylvania currently has an alternative-fuel vehicle incentive program that has funded natural gas buses and filling stations, and development of natural gas vehicles enjoys broad political support
In his energy speech last week, President Barack Obama called the "potential" for natural gas "enormous," and noted that more than 150 members of Congress backed legislation last year to create incentives for using natural gas in vehicles.
He cautioned that the country will only benefit from the gas trapped in its shale reserves if the drilling process is done safely, "without polluting our water supply" - a particular concern in Pennsylvania where Marcellus Shale drillers have been issued more than 2,500 violation notices and enforcement actions by environmental regulators.
The federal natural gas vehicle incentive bill, known as the NAT GAS Act, and a package of state bills to promote natural gas usage in Pennsylvania are both slated to be reintroduced today.
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