Editor’s Notebook: The Western Front

May 2012, Vol. 239 No. 5

We headed west on Interstate 10 to San Antonio for the midyear INGAA Foundation conference last month and couldn’t help being impressed by the constant parade of 18-wheelers carrying line pipe, drill pipe and so many other products to the booming Eagle Ford Shale. Matter of fact, we heard there’s nary a hotel room to be found west of San Antonio.

Wouldn’t it be great, I said to Mrs. Share, if those trucks were fueled by our abundant supply of cheap natural gas?

The energy gods are listening. Under way is the Texas Clean Transportation Triangle Initiative, a state-endorsed bill for developing a network of natural gas-refueling stations along the triangular corridor linking Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

The bill seeks wider-scale deployment of heavy-duty, mid- and light-duty natural gas vehicles (NGVs). America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) says “an unprecedented consortium of more than 200 stakeholders had a role in the plan, including fleet operators, business groups, utilities, fuel suppliers, natural gas producers, and universities.”

At last report they have 19 new public stations around the Triangle which exceeded the original goal of 13. Another 30 station are in various stages of planning as they expect to double the number in the next 6-18 months to exceed 100 statewide.

ANGA says heavy-duty fleet operators consistently report 30-40% cost savings for their natural gas fleet operations compared to diesel. The emission benefits would be equivalent to removing 175,000 cars off highways in the state’s most populated areas.

Among those responding to the prospects of cheaper fuel are Freightliner, Kenworth, Volvo and Cummins which have just announced plans to expand their natural gas heavy-duty engine product lines.

Waste Management scheduled a grand opening May 11 for its first Texas CNG station in Conroe, an hour north of Houston. Built to serve its local fleet and the public, the station will fuel up to 40 CNG-powered collection trucks by year end. Other commercial fleets – such as transit agencies, school districts, taxis and municipalities – have plans to refuel at the “Clean N’ Green Fuel Station.”

In March, GE and Chesapeake Energy, the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer, announced a collaboration to speed the widespread use of NGVs in the U.S. GE will supply more than 250 standardized, modular CNG compression units called “CNG in a Box” for NGV-fueling stations.

Assuming a vehicle drives 25,700 miles per year, gasoline priced at $3.50 per gallon and CNG at $2.09 per gasoline gallon equivalent, it’s estimated that a CNG-fueled vehicle owner would see cost savings at the pump of up to 40%. For a big commercial or municipal fleet owner, that translates into savings of $1,500 per vehicle per year.
Chesapeake and its CEO Aubrey McClendon, a driving force behind ANGA, are betting everything on natural gas and will invest $1 billion spread over 10 years aimed at supporting natural gas as a transportation fuel. This kicked off with an investment in Clean Energy Fuels which intends to build over 150 liquid natural gas fill stations across the nation at Pilot-Flying J Travel Centers.

Chesapeake is investing $150 million in new natural gas fill stations. It has converted its own fleet of vehicles to natural gas which it estimates will save $250 million a year.

More good news: a federal study on employment released April 26 says six of the top 13 places to work are in South and North Dakotas and West Texas. Hint: it’s not because of the weather or scenery.

Alas, some sad news: the passing of two legends last month hit home rather hard. Growing up outside of Philly in the ’50s about the only show we could watch daily was Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. That’s where most of us learned how to finesse our way onto those scary dance floors.

Chief Jay Strongbow was the first professional wrestler I interviewed in 1977. Of course, he was really an Italian named Joe Scarpa from Jersey City, not Pawhuska, OK. But his war dance was sure a lot better than anything I could do, even with those years of Bandstand training!