MORGANTOWN - Due to the abundance of relatively cheap natural gas because of Marcellus and Utica shale drilling, Kathryn Clay believes its time to use the fuel to power more vehicles.
"Not only are these not the same vehicles we were talking about in the 1980s and 1990s - we are not even the same country we were then," said Clay, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Drive Natural Gas Initiative, in speaking during the West Virginia University College of Law's spring natural gas conference in Morgantown, sponsored by the Steptoe & Johnson law firm.
"Instead of talking about importing natural gas, we are talking about exporting natural gas," she said in reflecting the greater supply of gas, which has Dominion Resources seeking permission to ship U.S.-derived natural gas for use in Asia.
The U.S. is the world's largest gas producer, she said, but accounts for only 1 percent of natural gas vehicles. There are just 1,200 natural gas fueling stations nationwide, compared with 160,000 gasoline stations. But the growth rate of fueling stations is accelerating, Clay said.
"Using natural gas will make us less vulnerable to large price swings," she said in noting the fluctuating price of gasoline. She said on average, compressed natural gas now costs 47 percent less than gasoline.
Robert Orndorff, managing director of state and local affairs for Dominion, said natural gas vehicles are not more dangerous than those that run on gasoline, as he said some fear.
"If there is an accident, the natural gas will rise into the atmosphere. It will not puddle like gasoline," he said in the event of a tank rupture.
Earlier this year, IGS Energy of Dublin, Ohio, said it will build a $10 million network of compressed natural gas stations for vehicles along Interstate 79 from Charleston to Mount Morris, Pa. IGS said it anticipates more stations across West Virginia, and it's considering a similar network in Ohio.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said low prices support a shift toward CNG vehicles, so he urged the state to examine ways to expand the network of fueling stations. Tomblin said earlier this year state government should convert at least one-fourth of its 7,800-vehicle fleet within four years.
Hallie Mason, Tomblin's director of public policy, also said during the conference that part of the challenge in getting the public to consider natural gas vehicles is the safety factor.
"We have quite a bit of work to do to get them to understand the safety of these vehicles," she said in reference to some state lawmakers she said are not excited about the idea.