An idea launched on the Internet is becoming closer to reality, thanks to the timely intervention of a former U.S. Air Force pilot.
Oilman Ron Mercer and adman Bob Hammack hatched their plan almost two years ago: Save the U.S. Postal Service from going broke by switching from gasoline to cheaper natural gas.
Their idea was spelled out in a 15-minute YouTube video titled “Pump Fiction.” It has drawn more than 10,000 views since it was posted in July 2011.
“We had some pretty significant response,” Mercer said. “A lot of people wanted to support the idea that the video forwarded, utilizing the U.S. Postal Service to access the transportation sector for natural gas use.”
Mercer spoke to some oil and natural gas industry groups, finding many people who wanted to help, but his day job limited the amount of time he could spend pushing the plan.
“We didn't really know what to do,” he said. “We just did it. We had no expectations.”
That changed when Air Force veteran Dave Evans was hired as project director.
“He's done a great job taking this ball and running with it since February,” Mercer said.
Evans, who wanted to get involved in the oil and gas industry, has been busy meeting with lawmakers trying to gain traction for the plan, leading to a planned meeting in June with the postmaster.
Evans has also talked with representatives of the United Auto Workers about the potential impact on manufacturers of increased demand for natural gas vehicles.
The plan — dubbed MERVAN Project after Mercer and car dealer John Vance, who has served on advisory boards for several U.S. automakers — would begin with a pilot in Oklahoma City.
Evans said Oklahoma City already has the necessary infrastructure to handle an influx of natural gas vehicles, but the market for them needs to expand.
“Our intent is to build the infrastructure by building the demand,” he said. “If we build the demand, we can leverage the infrastructure.”
The pilot project calls for a test fleet of 500 natural gas vehicles and one fast-fill CNG station at a post office. The Oklahoma City area is home to the postal service's training center so workers can be trained here to maintain the new fleet.
Evans said program officials hope the program can save money for the postal service, expanding concentrically from Oklahoma City.
“If it works like we think it will, we can leverage 134 billion gallons of gas annually, that private market and transition a portion of it to natural gas,” Evans said. “That in turn will build the infrastructure because business people would live to make money off of natural gas vehicles. Until they have a market, there's no benefit for them building the stations.”
Officials said the plan could generate $3.5 billion in sales for U.S. automakers, while helping them meet rigorous fuel efficiency standards.
There are other plans to move the postal service onto natural gas, but officials said this one is different because it calls for dedicated natural gas vehicles.
Evans said bi-fuel vehicles available now lose a lot of space to natural gas tanks.
“We want to incentivize OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to build dedicated vehicles,” he said.
That would make CNG a viable alternative for families, Evans said, who need plenty of room to haul kids and equipment.