PHILADELPHIA — The country's transportation industry is dangerously over reliant on crude oil, much of which is imported from overseas, said John Pinkerton, executive chairman at Pennsylvania-based Range Resources.
“Ninety-six percent of our transportation is run off of crude oil. That's bad energy policy,” Pinkerton said at the Shale Gas Insight 2012 conference Friday in Philadelphia. “That's like putting 96 percent of your 401k in one stock. We have to diversify our fuel supply.”
To that effort, the country's natural gas industry and vehicle manufacturers are working to make natural gas-fired cars and trucks a feasible and affordable option for American consumers.
The industry is moving in that direction, said Todd Campbell, vice president of public policy and regulatory affairs at Clean Energy, a California company that is building a system of liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueling stations for trucks.
While some have pushed for natural gas-fired vehicles for decades, the effort has only recently gained significant traction, he said.
“It used to be that natural gas was driven by air quality,” Campbell said. “The South Coast Air Quality Management District started using compressed natural gas because they couldn't meet air quality requirements otherwise. But now it's being driven by the price, and now you have shippers and truckers demanding production of natural gas vehicles.”
Priced about $1.50 per gallon equivalent below gasoline or diesel, natural gas could save customers thousands of dollars each year in fuel charges, Campbell said. The effort has gained the attention of vehicle manufacturers.
Chrysler this month began commercially selling its Ram 2500 compressed natural gas truck. Honda is offering a natural gas-powered Civic, and other manufacturers are working on natural gas vehicles.
Change takes time
To so dramatically change such a large industry takes time and many parts coming together at the same time, said Tod Hartje, head of market requirements for fleet operations at Chrysler Group.
“Creating a CNG market is like a puzzle,” Hartje said. “You have to get everything to work together. If you pull one lever, you could have a great infrastructure, but if there is no product and people don't want it, it won't happen.”
Chrysler and other manufacturers are working on the vehicles. Natural gas companies and retailers are working on fueling stations, and companies like General Electric are working on home fueling technology that would allow consumers to fill up their natural gas tanks in their own garages.
Both the refueling station and home refueling options are needed, Hartje said.
“Your vehicle needs to be able to handle your urban commute, but it also needs to take you to grandma's house and on vacation.”