OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Justin Steckman got an up-close view of some of the world's energy issues during two deployments with the Oklahoma National Guard.
The thing that struck him most is the use of natural gas in the Middle East as a transportation fuel, while those countries export oil to the United States.
Steckman said that is the reason he decided to get into the compressed natural gas business.
He hopes to ensure his 17-month-old son and other American children don't grow up to be so reliant on imported oil.
"We want something different for them 20 years from now," Steckman told The Oklahoman (http://is.gd/pnuNyi).
He said it makes sense to take advantage of an abundant American resource like natural gas.
"We have this fuel source right underneath our feet," Steckman said.
Steckman said he spent a lot of time researching the natural gas market before moving into the conversion business.
He teamed with Greg Worlund, a longtime friend who also owns a Norman body shop, and Ted Dumas, a former municipal employee who helped set up Norman's CNG program.
The partners opened Total Fleet Solutions LLC in Norman earlier this year.
Steckman, who works for the National Guard as a budget analyst, said the fledgling company is dedicated to customer service, so a planned open house will include representatives of several local dealerships that sell CNG vehicles and representatives from Communications Federal Credit Union.
The credit union is one of several local financial institutions that have established programs to finance CNG conversions, which are expensive despite government rebates.
"They're doing a great thing for the industry because they're making it available to the common man," Steckman said.
The Norman company converts about two vehicles a day, but Steckman said he hopes to expand to five a day by March.
He said there are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified conversion kits for many Ford, GM and Dodge vehicles that typically are part of fleets, but he expects more kits to become available in the future.
Steckman said the popularity of natural gas as a fuel is growing, particularly in Oklahoma.
"There's no better state than Oklahoma to do natural gas," he said.
The state offers a tax incentive for conversions and related purchases, while Oklahoma Natural Gas recently won approval for a rebate program that pays up to $1,000 for conversions and home-fueling appliances.
"There's no one else offering that kind of incentive," Steckman said.