NORMAN — The growing buzz on compressed natural gas finally reached a crescendo last fall for Hammer Construction Inc.
Robby Moore, the 50-year-old company's vice president of operations, said he had read enough about the benefits of CNG and seen enough trucks marked with the distinctive blue diamond of a natural gas vehicle to warrant a look at the alternative fuel.
“After doing our research, it was a no-brainer,” Moore said.
Hammer decided to begin making the switch to natural gas last fall. Moore said there are lot of incentives, including a state tax credit and rebates from Oklahoma Natural Gas, but the biggest savings are expected to come from reduced fuel costs.
CNG typically sells for less than half the cost of traditional vehicle fuels.
One of the companies that has demonstrated the benefits of natural gas for Hammer is Chesapeake Energy Corp., a vocal supporter of CNG as an alternative to gasoline or diesel.
The two companies are linked by history, as Hammer did the site preparation for Chesapeake's first well near Lindsay more than 20 years ago.
Hammer has converted eight of its light-duty pickups to run on CNG, Moore said, with plans to outfit eight more with CNG tanks over the next few weeks.
Moore said the Norman-based company expects to convert more trucks as it replaces vehicles in its fleet, which includes about 55 pickups. He said Hammer will look for other uses of CNG.
“We're excited about it,” Moore said. “I hope that we will be able to roll this out into our medium- and heavy-duty vehicles as well.”
Hammer expects to be able to recoup its CNG investment — estimated to be about $5,000 per vehicle — in fuel savings after each one goes about 40,000 miles.
“We have some people who drive that in a year,” Moore said.
Hammer is aiming to cut costs further by converting trucks on its own. Two employees have been trained to handle the conversions, which can be done in about two days.
“It's a really simple procedure,” said Taylor Jennings, a Hammer employee who completed a five-day class on the conversion process.
Jennings said he had to figure out the best way to put the CNG system together at first. Now he is focusing on cutting the time it takes to install one.
Moore said the company has customized its trucks by putting a small toolbox on top of the CNG tank, which takes up the space normally occupied by a toolbox.
He said the trucks are driven by equipment operators, who have company vehicles to get to job sites. Hammer, which has about 200 employees, operates in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana.
Moore said the company will rely on public fueling stations to get its CNG, since it does not have a central location to build its own station.
Shawnee-based Van Eaton Ready Mix has built its own fueling station after adding 10 CNG-fueled cement trucks. Those account for about 20 percent of the company's fleet.
Project manager Kely Van Eaton said it is too soon to know how much the CNG switch will save the company since the new trucks have only been on the road for a couple of months.
Running on CNG is a much cheaper option, he said, since it costs the company only about 50 cents a gallon of gasoline equivalent.
Van Eaton said the company will be able to realize greater savings once technological advancements allow its material hauling trucks to run on CNG also.