By Mary Wade Burnside
Times West Virginian
In a few months, a vehicle outfitted with the ability to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) will be able to drive from Charleston to Pittsburgh and back without switching over to conventional fuel.
The first of three CNG stations along Interstate 79 was dedicated Tuesday with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in attendance, along with representatives of three natural gas companies that have committed to turning their fleets into CNG-capable vehicles.
“This is a great day for natural gas and transportation in the state of West Virginia,” Tomblin said at a press conference at the On the Run Exxon at Charles Point. “It’s a day that members of my Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force have waited so long to see. As I’ve said before, I believe our mission in government is to create a business climate that will encourage the private sector to create jobs, and this grand opening is a prime example of that collaboration.”
The two natural gas tanks were installed by Columbus, Ohio-based IGS Energy, which also will be opening up stations in Charleston by the end of November and in Jane Lew in early January, said president and CEO Scott White prior to the press conference.
“This is the first one to be opened in 20 years,” White said. “It’s the first one of this new shale era where we have abundant natural gas. It’s the first public station and I think we’ll have the first three public stations.”
Currently, IGS Energy has placed two tanks at the On the Run Exxon, “but we can expand that over time as more people start to own and buy natural gas vehicles.”
In the beginning, those vehicles largely will be from businesses that will convert their fleets to CNG, White said.
“They use more per vehicle so when you make an investment on the conversion to pay for your vehicle, you have to use a lot of gallons per year,” he added. “So it makes sense that it’s larger users.”
The press conference was an opportunity to point out the benefits of CNG — lower price, lower emissions and more abundant and regional than gasoline — as well as introduce the area companies that will be converting their fleets, Antero Resources, Chesapeake Energy and EQT.
“Our cost at the pump today is $2.19 in gallons equivalent,” White said, adding later that the price currently is 35-40 percent cheaper than gasoline in West Virginia that currently costs about $3.39 a gallon.
During the press conference, IGS Energy business manager T.J. Meadows, who previously has said IGS Energy was spending as much as $10 million on the three stations, called the benefits of CNG “stark.”
“It’s cleaner,” he said. “How much cleaner? It’s 30 percent less carbon dioxide, up to 75 percent less carbon monoxide and up to 95 percent less particulate matter.”
In addition to the three natural gas companies, White said he expects that the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority (KRT) in Charleston will consider converting to CNG.
As for individuals, that will take more time, he said, noting that currently in the United States there are 112,000 CNG vehicles on the road compared to 200 million gasoline vehicles. In the world, there are 15 million CNG vehicles, he added.
“We have a lot of catching up to do,” he said.
He did note that the 2014 Ford F-150 will have the capability to use CNG. White described his own dual fuel tank that can use either conventional gasoline or CNG.
“It has two separate tanks but that engine can burn both fuels,” he said. “I can push a button right in the middle of the highway and switch over.”
Over time, White expects manufacturers and individuals to respond to the cost-saving incentives, some of which have been passed by the West Virginia Legislature.
The recently passed Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) tax credit will provide a tax credit against a state franchise or income tax, equaling 35 percent of a new CNG vehicle purchase price or 50 percent of the conversion cost; a cap of $7,500 for vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of up to 26,000 pounds; and a cap of $25,000 for vehicles with a GVWR greater than or equal to 26,000 pounds.
“Your proactive legislation not only provided some early incentives to vehicle users but it sends the right message to us, and we’re not headquartered here in West Virginia,” White said to Tomblin during the press conference. “We’re next door in Ohio. But it sends the right message that you want us to be leaders in this transformation effort which begins today, this transformation into the natural gas fuel.”
In addition to the three stations in place or in progress on I-79, White anticipates the possibility for expansion in other parts of the state.
“We’re looking at other areas of West Virginia,” he said. “We think West Virginia can support more than three. We’re looking at Wheeling. We’re looking at Huntington. We’re looking at (U.S.) Route 50. These are the three we know. We hope to announce another three or four in 2014.”
Representatives from each of the three area natural gas companies that will be converting fleets spoke at the press conference.
“Natural gas represents an unprecedented opportunity for providing clean, domestic and abundant fuel for this country thanks in a large part to the natural resources here in West Virginia,” said Alvyn A. Schopp, chief administrative officer and regional vice president of Antero Resources, which has an office at White Oaks in Bridgeport.
“Opening West Virginia’s first public CNG fueling station demonstrates the commitment that we have to supporting the general public’s desire for multiple fueling options, which is the way of the future.”
Maribeth Anderson, senior director of government affairs in West Virginia for Chesapeake Energy, noted that her company drilled its first well from the Marcellus shale — largely responsible for the natural gas boom in the region — in 2007.
“And now six years later, I kind of feel like this is a full-circle moment,” she said. “Today for the first time since the discovery of the Marcellus shale, ‘the new natural gas era’ as Scott says, you can commercially visit a fueling station and take on compressed natural gas. It has all come together.”
Nathaniel Manchin of EQT pointed out that he lives in Pittsburgh and has family in Harrison County that he visits.
“I can finally consider a dedicated CNG vehicle and go the only places I need to go,” he said. “Putting CNG stations along the I-79 corridor will contribute to making natural gas a preferred fuel choice, not only in this state but also in neighboring states, including Pennsylvania.”
Email Mary Wade Burnside at firstname.lastname@example.org.