Natural Gas and Trucking

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama again spoke about using alternative fuels as a means of escaping dependence on foreign oil. This follows a speech the President made last spring where he voiced a desire to the see the country cut foreign oil imports by 33 percent over a 10 year period. Obama’s re-election campaign focuses on education, manufacturing and production of alternative energy sources. The President later in the week visited five western states, which included Nevada, where he ceremoniously opened a trucking natural gas corridor. The stretch of highway spans from Long Beach, California to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Along this stretch of road, medium to heavy duty trucks have access to compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations. The United States is far behind many other countries that utilize natural gas fueled vehicles. CNG or LNG (liquid natural gas) vehicles are a common sight in Argentina, Brazil and Egypt, along with other countries in the Middle East. The President hopes to pass legislation offering incentives to trucking companies that purchase vehicles fueled by natural gas.

The proposed bill would pay alternative fuel vehicle purchasers up to 50 percent of the cost that exceeds retail prices on comparable gas fueled vehicles. The cash back incentives could cost taxpayers approximately 5 billion dollars over a spread of five years for the purchase of 140,000 trucks and the development of natural fueling stations.

Obama also brought to light the discovery of new natural gas reserves, which could provide up to 600,000 jobs in gas drilling and auxiliary industries that include truck driving jobs. The President compared the amount of natural gas resources in the United States with those of oil plentiful Saudi Arabia. With the President’s approval, the government plans to open 38 million acres of public land for natural gas and oil production. Drilling these lands could provide the U.S. with 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1 billion barrels of oil.

Studies indicate that operating vehicles on cleaner natural gas produces up to 30 percent less carbon emissions. Natural gas also saves trucking companies on fuel expenses, as the fuel retails for around $2.00 a gallon as opposed to diesel, which sells for around $3.80 a gallon. Trucking operations employing 18 wheel rigs commonly purchase 20,000 gallons of gas annually per vehicle. The more miles a truck travels, the more companies experience in savings overall. Manufacturers suggest that alternative fuel trucks pay for themselves in three to seven years time.

Creating natural gas vehicles is not a new idea; Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens introduced the idea in the middle of the last decade. He suggested using increased amounts of electricity and natural gas for industrial and vehicle fuel use instead of coal and petroleum products. Mr. Pickens and his wife also stand to benefit from the innovations, as both own the majority of shares in Clean Alternative, a company that constructs and installs natural gas fueling stations.

AT&T and UPS have already joined the natural gas vehicle campaign by purchasing dozens of the 18 wheel trucks for their prospective companies last year. UPS received approximately 4 million dollars to offset the purchase of 48 trucks, which cost on average $195,000 a piece. Kenilworth and Peterbilt manufacturers already create the specially designed engines and gas tanks used for natural gas fueled vehicles. Half of the expense of modifying vehicles lies in the larger gas tanks required to house the fuel. The companies allay any fears for those employed in truck driving jobs, claiming the uniquely designed tanks have safety release valves. After undergoing rigorous testing involving various scenarios, the valves inhibit the possibility of explosion.

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