Let Markets Decide Natural Gas Role

Could natural gas replace gasoline or diesel for Pennsylvania drivers?

With natural gas certain to become even more plentiful, many people are asking whether that could someday be the norm for transportation. But state lawmakers have taken the speculation one step further by introducing a package of legislation, called Marcellus Shale Works, to subsidize vehicles fueled by natural gas.

Unfortunately this legislation is simply corporate welfare that will do little to make natural gas vehicles economically feasible for companies or taxpayers. Petroleum Products Corp., an operator of pipelines and storage facilities notes one hauler decided against compressed natural gas and liquid natural gas for safety and economic reasons. According to the company, it cost up to $100,000 per truck bay to “explosion-proof” its maintenance areas and trucks would have smaller payloads due to the additional weight of fuel tanks.

Reuters reports that C.R. England purchased five liquid natural gas trucks in 2011, but hasn’t recuperated the almost $80,000 premium per vehicle. The company is seeking a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to add CNG trucks. Without the grant, the company’s Director of Fuel admits, they wouldn’t be considering natural gas trucks.

Freight hauler Con-way Inc. found natural gas-based fuels are expensive even with subsidies, according to Randy Mullett, a company vice president.

Con-way is testing two compressed natural gas trucks in the Chicago area and plans to add three or four liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks in Texas, where state incentives will help offset the added costs. But Mullett said fueling big rigs with natural gas is “not the slam dunk that it’s presented to be.”

Natural gas-fueled vehicles have been economical for gas suppliers like Cabot Oil & Gas, which owns a $1 million compressed natural gas fueling station in Susquehanna County. And natural gas appears to be attractive for companies with certain situations like UPS, which is investing $50 million to support 1,000 liquid natural gas truck tractors whose routes are within 150 miles of a fueling station.

Companies will switch to natural gas when it makes economic sense. Government can’t predict future energy trends, and they shouldn’t be choosing winners and losers.