A Clean-Air Program, Texas-Style (Side Effects May Include A Natural Gas Subsidy)

Categories: Biz

cng pump.jpeg
A compressed natural gas fueling station.
Beleaguered is how you might describe efforts to clean Texas air. Emissions reduction plans -- leaning primarily on cutting vehicle exhaust -- have been gutted by the state Legislature. But one provision, passed in the last legislative session and sponsored by Woodlands Republican Senator Tommy Williams, promises a seeming panacea -- to bolster our energy independence from foreign oil; to clean the air; and to spur clean-energy job creation -- all in one $2.4 million stroke.

The idea is to create a "Clean Transportation Triangle" by providing grants to install compressed natural gas and liquified natural gas fueling stations from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, all the way down to San Antonio, over to Houston, and back up to DFW again -- a veritable natural gas highway spanning the state. State environmental regulators just closed the grant round with some 21 applications from entities like the United Parcel Service, Central Freight, the city of Fort Worth, the city of Denton and others. They're planning 10 sites in the DFW area, including one near Love Field, for example.

The pumps will be open to the public, but the applicants are large organizations that could probably stand to save a buck or two on pricey diesel and gasoline at a time of cheap, plentiful and domestically produced natural gas. The pumps already exist in Texas; most of them, in fact, are in the DFW area. Lawmakers are betting more businesses will convert their fleets to natural gas as the fueling stations proliferate.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the natural gas industry, shell-shocked by a surfeit of natural gas selling at prices that make producing it nearly unprofitable, are among the program's most ardent supporters. Open up new markets for your product, create demand and shale gas formations might be worth producing again. It's been no secret that companies like Chesapeake Energy and others have dumped their shale leases and moved rigs to drill instead for petroleum in places like South Texas' Eagle Ford Shale.

Chesapeake has been a vocal and active proponent of natural gas-fueled vehicles. Pull up a map on the Oklahoma City-based company's website and our norther neighbor is a veritable pincushion of natural gas fueling stations. The Texas comptroller's website features an interview with a Chesapeake spokesman who touts bi-fuel technology -- a natural gas hybrid -- as a tool to clean air and save money.

The industry gave Senator Williams its Blue Flame Award, calling the bill "smart public policy" and a step away from dependence on foreign oil.

And that it may be. But, rightly or wrongly, it may also be a taxpayer subsidy to one of the state's biggest industries -- an industry that, in the heady early days of the shale boom, became a victim of its own success.


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14 comments
The Credible Hulk
The Credible Hulk

Yeah, about that "Blue Flame" award...

Is that the one that looks like a golden garden hose with fire shooting out of it?

Marianagriggs
Marianagriggs

pak 152, you bewilder me. I get tired of reading your croaks while you spend time using energy. At the risk of extremity, relax. If you want to lead a better life, clear your conscience, use what you have, recycle a bit. Hope you are well.

richard schumacher
richard schumacher

Fleet vehicles running on CNG instead of gasoline or Diesel is a good thing, it's just the public subsidy that sucks.  $2.4 million would buy one lunch for all those industry guys. 

pak152
pak152

if you've ever taken a taxi from Sky Harbor in Phoenix you've ridden in a car powered by NG. buses are now powered by itI say go for it. NG powered vehicles won't be appropriate for all but in the right arenas they will be.

Willie
Willie

You have to start somewhere, and it's a step in the right direction.  No amount of increase in NOV lanes, trains, and bicycles will put a dent in the smog in the area.  Fleet sales are an important market for auto and truck companies.  Given the life of these vehicles and the cost to convert them, I'm not sure how many conversions we might see.  Firms that buy in fleet will begin purchasing NG-fueled vehicles, which will help lower the unit cost to manufacture them.  What's so ironic is that the government--in this case, Texas--is helping develop a market for cleaner fuel.  If the federal government tried to do this, all the anti-government wackos would go apeshit.  The key is to get current gasoline stations (more like megastations), at some point, to install NG fueling.

Texaspainter
Texaspainter

The industry gave Senator Williams its Blue Flame Award, calling the bill "smart public policy" and a step away from dependence on foreign oil....and he also swallows.

claytonauger
claytonauger

A self-serving attempt to raise the price of natural gas by expanding the number of sources using it. Gas burns cleaner, but it drills as dirty as oil.

scottindallas
scottindallas

if you want to do some investigative reporting, go to one of the fueling stations and ask about the range on a tank of NG.  Then, find what it costs to convert an engine, and how much more it costs to buy an NG engine rather than gasoline.  In fact, GM just released their figures last week.  ($10k can buy a lot of gas)

Marianagriggs
Marianagriggs

What ever happened to working with what you already have? Thrift was not always a four letter word. Hope you are still listening

ItchyJack
ItchyJack

Not trying to bag on you but, reduce emissions?  Not likely - oil and gas sites in Texas are slated to produce 113 tons/day vs. all mobile sources at 129 tons/day in 2012 (see TCEQ's 2011 State Implementation Plan); and we know there are a lot more wells being drilled this year, so....As for Texas being forward leaning on cleaner fuel? - all you have to do is look at who buys the government in Texas.  Hint - the O&G industry - well, them and Harold Simmons.  And then it looks more like a money making venture - now with more tax-payer dollars (with no hope of a return or benefit on investment).  The Texas government at work for you...reducing funding for education, health care and programs for the handicapped and disadvantaged, giving tax breaks to O&G companies, helping prop up their slagging NG business and sponsoring their eventual profits, allowing them to siphon billions of gallons of the state's clean waters and contaminate millions more while imposing water restrictions on residential users - ironic indeed.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

And incidentally, the "Blue Flame" is what you get when you hold a lighter near a bodily source of natural gas.

pak152
pak152

calling Mr. Marvel, Calling Mr. Marvel. 

pak152
pak152

 trying not to be snarly, smug or snarky (and I'm sure Mr. Marvel will let me know), but your statement "it drills as dirty as oil" is amazing. Are you basing this upon what others have 'reported' or on direct observation?as for self-serving the companies are in business to sell a product. wouldn't it make sense then to expand the ways that it can be sold?

RTGolden
RTGolden

Propane is a better answer than LNG anyway.  It doesn't need pipelines to transfer, doesn't need cryogenics for storage, there's already a large national distribution network in place, and you can use the same gasoline engine your car already has.  In fact, you can make it a dual use engine that switches from propane to unleaded rather easily and quickly.  Propane also is as plentiful as natural gas; it is a part of natural gas and a by-product of oil refining.

The only thing hindering propane use is the Gas Utility's stranglehold on politics.  It is already well-known that propane burns cleaner than, does not decrease horsepower (if the kits are tuned properly), and gets comparable mileage to, gasoline.  Yet still, the State has to 'verify' the kits, to the tune of $5k each.  (all the parts needed can be bought rather cheaply, to add propane to an unleaded fuel system, making it dual use, can be done for under $2k, way under)

Unfortunately, the only wide-scale, commercial application I know of recently is the Rousch Performance package F-150 dedicated propane truck, which did up the sticker price by 8-10k.  However, I've converted a ford ranger and a chevy s-10, neither cost me over $1k ( I worked for a propane company at the time, so I could scrounge for the parts I needed.)

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