CNG is Key for Oklahoma’s Energy Future

By BrianW

Speaking from the 2011 Oklahoma Governor’s Energy Conference on Nov. 9, Gov. Mary Fallin unveiled the Oklahoma First Energy Plan. Part of that plan, among other things, is a focus on enhancing the production of fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, while complementing their use with renewables, such as wind energy.

Going hand-in-hand, Gov. Fallin also announced a new initiative to increase the use of natural gas-powered vehicles (NGV) in the state’s automobile fleet. Fallin, along with Wyoming Gov. Matthew Head, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) stating a desire to purchase NGVs for their state fleets. Fallin said the MOU lays the groundwork for the formation of a Multi-State Request for Proposal, where the states would prepare a formal request to automobile manufacturers to design a NGV and sell it bulk to participating states. The goal of the participating states is to target 5,000 NGV purchases per year, with Oklahoma purchasing or leasing roughly 500 within the next year.

Fallin said that there has been an ideology that fossil fuels were exhausted and that is simply not the case. She said Oklahoma has always been a leader in the energy sector and with an energy supply revolution taking place in Oklahoma, the state can continue to help lead the nation in energy production.

“Innovation and cutting-edge technologies are proving that more and more gas than ever previously imagined is right here in the U.S. and in Oklahoma,” she said. “Natural gas is the centerpiece of Oklahoma’s energy future.”

She did recognize the challenges that lie ahead for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. The conversion costs are steep, there are not enough refueling stations and the demand for CNG vehicles is just not there as of yet.

“Consumers won’t buy natural gas vehicles because they can only be refueled at a limited number of fueling stations. Gas stations don’t want to add CNG pumps with an only limited number of consumers and CNG vehicles that will be on the road,” she said.

But, she did say Oklahoma wants to break that cycle with the help of other states and private investors.

“Other states in addition to Oklahoma are increasingly recognizing that CNG is an important transportation fuel for our future. It is efficient, it is affordable, it is abundant, it is clean and it is provided right here at home in the U.S. and certainly in the state of Oklahoma," she added.

Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., is one company helping with this transition to CNG.  In 2010, Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake’s CEO, announced plans to convert the company’s entire fleet of 4,200 vehicles to CNG by 2014. In April of this year, Chesapeake announced that its 800th natural gas-powered vehicle had entered service. To help get over the hurdle of not having enough refueling stations, Chesapeake has worked with fuel retailers, such as OnCue Express and Love’s Travel Stops, to add CNG fueling stations to existing establishments. In 2010, Chesapeake and its partners opened 14 CNG stations in Oklahoma, bringing the total of CNG stations in the state to 42. Chesapeake’s top 15 executives, including McClendon, all drive CNG vehicles.

“The home of the future will have appliances to refuel vehicles with compressed natural gas,” said McClendon at the Governor’s Energy Conference.

McClendon said in the next 10 years or so, CNG refueling appliances could be affordable in homes. Now, the cost is around $4,000 to add that in a private home. But Chesapeake is working with companies such as GE and Whirlpool to drive down that cost. A project that Fallin hopes to see become successful.

“We are focusing on the energies of today, as well as tomorrow, to ensure that Oklahoma remains a national leader,” she said.

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