With the explosion of natural gas production in the U.S., including via hydrofracked shale, producers have backed the shift to CNG for fleet and private autos in order to use the newly developed capacity and shift our dependency away from foreign oil. Governments are doing the same, offering grants to businesses and non-profits for purchasing new CNG vehicles. Some residents are taking a wait and see attitude toward the new technology.
Availability of CNG Fill Stations: In Bradford County, PA, the heart of the Marcellus Shale region, there are currently two CNG fill stations associated with the Dandy Mini Mart chain of gas stations. They are normally empty, as the number of CNG vehicles in the area is still quite low. The stations predominantly serve the fleet of Chesapeake Energy compressed natural gas pickup trucks driven by CHK employees, and the newly purchased CNG bus that has been added to the fleet of Bradford County’s bus transportation system, the EMTA (Endless Mountains Transportation Authority) or BeST Transit. Bradford County has also purchased CNG fueled vehicles for its government fleet. Most of the purchases of CNG vehicles have been made under DEP alternate fuel grant programs.
Price of CNG: The price of CNG for fuel remains low and competitively attractive as compared to the price of regular gas or diesel fuel. On the day I visited the N. Towanda station, CNG was priced at $1.99/gallon as compared to $3.679/gallon for regular and $4.259/gallon for diesel. Will the price of CNG remain this low as CNG vehicles become more popular? Many residents assume the laws of supply and demand would dictate an increase in the CNG price would occur as the number of CNG dependent vehicles grows.
Promotion by the Gas Industry: Since the beginning of the development of shale gas in the Marcellus play in PA, promotion of the use of CNG has been led by the gas industry. This promotional activity was later taken up by governmental agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection, as grants began to become available to those who purchased the new vehicles. Will the purchasers of these vehicles be satisfied long term with the value equation afforded by these new vehicles, or will other aspects of the technology, such as maintenance and other issues counteract the savings in fuel? These questions remain to be answered, as a larger critical mass of owners is needed to properly evaluate the benefits, drawbacks, and risks associated with the new technology.
As a vehicle owner and resident in the Marcellus region, and as an individual who will be in the car market quite soon, I, for one, will not make a quick jump into buying into the new technology however attractive the fuel price differential might be at the pump. I will be waiting to see how it goes for the others who want to be part of the fearless first wave of those who want to be on the leading edge of using a new fuel which may become a national trend, or prove to be a short-term fad.