Fellow Oklahoma native T. Boone Pickens is back in the news and hitting the airwaves with an energy idea that I believe is pure common sense.
Pickens believes, like I do, that as Americans continue to suffer from high gas prices, we need to take advantage of our abundant, domestic supply of natural gas for use as a transportation fuel. The promise of natural gas as a mainstream transportation fuel is achievable today — not 15 or 20 years from now. From Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) powered cars, to semi-trucks running on liquefied natural gas (LNG), no other commercially viable fuel burns cleaner.
America has massive reserves of natural gas. The latest report (Sept. 2007) from the Potential Gas Committee at the Colorado School of Mines identifies 82 years of natural gas supply at current rates of production. Canada’s reserves hold an additional 40 years’ supply.
Raymond James Equity Research recently reported that they hold a "bearish outlook for U.S. natural gas prices." After examining the future supply of domestic production, they released a May 19, 2008, energy report which concluded, "…we continue to see unprecedented growth in U.S. gas production that will eventually overwhelm the U.S. gas markets."
In 2007, 130,000 Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) were operating on America’s roads consuming just 0.052 percent. NGV America states that, "even if that number were to increase 100-fold in the next ten years to 11,000,000, or roughly 5 percent of the entire vehicle market (a formidable goal), the impact on natural gas supplies and the natural gas delivery infrastructure would be small — equating about 4 percent of total U.S. natural gas consumption."
The good news about natural gas as a transportation fuel, in addition to being abundant and clean, is that it is inexpensive. In April, the Department of Energy reported that the average nationwide price of a gallon of gas equivalent to CNG was just $2.04 per gallon. In some regions of the country prices are even lower -in Rocky Mountain States CNG costs average just $1.26 per gallon. In fact, many state and local governments, businesses, and consumers have been able to cut their fuel bills by more than half when utilizing natural gas as a transportation fuel. In my hometown of Tulsa, OK, for example, a person can currently refuel their CNG powered cars for just 91 cents per gallon. With gasoline prices currently hovering over $4, those are significant savings for consumers.
To help make CNG a reality, I have introduced the Drive America on Natural Gas Act, legislation that encourages the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel and sends a signal to auto manufacturers to produce and sell these vehicles domestically. Today’s regulatory burdens are daunting for those in the business of converting vehicles to run on CNG or LNG, so my bill streamlines burdensome EPA emissions certifications required for the conversion of vehicles to natural gas. The bill also establishes a natural gas research, development, and demonstration program to assist manufacturers in emissions certification, examine and improve the current nationally recognized safety codes and standards, and advance the reliability and efficiency of natural gas fueling station infrastructure.
Most importantly, my legislation also bridges "the chicken and the egg" conundrum: automakers won’t build NGVs without the refueling infrastructure, and the gas stations won’t build the refueling infrastructure without the NGVs. By encouraging the production of bi-fuel natural gas vehicles, my bill overcomes this key difficulty.
Coupled with a home refueling unit (also known as the Phill), consumers will be comfortable purchasing bi-fuel natural gas vehicles knowing that they can also run on conventional gasoline for those occasional long distance trips from home. Installed in your garage, the Phill is connected to a home’s natural gas line. Once plugged into a CNG vehicle, the Phill slowly compresses natural gas into the car’s tank. Similar to the idea of plug-in hybrids, the Phill allows consumers to re-fuel at home. Unlike plug-in hybrids, this technology is not a few years away – it is here today. As more of these vehicles hit the road, the refueling infrastructure will soon follow to fuel these cars beyond our homes.
My Drive America on Natural Gas Act will allow natural gas to compete on its own merits; it does not dictate that consumers, businesses, or states must use natural gas as a transportation fuel. The bill encourages auto manufacturers to produce bi-fuel vehicles, streamlines EPA’s emissions certifications, and establishes a natural gas vehicle research program. Americans can ultimately choose whether natural gas powered vehicles are right for their own individual and business needs.