Valdosta Daily Times

August 18, 2013

Powering the future

Natural gas becoming prime energy source

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Natural gas is poised to become the dominant energy source in the United States in the next 20 years, surpassing petroleum, just as petroleum surpassed coal in the 1950s and coal surpassed wood in the 1880s, according to the Department of Energy.

As the United States is said to have enough natural gas available to meet the next 100 years worth of energy requirements for the country, the nation’s dependence on foreign markets will diminish, one of the primary goals of encouraging natural gas usage in transportation.  

As Ross Harding of Energy Launch Partners said Friday at the grand opening of the Langdale Fuel CNG station in Valdosta, “This is a completely different way of doing business, and it’s fortuitous, because natural gas allows us to work on the same problems that the rest of the world has been addressing for years.”

The Langdale Fuel CNG station is the eighth in the state of Georgia, is one of 677 stations in the country, and is the only one located on the Interstate 75 corridor between Atlanta and Tampa. The closest station to Valdosta is currently in Tallahassee, which has one of the first school systems in the country converting to all CNG school buses, a savings of $5,000 per bus per year, according to the Leon County School System.



Why Natural Gas

With prices at the gas pumps volatile and unpredictable in recent years, interest in utilizing alternative fuels has increased exponentially. While the production of ethanol, biofuels and renewable diesel has gained in popularity and usage in the last decade, none are considered alternative fuels by the Internal Revenue Service, according to the Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, but compressed and liquified natural gas are. Financial incentives for businesses and citizens, along with increased availability, are tipping the scales toward the use of natural gas for transportation to resolve the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 2010, the U.S. imported about 49 percent of the petroleum it consumed, of which two-thirds was used in transportation. “With much of the world’s petroleum reserves located in politically volatile countries, the United States is vulnerable to supply disruptions.”

Natural gas already accounts for around one quarter of the energy used in the U.S., according to the DOE, but it is being used primarily in heating, cooking, electric power production and industrial uses. The trend, according to the DOE, is to extend that usage into the nation’s transportation infrastructure.



Natural Gas Infrastructure

With natural gas already in use throughout the country, there are more than 2.3 million miles of natural gas infrastructure in the U.S. The Langdale Fuel Company only had to tap into existing infrastructure lines, located around the industrial park, in order to establish the fueling station.

At the grand opening Friday, Michael DelBovo, president of Saddle Creek Transportation and one of the Langdale Fuel CNG station’s first customers, extolled the many virtues of natural gas, noting that with the delivery system underground, weather disruptions would not halt delivery.

During Hurricane Katrina and other storms which have affected the Gulf region, the southeastern U.S. experienced shortages of gasoline as the supply chain came to a standstill.



Environmental impact

Natural gas produces less than half of the smog-producing pollutants of other fossil fuels, according to the Department of Energy. The DOE states half of all air pollution and more than 80 percent of air pollution in cities is caused by gasoline and diesel emissions from cars and trucks throughout the U.S.

Although natural gas is comprised largely of methane, a greenhouse gas, the Energy Information Administration states that 81 percent of greenhouse gases are from energy-related carbon dioxide, produced by burning coal and oil. The increased production of methane from using natural gas would be offset by the accompanying reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the EIA.

Natural gas also burns cleanly and quietly, and DelBovo stated Friday that no longer would people have to complain about heavy diesel emissions or noise from trucks which have been converted to CNG.

While the extraction process has become more technologically advanced, allowing the U.S. to drill into shale to release abundant reservoirs of natural gas, the process is also reliant on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking has been linked in some areas of the Midwest with earthquakes, soil disruption and groundwater contaminants. The DOE has partnered with other federal agencies to address the concerns and find ways to ensure the extraction process is safe and environmentally responsible.



Cost

At Langdale Fuel, the cost of a GGE, or gas gallon equivalent, which is the standard measure for Compressed Natural Gas, is $2.36, about $1 less than regular gasoline at filling stations.

Vehicles that run on CNG cost a few thousand dollars more than conventional vehicles, but that amount is expected to decrease as production increases. Also, in Georgia, individuals can claim a tax credit of 10 percent of the vehicle cost, up to $2,500, and similar incentives exist for business and industry.

While the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions pricing study shows a likelihood of increased prices due to rising demand, the availability and domestic production of natural gas is expected to be less volatile than pricing on foreign oil imports.