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CNG wins more fans as East Texas fueling stations become reality

By Richard Yeakley
May 25, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The long-sought promise of a less-expensive, cleaner and abundant fuel source for fleet and private vehicles is being fulfilled in East Texas.

Compressed natural gas filling stations are beginning to open across the area, with the first such public station in Longview set to open in a few weeks. It is the first of three planned by Independence Fuel Systems for the Longview area, but it won't be the first in East Texas. For the past few months, a Peake Fuel Solutions station has been operating in Marshall.

As the fuel becomes more readily available, it is removing a big hurdle that has stopped local governments, school districts, businesses and individuals from converting vehicles to run on CNG.

"I am sold on it," said Mike Fisher, who drives a company vehicle that runs on CNG and is considering converting his private vehicle. The reason: savings. "Once the distribution infrastructure is set up across the country, competition will drive the price down."

Already, the economics are appealing.

"The value is a big thing," said Matt Russell, director of marketing for Longview-based Independence Fuel Systems. "It is roughly 50 percent of the cost compared to diesel fuel and gasoline."

In addition to CNG's lower price, operating costs decline because fewer lubricant and filter changes are required, he said. It burns cleaner, so it's better for the environment, "and it comes from East Texas," where gas is plentiful and a major part of the economy.

His company's first Longview CNG fueling station was taking shape this past week behind Denny's on Eastman Road near Interstate 20. The state's grand opening is set for mid-June, but Russell said small vehicles that have been converted to CNG can begin fueling there soon after Memorial Day as a part of a soft opening.

The company also has announced plans to construct Longview stations at the intersection of Marshall Avenue and Loop 281 and near the Bar K Ranch Store on U.S. 259 north of Longview.

Outside Longview, Independence is planning to open stations in Carthage near the intersection of Loop 436 and U.S. 59; in Kilgore at I-20 and Texas 42; in Henderson at U.S. 79 and U.S. 259; and in Palestine, Russell said.

Such availability is drawing the interest of fleet operators across the region.

In June, Longview Mayor Jay Dean, Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt and representatives of the Longview Chamber of Commerce took a trip to Mansfield, La., to visit a company that had converted much of its fleet to use natural gas engines.

In March, the Texas Railroad Commission held a CNG Summit in Longview that drew about 50 East Texas fleet managers and transportation directors to learn about the fuel source.

Russell said such events helped make his company confident enough to launch their stations, which cost about $1 million apiece.

"We have done several town hall type of meetings, met with the Texas Railroad Commission, talking with companies that have fleets of pick up trucks, as well as companies that have fleets of vans," he said. "There has been a lot of interest, and everybody is excited about the potential cost savings."

Area governments and businesses have been sticking a toe into CNG.

In Marshall, Harrison County government earlier this month began operating a CNG-powered dump truck, which it fuels at Peake Fuel. Peake is a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy, which itself already operates fleets of CNG-powered vehicles.

This past week, oil field services giant Halliburton said it has deployed nearly 100 light-duty CNG trucks across its U.S. field locations, including in Texas. Houston-based Halliburton purchased the vehicles as part of a pilot program to be rolled out throughout its domestic operations.

The move is expected to save the company about $5,100 in annual fuel costs per truck.

"There is considerable focus across the industry to identify multiple ways to leverage this abundant, reliable and cleaner-burning source of energy in day-to-day operations," said Jim Brown, Halliburton Western Hemisphere president. "The fleet of CNG vehicles is one more example where Halliburton is leading among oil-and-gas services companies regarding the use of American natural gas."

Another step will be converting private vehicles to operate on CNG.

Kev.N. Graves, owner of TechX automotive in Longview, said his firm would soon begin converting vehicles to such operation. The conversions generally run between $9,000 and $11,000.

"In the long run, the CNG is a far superior (fuel)," Graves said. "We have so much of it (in East Texas) right now they are burning it up north."

Graves said his company will first focus mainly on fleet conversions, but soon shift to help regular people convert their engines.

That suits Fisher, a Nomack Drilling employee who said he witnessed performance and cost savings while using a CNG-powered company vehicle. Running his company truck's bi-fuel engine on gas 80 percent of the time saves as much as $500 a month, he said.

"I like it so well, I am going to spend the extra money," Fisher said, about converting his own vehicle. "I drive an '07 Chevy Duramax Diesel, and it does pretty good, but diesel is higher than regular gas now. It doesn't cost that much more to convert it, and everybody that I know that is using a CNG tank is converting."



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