Seminar offers insights into natural gas as fuel

Individuals and companies interested in natural gas as a vehicle fuel had a chance to talk with industry representatives and get a first-hand look at equipment during a seminar in Minot Thursday.

The North Dakota Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition conducted a series of seminars in Moorhead, Minn., Mandan and Minot this past week.

Companies that run fleets of vehicles are finding natural gas to be a money saver, said Joey Roberson-Kitzman, coordinator of the American Lung Association of North Dakota and North Dakota Clean Cities. The mission of Clean Cities is to reduce emissions through cleaner fuels.

North Dakota’s only natural gas fuel station, operated by Montana Dakota Utilities at Dickinson, charges $1.90 a gallon to its contract customers. Natural gas vehicle mileage is similar to gasoline, Roberson-Kitzman said.

A number of municipalities around the country have been switching to natural gas trucks in their sanitation departments, he said. Using less expensive slow-fill pumps, the departments can fuel trucks overnight and run their garbage collection routes during the day for a significant savings, he said.

Cities began making the switch with the help of grants, which eventually were used up. They intended to wait for another round of grants until they looked at the numbers and determined they can’t afford to wait, Roberson-Kitzman said.

“It’s saving them millions of dollars just in fuel a year,” he said.

In North Dakota, Fargo is leading cities in its efforts to move toward natural gas fuel in its fleets, Roberson-Kitzman said. Some other cities in the state also are considering natural gas.

Oil-field companies are turning to natural gas as well.

Blaise Energy runs two trucks on natural gas using fuel from the MDU station.

President Mark Wald said the company’s ultimate goal is to turn flared gas from oil wellheads into a cost-effective fuel for vehicles. Blaise currently is using equipment to capture gas that otherwise would be flared and generate electricity to power well sites.

“What we are trying to find out and I think we are close is how to use that gas, clean it up, remove the NGLs (natural gas liquids) and start using it as a motor fuel,” Wald said. “Over the last few years, we have gained a lot of good experience in how that flare gas works in an engine, but at a stationary power station. Now we want to gain experience in how does it work in a motor vehicle.”

Putting up to 50,000 miles a year on its vehicles, Blaise officials see opportunity for natural gas as a vehicle fuel. The company recently acquired a compressor and plans to tap into an MDU line to produce its own fuel. The cost should be about 70 cents a gallon, Wald said.

Roberson-Kitzman said other oil-field companies are doing testing of their own. Hess Corp. plans to begin a pilot project later this year testing natural gas in 25 trucks, while MBI Energy Services is looking at testing in semi-trucks.

A natural gas vehicle is similar in cost to a diesel vehicle, Roberson-Kitzman said. Because natural gas fuel stations are few in many parts of the country yet, vehicles often are dual fuel. Home pump systems now are available, though, for $4,000 to $10,000, he said.

Roberson-Kitzman said he expects more fuel stations for compressed natural gas will be coming to North Dakota, particularly along Interstate 94 because of the trucks and buses using natural gas that travel that route. He added that some fuel companies, particularly Flying J, have been active nationally in bringing natural gas pump systems into their stations.