GIRARD, Ohio -- James Bacon, a director at Bolt Construction Inc., Poland, says the development of compressed natural gas stations across Ohio stands to benefit his business in two ways.
First, more CNG fueling stations means that drivers operating trucks converted to run on CNG fuel will have more locations to fill up. Second, since Bolt Construction works in the oil and gas industry, the more natural gas that is used, the better for the company's customers and its overall business.
"As people start using more natural gas, they've got to drill more and find more," Bacon says. "And that's our business."
Bacon was among business leaders attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to officially open the first compressed natural gas station of its kind in the Mahoning Valley.
Bolt Construction recently converted its first truck -- a Ford F-250 4X4 pickup -- to CNG, and Bacon says the company is likely to convert more of its fleet in the future.
"This is the first vehicle we've converted," Bacon says. "We have a fleet of about 40 trucks, and we'll probably convert more."
Dublin, Ohio-based IGS Energy Inc.'s new CNG compressor and pump station at the Mr. Fuel depot, just off Salt Springs Road near the Interstate 80 interchange, is the third such station the company has developed in Ohio. It’s part of a larger network IGS plans across the state, reports Scott White, president and CEO.
"This is our first project in northeast Ohio," White says. "We plan on building a corridor."
The Girard site was selected because of its proximity to the major interstate, which fits with the company's plans to build more CNG stations along Ohio's primary highways. "We'll be building one in Findlay off the interstate and one in Dayton off the interstate," White says.
These stations, coupled with three IGS stations in West Virginia, would create a network of fueling depots that makes CNG service available for regional transportation routes stretching from Charleston, W. Va., through Pittsburgh and the Youngstown area, and western Ohio, White says.
"We're looking at building a regional infrastructure so the trucking industry can have an opportunity to move goods throughout the state, through Ohio and maybe into Indiana," White says.
CNG gas holds tremendous benefits for especially long-distance, heavy-duty trucks, he continues. "First its about the price," he says. CNG gas stands at $2.24 per gallon equivalent including taxes, he reports, compared to an average of $3.50 for regular unleaded or $3.90 for diesel fuel.
The abundance of natural gas in eastern Ohio's Utica shale and the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania provides a strong, steady supply of a domestic resource that can be used in this country, White adds.
"Our company wants to commercialize more of it," he says. "We don't think it makes sense to export natural gas to Japan or China, when we have the opportunity to use it here."
CNG is "cleaner for the environment, the maintenance costs are lower," White says. "Someone told me it takes seven quarts of oil to do a natural gas oil change on heavy trucks and 34 for a diesel."
White says its logical that heavier users such as the long-haul trucking industry will convert first, since it requires significant up-front investment to convert a rig. However, in most cases the payback for that investment is less than two years, he says.
IGS has installed two pumps with two hoses each at the Mr. Fuel station. Since the station opened about three weeks ago, it's recording about 30 fill-ups per day, reports Dave Mrowzinski, CNG program manager for IGS CNG Services. "We're happy with those numbers for a startup."
Any expansion at the Mr. Fuel station would depend on demand at the location, White notes. "We're going to wait and see how heavy the traffic is. We have the compression capability to expand if it need be."
The total investment for a project of this scale is between $1.8 million and $2 million, IGS says. Most of that cost is devoted to compression technology that is used to transfer natural gas from existing pipelines to the pumps.
An accompanying compressor station, located about 100 yards from the pumps, extracts gas from local pipelines at 32 pounds per square inch and compresses it to 300 pounds per square inch, White says. The compressed gas is then transferred to the pumps and made available for fueling.
Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda says his county has initiated a feasibility study to determine whether it would be worthwhile to build a CNG station at the county engineer's office and begin conversion of some county vehicles to CNG fuel.
"Right now, we use about a million gallons of gas a year," he reported. "That would be about a $1.25 million savings for us as far as gas is concerned," should the county's vehicles convert to CNG.
The greatest variable is the upfront costs of converting the county's fleet and how long it would take to recoup those costs, Fuda adds. "There's a lot of interest in Trumbull County."
Also joining guests at the event was Youngstown Mayor John McNally and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who both applauded IGS CNG Services' decision to locate this operation in the area.
"We want to celebrate a significant milestone for our region," McNally said. "This station is going to play a vital role in servicing the growing number of Ohio businesses and citizens who are converting to natural gas vehicles."
Mandel said projects such as this represent the country's drive toward energy self-sufficiency, while providing a broader customer base for natural gas from the Utica and Marcellus shale plays.
This, in turn, helps the prospects of oilfield workers, welders, laborers, pipefitters and suppliers that serve the industry.
"There's a lot of people with a political agenda who think somehow our natural resources are liabilities," Mandel says. "I think the opposite. I think our natural resources are assets. I think that's exciting."
Pictured: The ribbon is cut Tuesday at the IGS compressed natural gas filling station in Girard.
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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