RIFLE — An energy-efficiency expert told the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board (EAB) on Thursday that he no longer encourages people to retrofit their vehicles to use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), but instead advises them to buy a new CNG-enabled car, van or truck, which are increasingly available straight off the assembly line.
“You’ll get a better product” if you buy a new CNG vehicle, said Mike Ogburn of Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), giving the educational presentation to the EAB at a meeting in Rifle on Oct. 4.
Newly built CNG vehicles are a better buy, Ogburn said, because they are extensively tested for safety, and are designed to accommodate the bulky CNG tanks as unobtrusively as possible.
Ogburn was at the meeting to explain how CLEER, which is a nonprofit agency working on energy efficiency and economic development issues at the same time, is focusing much of its efforts these days on encouraging area businesses to convert their fleets of vehicles to CNG or some other alternative energy source, which in turn should provide a base line of support for conversions to CNG on a broader, individual scale.
Locally, CNG has become a primary focus of the area oil and gas industry, and is popping up more and more in terms of CNG fueling stations, more CNG vehicles on the local roads, and more interest among local governments in converting their vehicle fleets to CNG.
“What that effort [by CLEER] is trying to do is put an anchor in for alternative fuels, and that anchor would be fleets,” he explained, noting that some fleet managers are going for electric vehicles, some are going for propane, and others for CNG.
The reason to turn to alternative fuels, he said, is that the nation already has gotten to the point where “all the easy oil has been developed” and the only oil and gas reserves left are those that are hard to get to and dangerous to exploit.
“We’re not out of oil,” he told the meeting, “we’re just out of cheap oil.”
And as the cost of finding, drilling for and pumping gas and oil rises, the world economies react nervously and alternative fuels get more and more attractive, he said.
Ogburn said that, as far as CLEER is concerned, the two best sources of energy for transportation today are electricity and CNG.
In comparative terms, he said, an “e-gallon,” or the amount of electricity bearing the same energy as a gallon of gasoline, costs about a dollar today.
A gallon-equivalent in CNG, he said, is priced at about $2 at the pump.
The lesson of those comparisons, he said, is, “Focus on these two American-made fuels if you want to save money.”
Because CNG contains less energy than gasoline, Ogburn conceded, the travel range of a normal car or truck is greater than a CNG vehicle.
But that, he said, can be changed with the addition of one or more extra CNG tanks on a vehicle, which will extend the travel range.
In response to a question, Ogburn said there are no Sport Utility Vehicles being produced currently with CNG technology.
But, he said, companies are cranking our light-duty vans, as well as “bi-fuel” vehicles that use both CNG and gasoline interchangeably.
He also noted that there are two automotive dealerships in the area, one in Glenwood Springs and the other in Rifle, that are either preparing for the CNG market or already have installed the needed equipment.
Another question concerned the comparative “environmental costs” of producing oil versus CNG, such as the amount of CO2 (a known greenhouse gas) released into the atmosphere by everything from drilling to processing to burning it in an internal combustion engine.
“To the best of our knowledge, they don’t know,” said Ogburn. “So we call it a wash ... on a CO2 basis.”
In other action the EAB:
• Welcomed several new members onto the board, including representatives of “midstream” (pipelines and tank farms) oil and gas companies and new representatives of citizen groups, geographic areas, municipalities and energy companies (a list of members is available on the Garfield County website (garfield-county.com) under the “Oil & Gas” department).
• Heard from Garfield County Oil & Gas Liaison Kirby Wynn that there currently are 14 active drilling rigs in Garfield County, one of which is drilling injection wells for the Chevron energy company, and that there have been 266 well starts since the beginning of 2013, compared to 498 well starts at the same time in 2012. Wynn, in response to a question, acknowledged that the drop-off in drilling since 2009 has had “everything to do with the price” that natural gas commands on the market.
“What that effort [by CLEER] is trying to do is put an anchor in for alternative fuels, and that anchor would be fleets.”
Energy-efficiency expert for Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER)