Region shifts toward CNG as fueling option

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
The CNG rolling tour stopped by the West Glenwood bus fueling site, where Russell Decker of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority showed the group around the facility before heading out to Berthod Motors.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The basic differences between Colorado’s Front Range and its Western Slope have taken on a new aspect, according to a Roaring Fork Valley energy efficiency advocate.

Mike Ogburn, of Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), noted on Wednesday that “on the Front Range, there’s a lot of interest in hybrid vehicles and biodiesel” in terms of finding answers to mounting questions about how to meet the fuel needs of the state and wean Colorado off expensive foreign oil.

“Out here,” continued Ogburn, “in the land of natural gas, long distances and big pickup trucks, the answer is leaning more toward compressed natural gas.”

Journalists, fleet managers for area businesses and governmental agencies and others were treated on Wednesday to a fried fish lunch and a tour of compressed natural gas fueling and maintenance facilities from Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs, courtesy of CLEER and several other alternative fuel advocacy groups, Encana Natural Gas Inc., government agencies and private businesses who have taken the big step of creating natural gas fueling stations, among other entities.

Ogburn noted that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), which operates a bus system from Aspen to Rifle, was the first large organization to climb on the CNG bandwagon, so to speak.

With the opening of CNG fueling facilities at the Parachute Shell station and the Rifle Shell station, and service bays capable of handling CNG vehicles at the new Berthod Motors store in South Glenwood Springs, Obgurn said, “We’re helping people get off of foreign oil.”

He said some $50 million of foreign oil per year are consumed in Garfield County alone, and it is estimated that the U.S. imported more than 10 million barrels of oil per day from 80 nations around the world in 2012.

Ogburn maintained that CNG prices are lower, as much as $1 to $2 per gallon lower, and more stable than the prices for diesel fuel or gasoline on the retail market. And RFTA director of maintenance Kenny Osier said the transportation agency estimated it is paying $2 per gallon equivalent for its CNG now, and a fact sheet from CLEER and the Refuel Colorado Fleets program of the U.S. Department of Energy states that CNG gas currently is selling for $2.50 to $2.60 per gallon.

The same fact sheet estimates that a three-quarter ton pickup getting 11 miles per gallon can save its owner up to $1,300 in fuel costs for every 10,000 miles, by switching to CNG.

RFTA’s facilities manager, Russell Decker, took guests on a tour of the CNG facilities at the agency’s maintenance and fueling headquarters west of Glenwood Springs.

Pointing to a six-inch iron pipe that brings the CNG into the RFTA fueling shed, he said the facility is capable of fueling RFTA’s 22 CNG buses (out of a fleet of 90 or so) in a matter of a few hours. Osier said that is roughly the same amount of time it takes to fuel a like number of diesel buses, and the system was designed that way because there are schedules to keep and “we couldn’t let things back up.”

The fueling system, Decker explained, uses the same kind of nozzles — called Pro-Lock — as are used to fuel airplanes. This helps to prevent leaks and accidents while fueling.

“Natural gas is not dangerous,” he told his audience. “It’s the pressure that’s dangerous,” speaking of pressures of up to 4,100 pounds per square inch.

RFTA worker Jose Torres cranked up the fueling station in a bay at the side of the administration (separated from the offices by a thick, concrete blast wall), showing the visitors the various precautions taken to isolate the fueling bay in case of accidents.

According to Osier, after RFTA put some of its CNG fleet to use over the past year, starting with the X-Games in Aspen, the agency has saved some $55,000 in fuel costs compared to diesel fuel costs.

He added that some of RFTA’s CNG fleet is still being outfitted, but are soon to be all up and running.

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