CNG vehicles or vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, have been around in some form for a couple of decades.
The chart at the top of the page shows CNG vehicle use since 1992. The 1990s showed the greatest growth in CNG vehicle use, from a low of approximately 20,000 CNG vehicles in 1992 to just under 120,000 CNG vehicles in use in 2002.
During the past decade, CNG vehicle use held relatively steady, at a shade under the 120,000 number.
Of the total 113,973 CNG vehicles in use during 2008, 70,839, or sixty two per cent, were operating in five states:
- California: 35,980
- Texas: 11,032
- Arizona: 10,072
- New York: 10,017
- New Jersey: 3,738
Source: Energy Information Agency (EIA) Estimated Number of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicles in Use, by State and User Group, 2008. Table V9.
Recent stagnation in the CNG vehicle industry stems from the lack of both a stable fuel supply and fuel supply infrastructure, with current use primarily limited to government and business fleets that have centralized fueling stations.
Expanded natural gas drilling, primarily the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process ongoing in areas around the United States, ameliorates the supply availability concern, leaving the lack of a fuel supply infrastructure as the rallying point for CNG proponents.
CNG proponents also note that the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel is less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the use of gasoline.
On the other hand, CNG opponents note the current environmental problems, especially the water quality problems, associated with fracking, make CNG vehicles a less than environmentally friendly transportation alternative.
While a scaled-up CNG vehicle industry might help lessen dependence on imported oil, it does little to lessen dependence on the OPEC frame of mind held by the domestic oil and gas industry. Most West Coast residents remember the first time that natural gas industry representative had the opportunity to manipulate natural gas prices, they did so.
At the current time, compressed natural gas costs less than gasoline. However, a scaled-up CNG vehicle industry suggests a concomitant rise in CNG prices as CNG demand increases.
There is little doubt that a planned, and modest, increase in CNG vehicle use might help spur environmentally friendly transportation options in select areas. For example, municipalities that manage landfills have the opportunity to draw CNG from them, and use it to fuel their fleets without undue supply and price concerns.
In the long term, identifying the new natural gas sources as alternatives to coal-fired power plants might be a better path for future natural gas consumption.
Additional Information: The Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences continues to hold online webinars addressing the social, economic and environmental aspects of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale Development.
© 2010. Patricia A. Michaels.