Ending Our Oil Dependence

Talking to Mass Transit magazine about his plan for America’s energy, BP Capital founder and chairman T. Boone Pickens says OPEC is the enemy and Americans are just paying for both sides of the war with our dependence on foreign oil.

“I want to get off of OPEC oil,” was Pickens’ primary message.

“Seventy percent of all the oil we import goes to transportation. That’s 5 million barrels a day.”

The Natural Gas Alternative

In 1996 Clean Energy was founded by Pickens and Andrew Littlefair, Clean Energy’s president and CEO. Clean Energy is a provider of natural gas in North America and designs, builds, operates and maintains natural gas fueling stations providing CNG and LNG fuel. It fuels more than 20,000 vehicles every day, including more than 6,000 transit vehicles at more than 30 locations.

A combustible mixture of hydrocarbon gases, natural gas is clean burning and emits lower levels of byproducts than other fossil fuels and the United States is No. 1 in natural gas reserves. Ninety-eight percent of the natural gas is produced in North America and estimates are that there is more than a 100-year supply.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling technique that extracts the gas from shale and has caused some controversy over natural gas. It involves sending vast amounts of water, chemicals and sand into the ground to release natural gas from shale formations thousands of feet underground.

Opponents of fracking say the process could be contaminating drinking water.

Some environmentalists support fracking and the extraction of natural gas because the gas emits a fraction of the carbon of oil or coal.

The industry says no conclusive evidence has been produced that shows chemicals have migrated from a well bore thousands of feet underground and into aquifers closer to the surface.

Pickens agrees, saying, “We’ve been fracking in Texas in the largest aquifer in North America. It goes from Midland, Texas, to the South Dakota border and that goes across eight states.

“That whole area is a big part of it, where oil and gas has been produced for years and the fracking has never been an issue.”

Change From the Top

The Pickens Plan is an extensive approach to America’s energy needs with an integral part of that being to utilize America’s natural gas to replace the imported oil as a transportation fuel. And the legislation proposed would expand the use of natural gas among heavy-duty vehicles with tax breaks for natural gas-powered vehicles and fueling stations.

The legislation is scheduled for a Senate hearing and Pickens is determined on moving it along and eventually getting it passed. He adds that there are more than 1,700,000 people signed on.

Commenting on people supporting clean alternatives and domestic fuel, Jay Rosser, VP Public Affairs for T. Boone Pickens and BP Capital says, “You know, it’s more than that. It’s companies like AT&T stepping to the plate to convert their fleets over to natural gas.” Operating nearly 76,000 vehicles nationwide, AT&T had committed to purchasing natural gas vehicles over a few years to replace gasoline and diesel vehicles to run a cleaner, more efficient fleet.

“If I get 8 million 18-wheelers on natural gas, that will cut OPEC in half. That’s 2 ½ million barrels a day,” Pickens stresses about capturing the high-volume vehicles.

He has been asked why the taxpayers should pay and Pickens says, “You’ve got to get it started, you have to help a little bit to get it started.” And Rosser points out the extension of the argument are some say the free market should dictate it. To Pickens he asks, “Your answer is?”

“Well do you think OPEC’s a free market? Of course not. Energy today is not necessarily a free market,” Pickens states.

He emphasizes, “But we can go in there and undercut the hell out of it with natural gas.

“Anything American is what I’m for. And it makes my argument pretty simple; I’m not trying to sell natural gas, I’m trying to sell America.

“And if I fail, then get foreign oil; so the argument is tilted in my favor.”

Fueling the War

“I feel that OPEC is the enemy; we’re paying for both sides of the war in the Mideast,” Pickens asserts.

“I want to get off of oil from the Mideast. And with that I think that we’re going to be able to bring people home,” Pickens says. “I do not like wars. I don’t understand what I see in the Mideast.

“We don’t need to secure the oil over there. If you put down how much money you’re spending to be sure we have oil in America, the numbers are huge,” he stresses.

Rosser adds, “That, by the way, the taxpayers are paying for.”

“Remember, if you’re buying foreign oil, that goes out of the country — gone, to never be seen again,” Pickens states. “If you’re using domestic fuel, you create jobs, people make a profit, taxes are paid and the economy is helped.”

A large part of the problem Pickens says is that Americans do not understand energy. “It’s just too easy to pull into the gasoline pump and fill up and go. They don’t know where it comes from.

“I always ask the question, would you like to get off of OPEC oil? This is how you can help,” says Pickens. “And if somebody really starts to jerk you around a bit, what I say is if you’re for foreign oil, then you’re un-American.

“That usually sets them off,” he laughs. “But it’s true.”

Moving America Forward

“What I want the president to do is to follow up on what he told us he was going to do,” Pickens says. “He said in 10 years we will not import any oil from the Mideast.

“Two and a half years has past and he’s done nothing,” Pickens says. “Now what I would like for him to do, to announce by executive order, all vehicles purchased by the federal government will be on domestic fuel.

“I don’t care if it’s a battery, plug-in, natural gas, I don’t care; just so it’s American.”

When asked what’s next, Pickens says right now it’s just, “an oar in the water.

“You have to promote the results of it as you progress because the results will be very good,” he says of natural gas. “Once people go to it, they never go back.”

Industry Use of Natural Gas

Omnitran CFO Robert Miller states, “Over the next five years, as much as 80 percent of the country’s natural gas needs will be met by onshore domestic production.

“With the introduction of non-traditional gas from shale, proven reserves have been increased significantly, lead times on development of producing properties has been reduced and production is coming from a broad geography. The days when the tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico could adversely impact price or availability will be over.”

He stresses, “With our role in the country’s emergency response operations, stable source of supply is critical.”

AT&T Global Fleet Operations Vice President Jerome Webber says, “Recognizing the economic and environmental implications of maintaining so many vehicles, we set out to find cleaner, more efficient methods of powering our fleet,” he says. “The deployment of CNG vehicles throughout the country is part of a planned initiative to spend up to $565 million announced in March 2009 to deploy approximately 15,000 fleet vehicles nationally with more fuel-efficient models through 2018.

“In developing this strategy, we recognized that the lack of transportation infrastructure presents challenges that impact our ability to deploy certain types of vehicles — such as compressed natural gas vehicles.” Webber continues, “However, we know the size of our fleet commitment has the potential to signal market demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“To that end,” continues Webber, “We will continue working with policy makers and stakeholders to accelerate the development of transportation infrastructure required to support greater use of fuel-efficient vehicles.”

Converting to CNG

“Before building a CNG fueling station or converting a fleet to run on natural gas, it is important for transit agencies to understand how upfront infrastructure costs can be offset by fuel cost savings and investing in quality equipment and service,” says Trillium Director of Market Services Jennifer de Tapia. “CNG fuel costs are often far less than diesel; fuel savings of two dollars per gallon are very common among CNG users.”

Based upon the last four months of data, Valley Metro RPTA Fleet and Facility Program supervisor provided the following: The CNG costs per mile show an average of 44 percent less than diesel and that the current CNG maintenance costs per bus average is $.63 cents per mile and the diesel bus maintenance costs average $.76 cents per mile.

Jack Dooley, director of maintenance for Omnitrans, says that the cost of the fuel at delivery is less than the diesel fuel costs in California. “However, bottom line costs are higher because of infrastructure maintenance costs.” He says that the LNG stations cost Omnitrans about $5.3 million plus the annual maintenance contract of $300,000 per year. “The diesel side of this cost us less than $5,000 per year.” He adds, “If Omnitrans utilized pipeline natural gas instead of LNG, it would likely reduce the cost differential substantially. We switched from pipeline gas to LNG in 2004 due to odor complains from the residents surrounding our main facility.”

De Tapia says that beyond fuel costs, there are other ways to maximize investment in CNG technology, such as designing station equipment for long-term, efficient operation.

“During a procurement, agencies should establish performance-based specifications for station design based on the fueling requirements of their fleets,” says de Tapia. “This will allow CNG contractors to design the ideal fueling system based on the number of buses, nightly fueling window and desired fill times.

“Agencies should employ flexible evaluation criteria that take into account innovative station designs and technologies. “ She adds, “Station designs that optimize fueling system efficiency will be capable of generating considerable long-term savings on everything from utility to maintenance costs.”

She also says, “Too many agencies have replaced their equipment after less than 10 years of use. Your investment should last at least twice that long.” She adds, “Installing quality equipment and maintaining it properly will provide the most cost-effective fueling solution over the long term.”

Running on CNG

Omnitrans’ Dooley says a benefit of natural gas is its lack of toxicity as a raw fuel. “We no longer have to worry about soil contamination. It also is less hazardous than diesel fuel because of its physical characteristics: lighter than air in its gaseous state and does not pool like liquid fuels.”

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) President/Executive Director Dick Ruddell says he can’t say enough about the benefits of a natural gas bus fleet. “It is less expensive compared to diesel, the maintenance is cleaner and more predictable, the engines are more reliable, and it improves bus operations efficiency because it requires fewer fill ups.” A single fueling will operate one of the buses for its full day’s run.

The greastest long-term benefit to a transit agency he says, is the environmental contribution and the positive impression that it creates about the agency for riders, residents, employees, government officials, the media and community leaders in the region.

“After previously operating other agency bus systems with smelly black fumes that cars and pedestrians didn’t want to be behind, it is so refreshing not to have those complaints,” Ruddell says. “Our employees feel proud of our “green” fleet and our mechanics like working without the fumes and smelly, dirty hands. Being perceived as “green” by operating a clean-burning fleet has given The T an image that it cares about the welfare of its community ...”

Wendy Williams, director of marketing for Omnitrans, says they have publicized their 100-percent CNG bus fleet through print ads and radio ads as part of the overall environmental benefit of transit use. “We have gotten related media coverage over the years,” Williams says. “Our board takes pride in the fact that we have a clean fuel fleet.” And she adds that due to local fleet regulations in California, diesel is not an option.

Support in the Industry

The conversion process is so much simpler today than when The T placed its first order for CNG buses, Ruddell explains.

“Twenty years ago The T partnered with manufacturers to develop specifications to build untried prototype CNG buses. We also had to work side-by-side with our suppliers’ mechanics to figure out how to maintain and troubleshoot the engines because there were no guide books or training programs. “

As a result, The T has gotten a lot of questions about the operations but didn’t always have the answers. This is what led to them forming a National Transit Natural Gas Coalition.

Currently with 165 members, the coalition’s purpose is to promote the use and best practices of natural gas bus fleets and to provide a network for the exchange of information and resources among transit agency natural gas users and non-users, manufacturers, suppliers, industry experts and publications.

It holds committee meetings at APTA annual meetings and bus conferences, distributes an e-newsletter, sends email updates, and will soon roll out a website.

With more members, the Coalition also could become a voice to lobby for or against legislation affecting the transit industry.

Membership in the Coalition is free. Those who wish to join, or want to learn more, are invited to attend the next committee’s meeting during the 2011 APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference in Memphis. To join now, send an email to Dick Ruddel at druddell@the-t.com.