Clean burning and domestically produced, compressed natural gas was a smart choice for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T), in Fort Worth, Texas.
Back in the ’80s, the board president decided that alternative fuel was the way to go. Director of Maintenance Ron Anderson says they investigated the options and based on all the information they gathered, CNG was the best option for the agency.
The T started with access to a slow fueling station downtown. They would deliver the buses to the gas company at night and go back and pick them up the next morning. Around 1990 The T opened up its own gas station. “It was a small station,” Anderson says. “We could probably fill a bus in 30/40 minutes.” Over the years they added compressors and currently have five.
There are multiple ways the agency benefits from the CNG use. Robert Harmon, The T’s chief financial officer, explains how using domestic fuel benefits the local economy.
“Since the oil embargo in the ’70s, every president of the United States has had this goal of being independent of foreign oil,” he says. “The presidents, for the most part, can’t do much about it by themselves; it actually relies on people, like the members of the transit agency board and management, to make these decisions to switch to alternative fuel.
“Natural gas is 95/98 percent produced in the United States.” He explains that under Tarrant County, there is one of the largest natural gas reserves in the country.
He states, “So we can see first hand what the benefits of using natural gas are. Almost every homeowner in the city has received some kind of signing bonus or royalty payments with respect to natural gas on their property.”
The second major benefit is that CNG is clean-burning. Joan Hunter, communications manager for The T, comments, “I’m always impressed with how much the operators and the mechanics like working with the CNG fuel.” She explains, “People are sometimes amazed, they get behind the bus on our city streets and there is nothing coming out. That’s a benefit. And the fact that the employees like it is a benefit.”
The mechanics appreciate that it is cleaner to work on. “You don’t have to worry about the fumes of diesel, diesel smell on your hands,” says Edward Thompson, maintenance analyst at The T. “When we do an oil change, a lot of times that oil looks as if it’s never been used.
“When you turn a component, you look at diesel oil, which is usually black, all over your hands, it takes days to get it out,” he states. “With the CNG oil, it’s really clean, so when you wash your hands, your hands are clean. Your clothes don’t have the smell of diesel; you don’t go home with all those fumes on you.”
The primary concern for many agencies is cost. As Anderson explains, the cost comparison between diesel and CNG over the years has narrowed dramatically. “For the most part, it’s insignificant now.” He continues, “At one time a component on a CNG engine vs. a component on a diesel engine, it might cost 10 times more. Today, they’re relatively equal.”
Harmon agrees and adds, “The costs are fairly competitive, fairly similar. Where the key to costs lie in both diesel and natural gas is purchasing it correctly.” He explains, “There are hedge contracts for diesel, there are fixed-price contracts for natural gas. It’s very important to keep an eye on the market and to buy the commodities at the best price.
“From my perspective, cost-per-gallon equivalent for CNG is very close to diesel,” he says. “There are always fluctuations in the market, so for either fuel that you use, you must keep a close eye on that market.”
Harmon also explains how there are companies that will build the service station. “They are pretty expensive but there are people that will come in and build them for you and charge you by the gallon or by the month. You pay if off over time.”