McClendon’s company, the second-largest natural gas producer in the country, is trumpeting the discovery in the past three years of what most energy experts call a 120-year supply of inexpensive domestic natural gas that can be brought to the surface with revolutionary new drilling technologies. Thirty-two of the 50 US states now produce their own natural gas.
Chesapeake and other producers also are actively engaged in the buildout of filling stations that serve CNG-powered vehicles. The current paucity of them—less than 1,000 nationwide versus 200,000 gasoline stations—is viewed by most experts as the chief impediment to more widespread use.
“Producers like Encana, Chesapeake, Apache and Pioneer are aggressively seeding the market,” says Rich Kolodziej, president of Natural Gas Vehicles America, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association. “They have the self-interest to get out and cause stations to be built, by underwriting some of the cost.
“It all comes down to taking risk off the back of the station operator,” he adds. “Service station operators serve customers, they don’t create them. For natural gas to gain acceptance as an everyday transportation fuel, someone has to beat the bushes to create customers.”
The tax compromise signed by President Obama in December contained several CNG provisions, including a tax credit of up to $30,000 for a filling station operator to add a pump.
Electric cars face the same obstacle, the so-called “range anxiety” that causes consumers to think they’ll end up stranded somewhere without the ability to re-fuel. Diesel-powered autos faced and overcame a similar obstacle.
Natutal gas has its, well, natural, selling points. It is both a clean and efficient fuel, which many say makes it a viable alternative, given that transportation accounts for a fifth of US greenhouse gas emissions.