Range rolls out fleet of CNG trucks

Posted August 7, 2013

Michael Bradwell

The biggest natural gas producer in the region’s Marcellus Shale play rolled out its commitment to the gas as a transportation fuel Wednesday, showing a sea of new pickups that will use compressed natural gas in daily service in the area.

The event for Range Resources employees and public officials was held at Range’s Southern Marcellus Shale division headquarters in Southpointe.

Standing before several neat rows of white Chevrolet and Dodge dual-fuel pickup trucks, Range Vice President John Applegath said the company now has 180 CNG trucks companywide, with 100 of them operating out of its Southpointe headquarters and its service center in Arden.

Applegath said the latest vehicle purchases from Chevrolet and Chrysler, which make Range’s fleet nearly 100 percent fueled by natural gas, help it to reduce emissions while using locally produced natural gas.

While Range didn’t disclose what it paid for the vehicles, Applegath noted that in addition to the environmental benefits of driving vehicles with cleaner-burning engines, the company estimates that the payback for the investment is approximately two years.

He said the current price for CNG is around $2 per gallon, about half the current price of unleaded regular gasoline.

Representatives from General Motors and Chrysler said Range’s fleet purchase represented the largest single order of factory-engineered CNG pickups for each of the automakers.

Bob Johnson, regional account executive for Chrysler’s Group Fleet, noted that his company is owned by Italy’s Fiat, which is the world’s largest producer of natural gas vehicles.

“You will be seeing future offerings (from Chrysler) that are CNG-dedicated vehicles,” Johnson told the audience.

Mark Karney, alternative fuels director for GM’s fleet and commercial division, said GM, which had produced natural gas vehicles for 20 years before exiting the market, re-entered it three years ago with a commercial cargo van and has seen growing customer demand since then. He said GM would be bringing more natural gas vehicles to market in the near future.

According to Karney, natural gas vehicles appeal to companies because they can save between 40 and 50 percent in daily operating costs while producing between 20 and 30 percent fewer emissions than gasoline models.

While GM is seeing increased interest from customers, Karney said the natural gas vehicle market is nascent in the U.S., with less than 1 percent of the 300 million cars and trucks on the road running on natural gas.

But there is evidence that the fueling infrastructure needed to grow the natural gas vehicle market is developing rapidly.

Dan Lapoto of the state Department of Environmental Protection said that by the end of the year, there will be more than 100 natural gas fueling stations across Pennsylvania.

Some officials who spoke Wednesday noted the pivotal role domestically produced natural gas as a transportation fuel can play in ensuring the country’s national security.

County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan noted that she recently saw her husband, a U.S. Army Reserve officer, leave for his sixth deployment to the Middle East, where the U.S. has purchased much of its oil for decades.

“Energy independence is what we really must work for,” she said, adding that the use of domestically produced fuel like natural gas will keep the country from again “fighting a war for our dependence on their energy resources.”

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