The natural gas industry, from production fields to distribution utilities, is beginning to ramp up efforts to smooth the road to greater use of natural gas as a transportation fuel, according to Encana Corp. Vice President David Hill. He talked to NGI Tuesday at the opening of the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, CA.

Hill said that Encana is leading by example, putting on display its mobile, 5,000-gallon liquefied natural gas (LNG) transportation fueling station, six of which are in commercial operation after being deployed a year ago in Canada, Louisiana and Texas (see Daily GPI, April 6, 2011). One of the units is at a Peterbilt natural gas truck factory in Texas that the long-haul truck manufacturer uses to fuel its vehicles as they come off the production line, and others are deployed in the operations oil and natural gas fields to help fuel service drilling fleets.

“It’s a way to have the natural gas fueling capability without building a permanent station which would be very expensive,” Hill said. “These cost about a half-million dollars, compared to a big LNG station, which would cost between $1.5 million and $3 million for a permanent station. We have built a permanent station as well, but we like the mobile concept because it can move with the fleet. It’s flexible. When work dries up in one place and they move the trucks, you just take this [trailer-mounted] unit with the trucks.”

Heckmann Water Resources is one of Encana’s major customers for the mobile NGV fueling services, Hill said. Encana previously agreed to buy 200 natural gas-fueled tractors and agreed to develop a fueling system for Heckmann’s fleet that operates in the major shale plays.

“They are getting ready to move to a different basin, so we will take the mobile fueler with them,” said Hill “Our tag line is ‘with you every mile of the way’ and that is what the mobile unit offers.”

Without a big capital outlay at first, fleet operators can choose the mobile unit, Hill said. “It is a cool solution — a good way to manage the risk and the price,” he said. And when a fleet operate needs a permanent solution Encana is in the business of designing and building those fueling facilities for both LNG and compressed natural gas.

There is also a regasification fueling unit used in the oil/gas fields for Encana’s operations. Hill said there are two of those units in operation, and by the end of the year it hopes to have four in operation.

“Drilling operations use a lot of diesel — from 1,000-3,000 gallons/day — so we like to be able to use our own gas in our operations,” Hill said. Noting that with the shale boom domestically in North America there is a growth market for these types of facilities, “Encana likes it because we’re in the natural gas industry so we should be using our own product,” he said. “Otherwise it would be like the dairy farmer not drinking his own milk.”

Meanwhile, Encana also is in the process of converting its light-duty fleet to run on natural gas and eventually plans to move that to medium- and heavy duty vehicles, too, as well as in its off road operations.

Hill said Encana is not the only major company in the industry taking this approach; noting that there are many, including Chesapeake Energy Corp., Apache Energy Corp., Southwestern Energy Inc. — a lot of what he called “peer companies helping move the market.”

The Encana mobile unit is built with totally open architecture that other companies can pick up and develop, too, Hill said. “We want more of these out there because it stimulates the market.”

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