By Paolo von Schirach
February 28, 2014
WASHINGTON – In an extremely rare bipartisan effort, Senator Jim Inhofe (Republican from Oklahoma) and Senator Carl Levin (Democrat from Michigan) co-authored an op-ed piece published in The Wall Street Journal, (Fill’er Up –With Natural Gas, February 28, 2014), in which they put forward a strong case for legislation that would make it a lot easier to produce vehicles running on (now abundant and cheap) US natural gas. (This would include Compressed Natural Gas, CNG and Liquefied Natural Gas, LNG). The advantages are obvious: natural gas is domestically produced, (so, unlike half the oil products we use for transportation, it does not have to be imported), it is a lot cheaper than gasoline, and it is also much cleaner than gasoline.
What about trucks?
The two highly experienced Senators explain how their proposed legislation would encourage demand for vehicles running on natural gas, this way pushing car makers to produce them.
Great ideas. However, I am really surprised in noticing how these two supposedly well-informed law makers completely ignored the true low hanging fruit, when it comes to natural gas as transportation fuel. As T. Boone Pickens has been saying for years, the main target here should be US heavy trucks.
Trucks are on the road all the time. They consume massive amounts of diesel. They rely on their own refuelling stations. Real incentives that would convince fleet owners (think Wal-Mart, UPS, FedEx) to buy new trucks fueled by CNG or LNG would trigger a major shift in energy demand. There are almost 9 million heavy trucks in the US. They consume about 3 million barrels of oil a day. If we could think of a not so distant future in which these massive energy consumers would use domestic natural gas, as opposed to diesel made with imported oil, this would be a fantastic net gain for the US economy, for the US balance of payments and for US energy security.
US trucks running on US natural gas
Imagine that. Instead of relying on Middle Eastern oil to fuel our heavy trucks, we would use CNG or LNG made with US natural gas, extracted in Texas or Pennsylvania. All this does not mean that we should not encourage the average American to buy vehicles running on natural gas. But when it comes to general purpose vehicles the gains would be a lot slower, not to mention the fact that there are alreday other choices in this space, including of course electric cars.
Trucks are the easy target
For the time being there are and there will be no heavy trucks powered by batteries. Trucks run on diesel. Not to mention the fact that when it comes to trucks there are relatively few decision-makers. If tomorrow Wal-Mart embraced natural gas for its gigantic heavy trucks fleet, this would be a signal to the entire sector of large fleet operators. Again, this is the low hanging fruit. Too bad that the two Senators failed to mention it in their article.