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01 30, 2012 by Shreveport Times
It became easier this month for motorists and fleet operators utilizing alternate fuel sources to find locations to fill their vehicles. And it should steadily improve as the year progresses, industry officials say.
Aiding in that process was the quiet opening in recent weeks of the first natural gas-supplied pumps in DeSoto Parish. Formal grand openings are scheduled in February.
They join stations already open in Bossier City and another near Coushatta. Sites have been selected in Caddo Parish.
"It's a slow process but we're letting people know that this is fuel produced in Louisiana and available locally," said David Hill, vice president of operations for EnCana Natural Gas Inc.
EnCana partnered with the Relay Station, a truck stop and casino located at Interstate 49 and state Highway 175, to build the LNG, or liquefied natural gas, station — only the 15th in the United States. The Relay Station will add its own CNG, or compressed natural gas, pumps.
Then in Mansfield, Lott Oil Company added CNG pumps to its Chevron truck stop/convenience store at the corner of U.S. highways 171 and 84. Another also opened in Rapides Parish at the Air Base Road exit off I-49.
Getting the infrastructure in place and in strategic locations is considered essential if the public is to embrace the use of natural gas extracted from the Haynesville Shale underneath northwest Louisiana as another fuel source.
The need to fuel Heckmann Water Resources' 200 LNG-fueled tractor-trailers is what pushed EnCana toward the Relay Station location. Heckmann's trucks haul fresh, produced and disposed water to and from the Haynesville Shale drilling sites. A study of their routes and routine fueling locations led to the convenient access off I-49 where the fleet will be anchored.
"We hope this will be the beginning of an energy station at that truck stop. It's kind of neat and how we see the future unfolding," Hill said.
The pumps now are only open to Heckmann. The public will have access after the Feb. 24 grand opening.
EnCana opened a CNG station on U.S. Highway 84 between Armistead and Coushatta last year and has witnessed sales triple. Chesapeake Energy, LEAM Drilling and AT&T fleet trucks are frequent users, Hill said.
CNG pumps at Shop-a-Lott No. 3 in Mansfield now are open to the public — a grand opening is set Feb. 6. "We're already getting pretty decent traffic," said David Dollar, Lott Oil Company sales manager, who headed up the project. The company made the decision to move forward with its own pumps after prolonged discussion with Chesapeake and the realization that the need for stations would grow.
"The more we talked and looked at it, the dynamics made sense," said Dollar, adding that a federal energy department grant funneled through the state Department of Natural Resources covered the equipment costs.
One of the pumps contains a transit dispenser that will fuel larger vehicles such as buses at a faster rate. That should be good news to the DeSoto Parish School Board, which plans to add three CNG buses to its fleet this year.
The School Board typically purchases six buses a year. Costs average about $100,000 each because of the addition of air conditioning that is now mandatory on new purchases. Schools Superintendent Walter Lee estimates CNG will add about $15,000 or so to the bottom line.
The three buses will be stationed in Mansfield because of the convenience of the Shop-a-Lott CNG pumps. Lee anticipates adding more as the number of fueling stations increases.
The stations need to be on or near bus routes so that drivers are not burning up more fuel traveling back and forth, Lee said. Still, he acknowledges CNG is cheaper and will save money in the long run for those utilizing it as a fuel source. Friday, CNG was selling for $1.799 per gasoline gallon equivalent at Shop-a-Lott.
Over a year ago, Lee DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle and representatives of the DeSoto Police Jury and city of Mansfield met with Chesapeake officials, who were exploring grant funds to aid the public agencies in conversion of their fleets to natural gas. But that grant effort fell through.
Arbuckle has given it more thought since then but is hesitant to move forward until technology improves to where more mileage can be realized on CNG vehicles.
"What they told me, with these Tahoes we are running right now, the conversion kit will only give a 100-mile range, where we get 300 with a tank of gas," Arbuckle said. "I would love to do it and support the gas companies because they put a lot of money into this parish. But it has to be feasible to convert. My only problem is strictly on the capacity to store the gas to run off of."
The Police Jury's fleet is in good shape and no large acquisitions are planned, Administrator Steve Brown said. Converting some to CNG would be expensive without a subsidy, for which he said the governing body does not qualify.
"But I've got it in the back of my mind, constantly, as a matter of fact, seeing if there are opportunities now that these fueling stations are opening up. "» We did make a serious push to do it but there are no plans at this present time."
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