The One Thing Obama Said Yesterday That Was Actually Worthwhile…

…was his embrace of natural gas as a transportation fuel.

This was the quote from the speech yesterday…

Now, in terms of new sources of energy, we have a few different options.  The first is natural gas.  Recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap large reserves –- perhaps a century’s worth of reserves, a hundred years worth of reserves -– in the shale under our feet.  But just as is true in terms of us extracting oil from the ground, we’ve got to make sure that we’re extracting natural gas safely, without polluting our water supply.

But the potential for natural gas is enormous.  And this is an area where there’s actually been some broad bipartisan agreement.  Last year, more than 150 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle produced legislation providing incentives to use clean-burning natural gas in our vehicles instead of oil. And that’s a big deal.  Getting 150 members of Congress to agree on anything is a big deal.  And they were even joined by T. Boone Pickens, a businessman who made his fortune on oil, but who is out there making the simple point that we can’t simply drill our way out of our energy problems.

If you can leave out the part about endorsing the idea of putting Lisa Jackson and her band of envirofascists at the EPA in charge of hydraulic fracturing based on abject lies like the ones told in Gasland, it might be the first legitimately good idea to come out of the president’s mouth.

Because natural gas as a transportation fuel is a winner of an idea. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) has a ton of advantages over gasoline, believe it or not. Via Wikipedia, they include…

  • Due to the absence of any lead or benzene content in CNG, the lead fouling of spark plugs is eliminated. CNG-powered vehicles have lower maintenance costs when compared with other fuel-powered vehicles. CNG fuel systems are sealed, which prevents any spill or evaporation losses.
  • Another practical advantage observed is the increased life of lubricating oils, as CNG does not contaminate and dilute the crankcase oil. CNG mixes easily and evenly in air being a gaseous fuel. CNG is less likely to auto-ignite on hot surfaces, since it has a high auto-ignition temperature (540 °C) and a narrow range (5%-15%) of flammability.[6]
  • CNG emits significantly less pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrocarbons (UHC), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter (PM), compared to petrol. For example, an engine running on petrol for 100 km emits 22,000 grams of CO2, while covering the same distance on CNG emits only 16,275 grams of CO2. [CNG is essentially methane, i.e. CH4 with a calorific value of 900 Kj/mol. This burns with Oxygen to produce 1 mol of CO2 and 2 mol of H2O. By comparison, petrol can be regarded as essentially Benzene or similar, C6H6 with a calorific value of about 3,300 Kj/mol and this burns to produce 6 mol of CO2 and 3 mol of H2O. From this it can be seen that per mol of CO2 produced, CNG releases over 1.6 times as much energy as that released from petrol (or for the same amount of energy, CNG produces nearly 40% less CO2).] The corresponding figures are 78 and 25.8 grams respectively, for nitrogen oxides.
  • Carbon monoxide emissions are reduced even further. Due to lower carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions, switching to CNG can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.[6] The ability of CNG to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the entire fuel lifecycle will depend on the source of the natural gas and the fuel it is replacing. The lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for CNG compressed from California’s pipeline natural gas is given a value of 67.70 grams of CO2-equivalent per megajoule (gCO2e/MJ) by the California Air Resources Board (ARB), approximately 28% lower than the average gasoline fuel in that market (95.86 gCO2e/MJ). CNG produced from landfill biogas was found by ARB to have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any fuel analyzed, with a value of 11.26 gCO2e/MJ (over 88% lower than conventional gasoline) in the low-carbon fuel standard that went into effect on January 12, 2010.[7]
  • In California, CNG is used extensively in local city and county fleets, as well as public transportation (city/school buses), and there are 90 public fueling stations in Southern California alone. Compressed natural gas is available at 30-60% less than the cost of gasoline, as a rule of thumb, in much of California.

CNG is actually used as a transportation fuel in lots of places. In Pakistan, for example, where they have lots of natural gas but not much oil, 2.4 million vehicles run on it. Argentina has 1.8 million vehicles running on CNG. Iran has 1.7 million. Brazil has 1.6 million.

In all of those places they’ve built an infrastructure to support CNG as a transportation fuel. That, of course, is not the case here in America, and it would require a massive effort to put together the pipelines and retail outlets necessary for wide use of CNG as vehicle fuel.

But that is much less of an issue where state and municipal fleets are concerned – like in California, for example. You can run city and school buses, state vehicles, police cars, fire trucks – anything where you can refuel at a central depot – without having to make a major commitment in terms of brick-and-mortar. And the vehicles themselves can be converted to run on CNG for $1,500 or so – not to mention that if you can create a demand for buses, trucks and so on by having state and local governments switch to CNG, you’ll see manufacturers respond to that demand and in short order you’ll see state and local governments having a choice of vehicles.

And this can be done without the kind of federal big-government solutions we can expect Obama to propose. CNG was a big part of the Pickens Plan, which included all kinds of giveaways. That’s the wrong way to approach things – if for no other reason than that nobody has any money to invest in something like this.

Government vehicles get lots of use, though. If you’re saving some 40 percent on fuel costs – figure gasoline at $4.00 a gallon, while CNG goes for something on the order of $2.50 per gge (gallon of gasoline equivalent) – the $1,500 to convert the vehicle gets paid for pretty quickly, and from there it’s all savings.

Obama said yesterday he wants to direct the federal government to buy a bunch of electric cars and hybrids and so on in an effort to put a million electric cars on the road. He has that part all wrong. What he ought to do is get the federal government to convert its vehicles to run on CNG and get state and local governments to voluntarily sign on to do the same.

Just do the math. If five percent of our vehicle fleet were to run on natural gas in two years, what would that do for our energy independence?

We use 20 million barrels of oil a day.

14 million of that goes to transportation fuel.

57 percent – 11.35 million barrels a day – is imported. At $100 a barrel, that’s $1.135 billion a day we’re shipping overseas. That’s actually an old figure and it’s much worse now that Obama’s domestic energy policies are killing American production. But let’s say that comes to an end and the number returns to what it was.

Now put five percent of the transportation fuel mix – 700,000 barrels a day – into CNG. You’ve just reduced consumption of foreign oil from 11.35 million barrels to 10.65 million barrels. That’s a six percent reduction in our dependence on foreign oil, and it’s a repatriation of $68.1 million a day into our economy. That’s $25 billion a year. And if you can save 40 percent on government fuel costs, how many billions more does that come to?

Moving to CNG doesn’t require a bunch of tax incentives or command-and-control economic boondoggles. That’s the wrong approach. Governments can make decisions what to do with their vehicles, and the private sector which services those governments will respond to those decisions. And the infrastructure the private sector creates will enable private-sector entities, whether they be long-haul truckers seeking to trim fuel costs, company fleets or even private individuals, to make the switch on their own based on individual economic decisions.

This is a subject we’ve talked about before on the Hayride. The companies developing the Haynesville  Shale, for example, are using CNG to run their vehicles. In Shreveport, they’re running buses on CNG. And they’re building CNG stations in Lafayette. So it’s coming, and the market will drive it if government would stay out of the way.

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