Grant should aid proliferation of CNG stations in Oklahoma
BY ROD WALTON World Staff Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2012
11/24/12 at 5:30 AM
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When Apache Corp. opened its first-ever public compressed natural gas fueling station in Tulsa nearly eight months ago, project planners smiled in celebration and sighed in relief.
"My thinking going into the Tulsa station was this will be easy," said Tim Tomlinson, natural gas vehicle operations manager for Houston-based Apache's local office. "But it was not; it was difficult to say the least."
Tulsa Clean Cities hopes to use a $750,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy, one of 20 announced nationwide, to streamline the CNG station permitting process and not sacrifice safety at the same time. The money will be divided between collaborative clean-energy efforts in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and northwest Arkansas.
Meredith Webber, Tulsa Clean Cities coordinator for the Indian Nations Council of Governments, admitted that the plan asked for $915,000, so the organization must adapt to economic realities. The so-called I-40 Collaboration of Clean Cities will try to recommend revamped building codes specific to CNG and electric-vehicle charging stations, training programs for converting vehicles to alternative fuels and other infrastructure issues.
"We don't have building codes for CNG stations," Webber pointed out. "Gasoline is different than CNG, and the fire hazards are not the same with CNG because it's a dry gas" and evaporates into the atmosphere quicker than liquid fuel. "The venting radius is different."
Oklahoma is moving relatively fast to develop a convenient network of CNG fueling dispensers statewide. Tulsa has nearly a dozen such stations, all unmanned and accessible by credit card, including the Apache facility at 5011 S. Vandalia Ave.
Tulsa Clean Cities will work with fire- and building-code officials hoping to develop appropriate guidelines for those CNG facilities. The group also plans to use part of its federal award on a study on the feasibility of a revolving loan fund for small businesses to afford CNG conversions for their vehicles.
"The study will take about six months to see if it's a viable option" to use qualified energy conservation bonds for the loan fund, Webber said. "It would be an influx of money to allow the program to start. It's difficult for businesses to get funds to have (CNG) vehicles purchased."
Apache spent about $1.5 million on its Tulsa CNG station. Tomlinson has overseen several similar stops but argued that many more are needed - if inspectors are not too restrictive and drive up costs unnecessarily.
"We had to do a lot of song and dance," he said. "They definitely erred on the side of safety, which is what you should do.
"But it's not a gasoline station," Tomlinson added. "It's a completely different animal."
Oklahoma City Clean Cities will work with the state Department of Transportation on getting road signs to alert CNG motorists to the nearest fueling stations. Arkansas will work on two projects: adapting a CNG mechanics certificate and revamping utility regulations for potential future electric vehicle charging stations.
"We need to work on it; there are areas where electric vehicles will succeed," Webber said, noting universities, hospitals and parks are viable venues for charging stations.
CNG, in her opinion, is the main way forward to decreasing the economic and environmental impact of crude oil-based fuels. Making it safe and yet easier to accommodate CNG stations is crucial.
"We want to see them on every corner," she said. "We don't see them at convenience stores, but you will."
Original Print Headline: CNG proliferation
Rod Walton 918-581-8457
Apache Corp. holds a grand opening in April for its new CNG fueling station at 51st Street and Yale Avenue. Apache and other companies are hoping stations like this one will become more common as drivers switch to compressed natural gas. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Oklahoma is moving relatively fast to develop a convenient network of CNG fueling dispensers. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World