Station opens Uinta Basin to clean-car enthusiasts
The Salt Lake Tribune
August 24, 2010
The Uinta Basin is suddenly on the map of destinations for drivers of compressed natural gas vehicles, now that Questar Gas and partners have opened a first Utah fueling station well away from the Interstate 15 corridor.
Motorists who use the clean-air alternative to gasoline previously were confined to the state's main north-south transportation artery, able to range from the Wasatch Front all the way to Southern California but not into Utah's eastern hinterlands and beyond. That changes with the Western Petroleum station in Naples, just south of Vernal, which celebrates its grand opening today.
"You'll be able to get into Colorado, which you never could before," said Carrie Giles, northern coordinator for the Utah Clean Cities Coalition, a partner in the project. "This absolutely opens it up. We're trying to get it out there so you can travel the entire state and more."
It's still unlikely that drivers could get from Salt Lake City to Denver unless they have a bi-fuel vehicle and can switch to a gasoline tank. But Giles said Colorado has a coalition committed to rapid expansion of the CNG fueling network, and such a corridor likely will be completed soon.
Meantime, Clean Cities and Questar are committed to making a new push along Interstate 80 at the Wyoming and Nevada state lines, giving Utahns another east-west CNG route.
Clean Cities used part of a $15 million federal grant to pay a little more than a quarter of the cost for Questar to install two pumps, able to fuel four vehicles at a time, in Naples. The exact cost was unavailable Tuesday, but Giles said it was roughly $500,000.
Clean Cities got its grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the economic stimulus law -- with a goal of doubling Utah's CNG vehicle fueling capacity. The state currently has 29 stations, and the grant has helped to upgrade pressure at some to enable spontaneous fueling of more vehicles.
Fuel in Naples costs $1.52 per gallon equivalent, which is the same as at all of Questar's Wasatch Front stations.
While public demand for a wider driving area was one factor in Questar's Naples investment, company spokesman Darren Shepherd said the big drivers were the Uinta Basin's industry fleets. The basin is Utah's biggest gas producer, yet energy companies have been unable to drive their own CNG vehicles between fields in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Now they'll do so and save on fuel costs.
"It certainly opens up the possibility for people on the Wasatch Front to travel to Vernal on natural gas," Shepherd said. "But the goal in Vernal is slightly different."
Besides industry, Uintah County's government wants to fuel its fleet at the new station, said Tammie Lucero, the county's economic development director. In fact, the county considered opening its own CNG station before working with Questar to open the private station instead.
County officials for years have wanted to use locally produced energy, she said.
"It's our natural resource out here," Lucero said. "That's not the only reason, but it's one of our very best natural resources."
Motorists who use compressed natural gas faced an overnight 50-cent bump in the price for a gallon equivalent this summer. The reason? The U.S. Senate failed to reauthorize a tax credit that Congress previously had awarded to companies that offer CNG fueling, such as Questar in Utah.
The credit actually expired at the beginning of the year, but Questar spokesman Darren Shepherd said the utility continued offering the price break until July 7, anticipating that the Senate might still act. When the Senate didn't, Questar increased its price from 97 cents to $1.47 in July. On Aug. 1, the price rose again, to $1.52, as gas rates climbed.
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