The U.S. transportation system, from big train locomotives down to light-duty cars, is about to experience a surge of switching to natural gas fuel, said Gregg Kantor, chief executive of NW Natural.
Kantor spoke about the revolution in the natural gas industry Thursday at a luncheon for Washington County leaders in Tualatin.
"The shale gas revolution," he said, "is really very, very good for the climate."
Low natural gas prices, abundant supply made possible by advances in drilling technology, and greater fuel efficiencies combined with lower carbon and air emissions make the switch to natural gas fuel a good deal all around, Kantor said. The big drawback is getting the infrastructure up in Oregon, he says, so vehicles can easily re-fuel natural gas-powered vehicles.
NW Natural will seek permission from the Oregon Public Utility Commission on Monday to provide a new way to finance natural gas fueling stations for businesses or other institutions with large vehicle fleets, Kantor said.
But the days when people can fill up with natural gas at the local gas station, as motorists can do in California, isnt yet foreseeable in Oregon. Rather, Kantor said GE and Whirlpool have promised new devices that will allow people to re-fill their natural gas vehicles in their home garage, by plugging into the natural gas line coming into their homes. The devices should be available in about two years for $500, Kantor said.
The NW Natural CEO downplayed concerns that hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is polluting water supplies around the country. People complaining about their water table being polluted is not on point, he said, because the drilling takes place well below the water table.
However, Kantor acknowledged there are big concerns about the heavy use of water to extract natural gas, all the truck traffic that brings to drill sites, and methane leaks in the system. Methane is a greenhouse gas thats 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and leaks undermine a crucial environmental advantage natural gas has over coal power: 50 percent fewer carbon emissions.
Kantor said NW Natural is trying to track where its gas comes from, no easy feat when its gas supply is transported hundreds of miles over pipelines from the Rocky Mountains and Canada that are shared by others. But it is working with environmentalists to press for best drilling practices among its suppliers, Kantor said.
Fortunately, he said, NW Naturals big suppliers of gas are tackling improvements in methane capture and recycling of water used in fracking.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a survey in April, he said, showing that an average of 1.4 percent of natural gas, or methane, is released into the air.
NW Naturals leakage rate is lower, Kantor said, because it has a relatively updated system of of pipes and other infrastructure.
Its in everyone in the industrys best interests to lower the methane releases, he said, expressing confidence that problem will be alleviated in the future.