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NW Natural CEO: industry addressing fracking issues

The natural gas boom enabled by new fracking techniques should bring massive changes in transportation and is “very, very good for the climate,” says NW Natural CEO Gregg Kantor.

Addressing an audience of Washington County leaders at a recent luncheon, Kantor predicted a coming shift to natural gas-fueled vehicles, everything from big train locomotives down to light-duty cars.

Low natural gas prices and abundant supply, plus reduced carbon and air emissions, make the switch to natural gas fuel a good deal all around, Kantor says. The big drawback is the lack of vehicle re-fueling infrastructure in Oregon, he says.

Though Oregon isn’t close to establishing natural gas fueling at local gasoline stations, as

done in California, Kantor says GE and Whirlpool are working on new devices allowing people to fill natural gas-fueled cars in their home garage. Those could be available within two years at a $500 price point, Kantor says.

The NW Natural CEO minimized concerns that fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is polluting ground water around the country. “People complaining about their water table being polluted is not on point,” he says, because the drilling takes place well below the water table.

However, Kantor acknowledges there are big environmental concerns about the heavy use of chemical-laden water to extract natural gas, heavy truck traffic to transport that water to and from drill sites, and methane leaks throughout the system. Natural gas, or methane, is a greenhouse gas that’s 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Leaks at drilling sites and in pipelines undermine its crucial environmental advantage over coal power: 50 percent fewer carbon emissions.

NW Natural is working with environmentalists to press for “best drilling practices” among its suppliers, Kantor says. Those suppliers are undertaking improvements in “methane capture” and recycling water used in fracking, he says.

An April survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found an average of 1.4 percent of methane is released into the air, he notes, but says NW Natural’s leakage rate is lower because it has relatively updated pipes and other infrastructure.