Will natural gas boost your bottom line?

By |  June 11, 2012

Gasoline and diesel prices will probably never be as low as they once were. But another fuel, natural gas, is positioning itself to play a role in your operation and boost your bottom line in the coming years.

More natural gas is coming with the recent introduction of horizontal drilling as part of the longtime hydraulic fracturing process. For you, this means a more abundant supply of natural gas, a domestically available product and better pricing than the fuels for which the United States has become dependent on the Middle East.

Among the industry companies catching onto natural gas developments are Caterpillar Inc. and Westport Innovations Inc., which collectively announced an agreement last week to develop natural gas technologies for off-road equipment like mining trucks. Programs are already being developed for engines, combustion technology and fuel systems, and the companies expect commercial production to begin in about five years.

“Our customers have been demanding these types of products,” says Steve Fisher, vice president of Caterpillar’s Large Power Systems Division, in a video press release. “From locomotives to petroleum products to large mining trucks, we think we have the opportunity to really set a standard in the industry for off-highway applications. We think our customers are going to be thrilled, and we are thrilled with this new partnership.”

Although natural gas is increasing in abundance, natural-gas fracking doesn’t come without controversy. As Bob Gordon, a New Jersey state senator, told the New Jersey Real-Time News this week: “The liquids used in fracking are a veritable witches’ brew of toxic substances that are known to be hazardous to humans.”

Gordon issued the statement as a bill banning the treatment or disposal of any fracking wastewater cleared New Jersey’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

New Jersey, of course, isn’t the only state taking a close look at fracking’s environmental effects. States like North Carolina have taken a look and are moving toward the legalization of fracking, while others such as New York continue to ban it.

Fracking is a polarizing method to say the least. Still, the more fracking is done, the more natural gas will be made available and the more affordable it will become.

Whether the natural gas that fuels Caterpillar’s future vehicles is fracked or not, it’s clear natural gas is being looked to as an alternative. Caterpillar and Westport see an opportunity, and they’re partnering to bring more cost-effective applications to market. Expect other manufacturers to explore natural-gas opportunities, as well, and for a potential slight shift to take place in the years to come regarding the fuels operators use most for off-road vehicles.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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