Cincinnati area’s first public natural gas station opens in Hamilton

The city celebrated Friday the grand opening of its first public-use compressed natural gas station at 2210 S. Erie Blvd., with city employees, state representatives, and representatives involved in the station’s development present.

The natural gas station opened with a $1.99 cost at the pump. While lower unleaded gasoline prices may lead some to think the city would be concerned about competition, Director of Utilities Doug Childs said they weren’t worried.

“Our market is for vehicles using diesel fuel,” he said. “What Rumpke has done with their diesel vehicles, the engines last a lot longer, it’s a lower maintenance cost, and when Rumpke says they’re operating their vehicles seven days a week, almost 24 hours a day, that’s a heck of an endorsement.”

The city currently owns five CNG-operated vehicles in its nearly 200-vehicle fleet, and has budgeted in 2015 for a natural gas-operated bucket truck for the Electric Department, Childs said.

The $2.4 million project, which included the station and an enlarged employee parking lot for the Hamilton Municipal Parking Garage, was completed approximately $27,830 under budget, according to Project Manager Mark Murray. The city received $700,000 for a State of Ohio Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant for the station’s use.

Two out of the four hoses were certified as accurate last week by the Butler County Auditor and were used at the ribbon-cutting to fill the tanks of five CNG-powered vehicles from Rumpke Waste and Recycling Services, Ariel Corporation, the city of Hamilton, the city of Columbus, and Clean Fuels Ohio. The two remaining pumps will be inspected by ANGI, a Wisconsin-based systems manufacturer, next week, Murray said.

Bradley Couch, CNG business development manager for Ariel Corporation, which creates the fuel compressers, emphasized the value of having a station that was created with state and national resources.

“When you buy a gallon of this natural gas, you are buying Ohio energy from Ohio families from Ohio contractors supported by Ohio equipment,” he said. “You are not buying snowflakes on a six-meter ski jump in the middle of a desert,” he said.”

Hamilton’s newly-opened CNG station is the 30th alternative fuel station opened in Ohio for public use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

More public access CNG stations were unveiled across the U.S. this year — 134 as of the end of November — than in any of the past five years, says industry publication NVG Today. Ohio ranks second to Texas for the number of public stations to open for fueling up on natural gas this year at 14, according to the trade publication.

Nonprofit Clean Fuels Ohio knows of 10 more natural gas stations in the pipeline statewide.

“The real driver has been the price at the pump, especially for municipal fleets,” said Matt Stephens-Rich, project manager for Clean Fuels Ohio.

But with the average price for retail gasoline at its lowest level in more than five years and falling, it’s too soon to tell what affect it could have on the development of more CNG stations, Stephens-Rich said. But he also pointed out that CNG stations mainly compete for customers with diesel fuel. While the price of gasoline (the U.S. average was $2.46 Friday) is nearing even with natural gas prices of $2.17 per unit as measured in July, diesel was priced higher this summer at $3.91 per gallon, according to the federal energy department.

“Right now there doesn’t seem to be any indicators of slowing down (CNG development),” Stephens-Rich said.

New drilling technologies have led to record-high production of natural gas in the United States and abundant supplies are cutting costs, Marty Durbin, president and chief executive officer of industry group America’s Natural Gas Alliance, previously told this newspaper.

Historically, hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas meant producers could only drill straight down, Durbin said. Advances in recent years have allowed for horizontal drilling of dense shale rock, gaining access to more deposits of natural gas. Technology improvements means the costs of drilling are also dropping, he said.

As a result, domestic production of dry natural gas has grown approximately 27 percent over the last decade to 24.3 billion cubic feet last year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

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