ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - The governors of Colorado, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wyoming are teaming up to encourage U.S. automakers to develop affordable vehicles that run on natural gas, a valuable resource in each of their states.
Their plan is to start replacing thousands of vehicles in their state fleets with ones that run on natural gas, in turn driving demand for more filling stations and cars that run on alternative fuel, according to a memorandum of understanding the governors signed Wednesday.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper touted the idea as a market-driven way to build demand for natural gas-driven school buses, pickup trucks and vans while also supporting jobs, reducing U.S. reliance on foreign oil, cutting emissions, and providing fuel that is the equivalent of $1.25 per gallon cheaper than gasoline.
"Not only do we not send billions of dollars out of the country, it's a cleaner-burning fuel that is significantly less expensive," Hickenlooper said in announcing the effort at a Colorado Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition workshop.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, led the initiative. Hickenlooper said the National Governors Association would help promote the idea to other states.
Colorado alone has about 5,800 vehicles in its fleet, plus about 2,000 more within the state Department of Transportation, state fleet manager Art Hale said. Because of a limited state budget, Colorado now has a three-year backlog of about 1,600 vehicles that need to be replaced, Hale said.
Colorado's budget remains tight, but some vehicles will have to be replaced soon. "Some of these vehicles are 10 to 12 years old. We have no choice but to start replacing them," Hickenlooper said.
The extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting a mix of water, chemicals and sand into rock underground at high pressure, has drawn concern from some residents and environmentalists, especially as companies look to tap the Niobrara formation underlying parts of Colorado and Wyoming and the Marcellus Shale play across much of Pennsylvania.
The Environmental Protection Agency is studying the potential effects of fracking on drinking water, but results aren't expected until next year.
Production of natural gas vehicles today remains low. Honda makes a Civic that runs on natural gas, but it's more expensive than a standard Civic.
There are about 1,200 natural gas vehicles in Colorado and an estimated 120,000 in the U.S., said David Hill, vice president of operations in Encana Natural Gas Inc.'s natural gas economy division. There are about 960 fueling stations nationwide, he said. Colorado has 29, ranking it seventh in the country, Hill said.