The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 21, 2013

State lawmakers learn alternative fuels catching on

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Don’t expect gasoline to become a dinosaur in this country, going the way of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, but the fact is that natural gas and other alternative fuels are catching on.

As the trend progresses, one man in the vanguard emphasized Tuesday that critical training and safety steps must be taken.

To get there, Bill Davis, director of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium at West Virginia University, said all phases of the fledgling natural gas industry must be covered.

And this must entail operators, facilities, fleet managers, technicians — virtually anyone working in alternative fuels.

“The biggest thing is to train him or her in the safety of natural gas vehicles,” Davis told the Joint Commission on Economic Development in an interims meeting.

“There are differences between those and gasoline and diesel vehicles. They’re not less safe. There are just differences we have to train them on.”

Davis has about 18 years’ experience in natural gas-powered vehicles under his belt and recalled the advent of them back around 2000.

“We didn’t do it right the first time,” he said.

“This time, we need to do it right. We didn’t train people. We didn’t prepare people. We didn’t prepare facilities. We can’t allow that to happen again.”

Proper tools and equipment must be used at stations and anyone working at them must undergo all phases of training, he said.

So far, there has been only one death associated with natural gas vehicles, not in West Virginia, he pointed out.

Back in the late 1990s, at a shop in Morgantown, there was evidence that vehicles were converted to natural gas by people who simply didn’t understand the process, Davis said.

Once tested, they proved fouler than gasoline vehicles, he said.

“We can’t have that,” he told the commission.

Davis ran through a large swath of West Virginia where gas pipelines can provide the fuel to keep cars and trucks running, suggesting that this likely won’t be the case in southern counties, where the rugged terrain makes it cost prohibitive to lay the lines.

“You can’t put pipelines through those hills for less than $10 million a mile,” he said.

“That’s what it would cost to cut a trench and put it in the big lines.”

If some outfit undertakes such a task, he quipped, “I want the popcorn concession, because I’m going to sell popcorn when people come out to watch them try to go through those mountains to put pipelines in. It’s going to be fun.”

Afterward, in this vein, he added, “I grew up in the Greenbrier mountains. I know what it’s going to take.”

“We do have a commercially produced fuel available as an alternative that’s that cleaner than gas,” he said.

“It’s called propane. We have vehicles out there that will run on propane.”

For proof, he invited any skeptics to check with Schwan’s familiar ice cream trucks.

“They’ve been running on propane for 50 years,” he said.

For those who would rather fight than switch, there will always be gasoline.

“Gas and diesel fuel will still be around,” Davis said. “We have that produced domestically.”