Shale glut means $1-a-gallon savings burning frozen gas

May 22 (Bloomberg) -- Chad Porter wants to run his 18- wheeler trucks on frozen natural gas along a highway that crosses Canada’s Rocky mountains even before the world’s longest chain of refueling stations gets built to keep them fueled.

The chief operating officer of oil services company Ferus Inc. bought two vehicles to test liquefied natural gas and reckons switching from diesel may cut 22 percent from his fuel bill, or about $1 a gallon. At the moment, Calgary-based Ferus uses mobile tankers to refuel his trucks, which cost about C$100,000 ($99,000) more than conventional vehicles, adding expense to a project that’s about saving money. A Royal Dutch Shell Plc project will make it easier to fill up.

Shell’s plan to spend $250 million on an LNG plant and a string of filling stations is the biggest single investment yet in making frozen gas a transport fuel, a shift advocated by proponents of energy independence including billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens. Switching engines to run on LNG is becoming economic because a glut of fuel from North America’s shale rocks has made the U.S. the world’s largest natural-gas producer and forced prices to record discounts versus crude oil.

“LNG holds great potential as a transport fuel,” Mark Williams, Shell’s director for downstream, said in a speech this month. “North America, for example, now has a century of gas supplies at current consumption rates. So gas is likely to gain market share in transportation.”

Special Coolers

Using LNG in vehicles has limitations, from fuel evaporation to the special coolers needed at filling stations to keep the gas at minus 162 degrees Celsius (minus 259 Fahrenheit), making it mostly suitable for long-haul trucks with large gas tanks. U.S. truckers spent more than $135 billion on fuel last year, according to American Trucking Association.

“We would take advantage of any infrastructure that gets built,” Ferus’s Porter said in an interview from his office in Calgary.

Shell agreed to work with filling-station owners Flying J Inc. to offer LNG to trucks along the highway, from Fort McMurray in Alberta, the heart of Canada’s oil industry, to Vancouver on the Pacific coast, more than 900 miles (1,600 kilometers) to the southwest. At today’s diesel prices, fuel for each run on the route by a typical 33,000-pound, 60-foot truck costs about C$550.

The roadway, which comes within about 235 miles of Mt. Robson, the range’s highest peak at 12,972 feet, passes through part of Canada’s oil and gas producing region, as well as the mining and forestry operations of companies including Teck Resources Ltd.

‘See Opportunities’

“We see opportunities for a concept like this one in other areas of the world as well,” said Jose-Alberto Lima, Shell’s vice president for LNG and gas sales in Americas. He said Shell, based in The Hague in the Netherlands, doesn’t expect a rebound in gas prices anytime soon.

In addition to being cheaper, natural gas burned in trucks emits as much as 25 percent less carbon dioxide, as well as almost eliminating particulate matter and sulfur dioxide produced by diesel-powered vehicles, according to the Calgary- based Van Horne Institute. Using natural gas, a fuel where North America is self-sufficient, would also cut demand for imported crude oil.

Shell eventually plans to deploy LNG technology to power trains, ships and mining industry engines. Gas overtook crude oil to account for more than 50 percent of the company’s production for the first time this year. It expects to expand the use of LNG as a transport fuel beyond North America to Europe, China, Latin America and Australia.

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