Sign of the times: Chesapeake lays off NGV development team

The new management of Chesapeake Energy, whose mantra seems to be “Let’s make lots of money now,” apparently has decided it doesn’t want to waste money waiting on natural gas vehicles to take over the US transportation sector.

A clear indication of how the new chiefs feel was revealed when they fired the company’s seven-person NGV team.

That team developed new markets for NGVs by backing the construction of compressed natural gas filling stations. It was created by Aubrey McClendon, the former Chesapeake chairman who envisioned a time when natural gas-powered vehicles would challenge gasoline and diesel for domination of the automobile and light- and heavy-duty truck markets.

McClendon also apparently believed it was only a matter of time before natural gas would power heavy equipment like bulldozers, railroad locomotives and cargo ships.

Unfortunately for McClendon, the domestic market for over-the-road NGVs is still in its developmental stage, and the use of natural gas by high-horsepower engines some ways off.

The fact is, the Energy Information Administration says there are only 600-plus public refueling stations in the US. The American Clean Skies Foundation, which McClendon backed, said it expects that by 2025 refueling stations will only use 2.3% of country’s gas supply.

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Despite those less-than-glowing numbers, some still believe the day will come when NGVs represent more than just a small niche market. Among them is America’s Natural Gas Alliance, whose spokesman Dan Whitten said in a recent interview that greater use of natural gas as a transportation fuel “is our main priority.”

Another is T. Boone Pickens, who has been promoting greater use of LNG or CNG as a transportation fuel as a means to reduce US dependence on foreign sources of gasoline and diesel.

A better testimonial comes from the owners and operators of truck fleets large and small. Hardly a week goes by without some company declaring it will buy natural-gas powered vehicles to haul passengers or garbage. Likewise, companies ranging from gas-and-go outlets, gas utilities and beer companies proclaim they are getting in the NGV refueling business.

So is Chesapeake missing the boat by jumping out of the NGV business so soon? That remains to be seen.

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