It is an exciting time for natural gas development. I believe now is the time to begin taking advantage of this abundant, clean burning, domestic natural resource. That is why I joined the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association to host the first-of-its-kind, Appalachian Basin Natural Gas Vehicle Conference and Expo. It was an opportunity for everyone-members the business community, state government leaders and employees, as well as the public- to learn about the economic, environmental, and safety benefits of natural gas vehicles. During the conference, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion with representatives from two national leaders in transportation, United Parcel Service and GE Transportation, both of whom are leaders of natural gas transportation innovation. We identified the hurdles our country must overcome to fully make use of this abundant, domestic energy source for our transportation needs. We discussed the benefits of shifting to natural gas as a transportation fuel. Lastly, we laid out the steps that West Virginia and other states can take to advance natural gas deployment for transportation. I’m proud to say, our state has already taken a number of these steps.
Last year, West Virginia, along with 22 other states, demonstrated interest in using natural gas fueled vehicles in its state fleet and encouraged auto manufacturers to increase production of these vehicles to meet the needs of those interested. Together, our goal was to leverage greater purchasing power to pursue the transition of state vehicle fleets to compressed natural gas vehicles. Our automakers responded-and said they are prepared to meet an increasing market demand for compressed natural gas vehicles.
Last year, I also brought together public and private sector transportation, government, and natural gas industry experts, establishing the Governor’s Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force. I charged the Task Force with finding the most sensible and cost-effective approaches to encourage the use of natural gas to fuel our state’s transportation needs.
The Task Force found the primary consideration for natural gas vehicle infrastructure development should be in counties that have the largest vehicle concentration and host interstate traffic. In January, I had the opportunity to join IGS Energy to announce the development of three compressed natural gas stations in West Virginia. The Task Force also recommended transitioning 25 percent of the state fleet to natural gas vehicles in four years. This means our state government could have nearly 2,000 natural gas vehicles on the road by 2017.
I believe we can make West Virginia a national leader in the utilization of natural gas for government transportation. As we begin to see more natural gas vehicles on our roads, and natural gas fueling stations opening in our communities, I believe consumers will be encouraged to learn more about the benefits of natural gas powered vehicles. Natural gas as a vehicular fuel is currently half the cost of regular gasoline. Transitioning to this fuel source can save us money, create new jobs, and has the potential to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. I believe it will open many doors-for our state and our nation.