Step on the (natural) gas

Vice President of produce transportation operations for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Transportation Services Inc. There is a time-honored truism that says “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” Every so often, circumstances arise in which even avowed adversaries find themselves standing — not literally lying in bed — together at an intersection of their respective interests, with the chance to join forces against a common foe.

In the endless public debate about domestic energy use, we have reached one of those intersections.

Diesel fuel, long the lifeblood of the commercial transportation industry, has nonetheless earned a sooty and sullied reputation over the years.

Its absolute necessity to a thriving U.S. economy notwithstanding, diesel has its many detractors.

Global warmists say its high carbon output imperils the survival of our species. Health professionals decry its choking particulates as poisonous to our children. Economists and politicians warn of increasing U.S. dependence on foreign crude to refine for fuel, while truck owners chafe at the high prices and unpredictable market spikes. Environmentalists and capitalists — and people from one end of the political spectrum to the other — have had a bone to pick with diesel.

And now ... along comes natural gas.

Thanks in great measure to the fracking boom in the U.S., technology has unlocked a burgeoning domestic supply of natural gas that can potentially replace diesel as the fuel of choice for trucks, trains, buses — even cars.

In either compressed form (CNG) or liquid (LNG), natural gas can deliver energy with a cleaner burn while emitting fewer greenhouse gases.

Benefits for business, health and the environment are drawing disparate ideologies into an effort to create change.

The cost to convert to trucks and engines that can burn LNG or CNG are high — at least at the outset.

Building a nationwide network of natural gas fueling stations will require major investment, albeit with the promise of potential windfall profits for energy companies.

But once the momentum starts with all interested parties clearing the obstacles to conversion, the change can come quickly.

As a third-party logistics provider, my company owns no trucks, and the shippers we serve may therefore presume that we don’t have a dog in the diesel vs. natural gas fight.

The trucking companies with which we work are contractors, not financial partners, and they therefore bear the cost of conversion to natural gas on their own.

That said, as responsible stewards of our industry and our planet, we come down foursquare behind the efforts to convert our nation’s transportation network from diesel to LNG or CNG.

Taking a cue from domestic shipping giant UPS and its aggressive plan to convert its long haul fleet entirely to LNG, we advocate for the swiftest possible move by commercial carriers of all sizes to convert their vehicles to natural gas.

Higher fuel efficiency for the owners and a safe domestic supply protected from foreign cartels will mean cost savings in every mile, and more so as their investments mature and widespread adaptation drives down the start-up costs. Good for them, good for us, good for the transportation industry, good for the environment.

And though we may have pushed back on environmentalist efforts to over-regulate our industry to the choking point, we can agree with the green lobby on the benefits of cleaner air and land that result from the switch to converted methane. And they can take credit for demanding that the transportation industry invest in cleaning the environment. The results should please friends and foes alike.

Keep your eyes open for the highway signs advertising LNG or CNG along the nation’s interstate system. We predict those signs will become commonplace almost overnight.



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