MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- IGS Energy said Thursday it will build and operate a $10 million network of compressed natural gas fueling stations for vehicles along Interstate 79 from Charleston, W.Va. to Mount Morris, Pa.
The plan calls for stations in Charleston, Bridgeport and Jane Lew, along with the one near the Pennsylvania line. President Scott White said the stations will serve the growing number of businesses and residents using natural gas vehicles.
The company said the so-called CNG Fueling Corridor is the first of its kind since drilling in the Marcellus shale field began to take off.
IGS' CNG Services division plans to begin construction in the next few months, and West Virginia business manager T.J. Meadows said the Charleston and Bridgeport stations should be online by the end of the third quarter. Jane Lew and Mount Morris, he said, should be operational by the end of the year.
However, "this is by no means a 'one and done,'" he said. "We very much anticipate putting stations across the state."
IGS is also looking at a similar network in Ohio, and possibly eventually in Pennsylvania.
"We see it not only as the fuel of tomorrow," he said, "but we see it, quite candidly, as the fuel of today."
Surging production has the gas industry seeking out new markets for its products, and companies are starting to focus more on the transportation sector. They tout natural gas as a cheaper, cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel.
Last fall, the Governor's Natural Gas Vehicle Task Force said that low prices support a shift toward CNG vehicles, and that it would look at ways to expand the network of fueling stations. West Virginia had compressed natural gas filling centers in the 1990s, but they failed to catch on with consumers.
This time, White said, it's responding to "emerging market demand." Because natural gas is both abundant and produced domestically, he said, the concept is becoming more popular. He said drivers will be able to refuel in about the same time it takes to gas up at a regular station — for less money.
Meadows believes the economics and consumer benefits are now different enough to support widespread conversion. In the 1990s, he said, gas companies and consumers were unaware of the vast reserves of the Marcellus, Utica and Eagle Ford shale reserves. Those offer a long-term supply stream.
In West Virginia, consumers can also take advantage of the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Tax Credit, which offers credits of up to $7,500 for converting passenger vehicles and up to $25,000 for industrial vehicles over 26,000 pounds.
Prices also benefit the gas industry, Meadows said. The national average price of CNG is $2.10 per gallon equivalent of gas.
Conversion kits for personal vehicles can cost $2,000-$10,000 depending on the type of vehicle, Meadows said, but many people can recover their investment within a year and a half.
While not every make and model can be converted, Meadows said the Honda Civic has had a CNG option since 1998.
Dublin, Ohio-based IGS chose to concentrate in West Virginia because the governor and the Legislature have embraced policies to encourage gas development, White said.
Three of the state's biggest gas drilling companies — Colorado-based Antero Resources, Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy and Pennsylvania-based EQT Corp. — have all committed to using the fueling stations and converting their vehicle fleets to run on CNG. But they say they can't do it without the necessary infrastructure.
"Sitting on top of the Marcellus shale allows this region of the country to be at the forefront of this CNG expansion," said EQT vice president David Ross.