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Natural gas-powered vans could boost jobs, reduce pollution from autos


June 27, 2010 at 1:27 a.m.

Faith Lysogorski, Planterra coporate floral design assistant, fills a company GMC Savana fuel tank in Farmington Hills, Mich. The company will be coming out with similar models using natural gas instead.

General Motors, Co. unleashes this fall a new line of fleet vans that run on the cleaner-burning fuel that has been called the crown jewel of the oil and gas industry: natural gas.

The vans - which will be available to commercial customers at the local dealership level, a spokesman for GM said - will run on compressed natural gas, which has seen a boom in production domestically, promising less carbon dioxide emissions and less reliance on foreign oil.

"Use of vehicles like the ones GM is providing can ... reduce our dependence on overseas oil," Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the American Natural Gas Alliance, said in a press release. "We applaud General Motors' leadership and vision for taking this important step for America."

A spokesman for Atzenhoffer Chevrolet Cadillac, which deals GM vehicles in Victoria, said he wasn't aware of the new vehicles and did not know whether they would be available at the dealership later this year. Calls to General Motors corporate could not confirm local sites will deal the vehicles.

But locally, these vans could have the effect of boosting oil and gas jobs. The Eagle Ford Shale, a formation that belts South Texas and over which DeWitt County lies, is home to the latest drive in natural gas drilling activity.

What has been called the greatest boom in the history of domestic natural gas production was spurred after a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing made viable the extraction of natural gas from shale rock.

Though, activists and some politicians are railing against the practice. They say hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, introduces harmful chemicals into the water and produces emissions such as benzene, a known carcinogen.

The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a review of hydraulic fracturing to determine whether it should tighten regulation of it.

Whitten did not want to overstate the effect natural gas vehicles would have on jobs but said he expects if the fuel becomes popular in the automotive industry, it could lead to more employment in the natural gas industry.

"Anything that adds natural gas demand is going to add jobs in the industry," he said.

In addition to driving up interest in natural gas production, natural gas vehicles could proliferate with GM's new fleet vans.

"We think that it has great potential to add to the natural gas vehicle fleet and increase demand and interest for transportation," he said.

More than a 100,000 vehicles powered on the less conventional fuel are in operation in the United States, according to the alliance.

The U.S. Department of Energy invested in the technology last year when it announced $300 million in grants for the Clean Cities program. Whitten said a "significant amount" of that went to program that could deploy more vehicles that run on natural gas and more fueling stations.



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