TOWANDA - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection held a Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) Technical Assistance Seminar on Thursday at the Towanda Fire Hall to help local businesses with fleet vehicles to become more familiar with the process of converting their vehicles to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), which featured key speakers from various avenues of the natural gas industry.

"We wanted to organize this seminar as an outreach to fleet owners and to help them make informed decisions with switching (from gas or diesel) to CNG or LNG," Michelle Ferguson of the DEP said. "This will also help connect owners of fleet vehicles to businesses that specialize in converting vehicles to these alternative fuels."

Ferguson also noted that similar seminars were held in other parts of the state, and that there would be one more seminar in Scranton, the date of which is unknown due to difficulties caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Approximately 80 people attended the event, which included members of local businesses and organizations as well as local officials.

"This is exciting for the local area," State Rep. Tina Pickett said, "These alternate fuels are finally going forward and that's great news for this area."

Speakers included experts from various natural gas related organizations and companies and each speaker covered a variety of topics involving the conversion of vehicles to natural gas, the process and elements involved in constructing natural gas filling stations as well as their own recommendations for what people and businesses should do when looking to convert their vehicles.

One of the newer technologies recently developed that mitigates a former problem with the fuel tanks of NGV Ford F-Series pickup trucks, which formerly held the fuel tank in the bed of the truck, taking up space.

"We can now put the fuel tanks underneath the vehicle," Barry Carr of BAF, A Clean Energy Company, said. "We recently redesigned some of our systems and we're able to pass the crash test and we can now put up to 20 gas gallon equivalent (GGE) underneath the bed of the pickup truck and have full use of the body."

Another speaker also explained that there are three types of NGVs: bi-fuel vehicles, dual fuel vehicles and dedicated vehicles.

"A bi-fuel vehicle runs on either 100% natural gas or 100% gasoline," James O'Donnell of Alternative Fuel Solutions of Pa and CNG Diesels said. "It doesn't burn both fuels at the same time. Dual fuels, which are mainly referred to as diesel systems, always burn a percentage of diesel, and then, if allowing, natural gas as a displacement. Dedicated vehicles burn 100% natural gas."

Later in the seminar, Bob Beatty of O Ring CNG Fuel Systems talked about why utilizing American natural gas is beneficial locally and nationally.

"We've learned from various news cycles that we import 67% of our oil, and we've just taken that as a fact and something that we have to do," he said. "I'm here to tell you that we simply don't have to do that.

"You look at 67% imports and take the last three months as an average, in dollars and cents, as of yesterday adds up to $1.2 million per minute.

"We can do it domestically," Beatty continued. "Under our feet, in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and eastern Ohio, we have more natural gas than the Middle East has oil. We could literally be the next Saudi Arabia in the next four to five years."

Duane Phillips of Williams Oil Companies, which operates the Dandy Mini-Marts, gave a more local perspective for NGVs.

"Out of all of the locations that we have for the Dandy Mini-Marts, we found out that only three had the necessary gas pressure to operate a station," he said. "Additionally, one of the key things that we wanted from Dandy's perspective at the site that we chose was for it to have an existing convenience store where we already had gasoline and diesel so we could add CNG to enhance our product offering."

Phillips then displayed a picture on a slide of the Dandy Mini-Mart in North Towanda, where a CNG station is being built.

"We expect to have this site open in the middle of November," he said. "This is a real 'Field of Dreams' moment for us. The numbers that you were given earlier (in the seminar) to build a CNG station, to give the consumer the experience they want, of $1.5 million to $2 million; those are real numbers.

"With that being said, it's a tremendous opportunity. We are really excited."

Phillips also touched on the CNG station that is to be constructed in Athens Township, noting that construction is expected to begin in early November and it is expected to be completed by January of 2013. Phillips also noted that there are plans for additional CNG stations in Elmira, Ny., and Tioga County.

"For our sites in Towanda and Athens, it's also important to recognize that we've gotten tremendous support from North Towanda Township, the North Towanda fire company, the Bradford County Planning Commission, Athens Township Planning Commission and supervisors, as well as Beavers Petroleum. They're doing the construction of our site but they also invested a lot of time in educating the townships and municipalities so they could understand this product and the importance of it for this area."

William Freeman of Chesapeake Energy also spoke of Chesapeake's efforts to transition to NGVs now that CNG stations are being constructed in the area.

"We have a fleet of about 5,600 vehicles," he said. "The first phase of conversion started out in Texas, but now that we have stations coming on board here in the Northeast, we are now in Phase Three, which is now Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and this fleet of vehicles will be bi-fuel.

"We plan to convert the 5,600 vehicles by 2014, which will save the company about $12 million per year. With CNG stations now opening up here, it will speed up our process it to get these trucks converted to bi-fuel natural gas."

Johnny Williams can be reached at (570) 265-1639; email: jwilliams@northeastdriller.com.