There has been a fair amount of speculation that the use of the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and other shale plays around the country will reduce the United States' dependency on foreign fuels. In fact, even the natural gas companies themselves are striving to become more energy independent.

"Progress continues on our plan to convert 50 of our local light-duty fleet to run on CNG (compressed natural gas), which will be completed once (CNG fueling) stations are established," said Brian Grove, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy.

These CNG fueling stations are arguably the most important step that must be taken for more successful CNG conversions. The lack of local fueling stations for CNG-powered vehicles has certainly slowed CNG development.

"One of the main hindrances to more widespread adoption of CNG as a transportation fuel is the lack of a fueling station infrastructure in many parts of the country," K. Leonard of EOG Resources said.

However, this is something that is looking to be changed soon.

"Chesapeake will be working with local businesses to install CNG fueling stations throughout the region, the first of which will be completed this year in northern Bradford County," Grove said.

Cabot Oil & Gas also has a similar program in place in hopes of soon converting the company's entire fleet to run on CNG.

"We currently have several vehicles that use natural gas as fuel in our fleet," Cabot External Affairs Coordinator Brittany Thomas said.

"When Cabot hires new personnel, they are given a pickup truck to use for traveling around the operation areas," she explained. "Cabot is now assigning all new hires to CNG dual-fuel trucks and is are working to replace all older, non-CNG vehicles currently assigned to employees. Our goal is to have 100 percent of our vehicles running on natural gas."

While Chief Oil & Gas and EOG Resources are relatively in the early stages of converting vehicles to CNG, they are still making extensive strides towards this fuel alternative.

"EOG has implemented a pilot test in certain areas involving CNG-powered pick-up trucks to better understand how these types of vehicles could be incorporated into our business," Leonard said.

"Chief Oil & Gas does not have fleet vehicles," Daria Fish, community affairs specialist for Chief, said. "Many of our vendor companies have fleet vehicles that would benefit from conversions to CNG, especially if they refuel in the same location on a daily basis."

However, while CNG-powered vehicles are still up-and-coming options for being fueled by natural gas, many companies have been using CNG at compressor stations.

"The natural gas compressor stations that are used to transmit natural gas from well heads to main transmissions lines run on natural gas," Thomas said.

"Chief Gathering (a subsidiary of Chief) does utilize the natural gas produced by local Marcellus wells to power our compressor station engines," Fish said.

"EOG uses natural gas on some leases to power certain types of facilities at its well site locations," Leonard said. "For example, EOG uses natural gas to power the compressors, which compress gas so it can be transported through field gathering lines into the larger pipeline systems, which deliver it to market.

"Natural gas is also used to fuel heaters in systems which are used to separate natural gas from water, oil and natural gas liquids near its well site locations," she added.

Additionally, Grove confirmed that Chesapeake, too, uses natural gas as a fuel on compressor stations.

Another similarity among many of the gas companies are the reasons for developing the usage of natural gas.

"Clean-burning natural gas produces fewer emissions than other fossil fuels, such as diesel or gasoline," Leonard said. "When the product is readily available at particular production sites, it can make both environmental and economic sense to use it as a fuel.

"As a transportation fuel, compressed natural gas also has advantages when compared to gasoline or diesel," she continued. "Its clean-burning properties help reduce emissions, and it is also less costly than other motor fuels."

Many of the companies echoed these advantages of natural gas for each respective company.

"Cabot benefits from converting our fuel to natural gas by both reducing our environmental impact and reducing the costs for running our operations," Thomas said.

"Natural gas burns cleaner that other fossil fuels and has less emissions," Fish added. "The cost per BTU is at historic lows - a benefit that is passed along to all users of natural gas."

However, the gas companies are also seeking to expand natural gas beyond vehicles and compressor stations.

"We continue to investigate the feasibility of converting drilling rigs, heavy-duty tractors, and pressure-pumping services," Grove said.

"We are also focusing on enabling our drilling rigs to run on natural gas," Thomas noted.

EOG has also been active in developing the usage of natural gas.

"EOG continues to evaluate its operations to see which technologies make the most sense," Leonard said. "For example, in some locations we are evaluating the possibility of using contract drilling rigs that can be powered by natural gas.

"EOG has also provided funding in some communities that are experimenting with CNG-powered vehicles to provide such services as waste removal," she continued. "As a natural gas producer, we support the expanded use of our product in a variety of settings on both commercial and consumer levels. For example, using natural gas - a cost-effective, domestic source of energy - to produce electricity and as a transportation fuel particularly in a fleet setting will provide many benefits to our country over both the near and long term."

Even outside of the gas companies, development for natural gas as a fuel option is beginning to take hold. Chapter 27 of the Oil & Gas Act states of the establishment of the Natural Gas Energy Development Program. This program strives to offer funding to natural gas conversion projects that fit an extensive set of criteria and guidelines.

This story also appears in the latest Northeast Driller, which is available today. To read select stories from the Northeast Driller, visit www.northeastdriller.com.