Wildlife Agency Switches to CNG

Colorado wildlife officials say they are determined to make new pickups powered by compressed natural gas work in their fleets, despite operational and logistical hurdles.
"I realize we are now putting some pieces together so there is going to be some trial and error," Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission chairman John Singletary said. "I'm sure there was a quandary when people were first confronted by the Model-T Ford. It might be a little uncomfortable for a while. But we are committed to making this work."
Acting on a 2011 pledge by Gov. John Hickenlooper to add more CNG-powered vehicles to the state fleet, Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the next year will roll out at least 30 F-250 ¾-ton pickup trucks that run on both natural gas and gasoline for use by wildlife officers.
Some officials in the agency praise the deployment, saying natural gas is a relatively cheap and safe fuel that leaves a tinier carbon footprint than gasoline.
But they also concede the flex-fuel vehicles are pricier than gas-only trucks — by almost $8,000 — and natural gas filling stations are scarce in the far-flung areas of the state where wildlife officers work.
Colorado has 16 compressed natural gas — or CNG — fueling stations, but only two are outside the Front Range, located in Rifle and Grand Junction. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers oversee 42 state parks and more than 300 state wildlife areas, as well as manage wildlife statewide.
There also are questions about the hauling capacity of CNG vehicles.
In one recent test, Colorado's Office of Information Technology used a CNG-fueled vehicle to haul a Sno-Cat and trailer to the 11,307-foot summit of Berthoud Pass.
The vehicle pulled all 10,000 pounds "adequately," but there was a 15- to 20-percent loss of power using CNG as a fuel, said Sabrina D'Agosta, director of policy and communications for the state's department of personnel and administration, which manages the fleet.
A CNG fuel tank also takes up about 20 percent of a pickup's truck bed, which may limit how much it can haul to and from a site.
But officials said there is nothing to indicate a CNG-vehicle cannot do the work required in the field.
New CNG vehicles will probably be given to wildlife officers who work closest to fueling stations, Department of Natural Resources executive director Mike King said.
"We will swap our vehicles around, so a guy with a 2-year-old vehicle in Parachute will see that one go to a guy in Dolores, while the Parachute guy will get the newer vehicle," King said.
There is also the assumption that as more CNG vehicles hit the road, more public fueling stations will emerge and the price of the vehicles will drop, King said.
"We are putting the demand out there and creating an incentive for Detroit to build them at a more cost-effective rate," he said.
The vehicles can switch, when needed, to gasoline, "which means there is a lot of flexibility where we can place it," D'Agosta said.
Few wildlife officers have to tow more than 10,000 pounds, and its truck bed will be more than adequate. "You can put at least two elk in the back," King said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is one of nine agencies in the state that have ordered CNG vehicles, said D'Agosta. Colorado is one of 22 states that havesigned an agreement to increase the number of CNG vehicles.
When Hickenlooper signed the pact in 2011, along with natural-gas rich states Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, the intent was to stimulate large-scale production of natural-gas vehicles.
CNG trucks are becoming fixtures in the National Parks Service. In Colorado, CNG vehicles are used by the waste-management firm Republic Services, Denver International Airport and the city of Grand Junction.
The performance of the CNG vehicles has generally been good, according to anAugust 2012 report by the Colorado Energy Office.
Grand Junction and Republic officials cite labor savings because there is less time spent fueling. However, DIA said there is a limit on payload capabilities of CNG vehicles, the report said.
D'Agosta said people should still expect to see an increasing number of state-owned, CNG-powered vehicles on the road.
"Purchasing CNG vehicles is the first option when replacing older, more inefficient vehicles (under the right circumstances)," she said. "They have a lot of benefits, they create new jobs and they reduce our carbon footprint."
Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907, mwhaley@denverpost.com or twitter.com/montewhaley

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