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Power play

TCU Energy Institute does the drill to win passage of a state bill designed to accelerate use of natural-gas vehicles in Texas.

Power play

Leaders in the TCU Energy Institute, standing by the “Frogmobile,” led the way for new legislation that will help establish refueling infrastructure for Natural Gas Vehicles in Texas. (Photo by Glen E. Ellman)

Power play

TCU Energy Institute does the drill to win passage of a state bill designed to accelerate use of natural-gas vehicles in Texas.

Say the word “domestic” on most college campuses, and you may hear students extolling the virtues of Miller versus Bud. But at the TCU Energy Institute, there are many people excited by the possibilities of domestic energy in the form of natural gas.

So when Gov. Rick Perry inked a bill in July filled with possibilities for increased natural gas use in Texas, a lot of whoops and hollers erupted from the Institute’s halls. And no one was more fueled by the news than geology Professor Ken Morgan, director of the institute and the new School for Geology, Energy and the Environment (SGEE).

Morgan and his industry colleagues on the board of the institute played a pivotal role in the passage of SB20, a bill that, among other things, provides incentives for natural gas vehicles in the Lone Star State. Administered by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, the bill took effect Sept. 1.

“The U.S. has a chance to have rich, powerful, domestic fuel,” Morgan says about the 100-year supply of natural gas now available — thanks to horizontal drilling technologies and fracking.

“It’s everywhere, it’s very powerful, and it’s all ours,” Morgan says. “This is the mother lode to every oil field ever found. We can’t afford to overlook it. It’s money in the ground. It’s gold.”

The more Morgan mulled its profusion — and coupled that with the mounting cost of oil and all of the attendant implications of sourcing it from abroad — the more he realized how truly precious a commodity natural gas is.

“A few years ago I went from a guy thinking about geology to realizing, wow, natural gas is a game changer,” he says. “The availability of it now in these shale plays essentially can change the whole energy policy of the United States.”

So one morning in 2009, Morgan and a handful of local companies gathered for breakfast and formed the Energy Institute’s Metroplex NGV Consortium, an alliance launched to drive education and research into natural gas vehicles (NGV). The consortium has since grown to a robust group of some 100 companies (BNSF, for one, signed on this August) dedicated to drumming up demand for NGVs. Fleet owners, producers, rental-car companies, shipping companies or essentially any enterprise that uses vehicles as part of its operations can benefit from incorporating NGVs into their business models, Morgan says. As an early-adopting state, Texas, the group hopes, will kick-start a domestic-energy trend that will filter into the remaining 49.

In December 2010, Morgan and representatives from 200 companies from Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston went en masse to Austin —bringing with them a 17-vehicle caravan.

“It impressed the heck out of the legislators,” Morgan says of the buses, street sweepers and other NGVs in tow.

The group successfully lobbied for the passage of SB20, which will help spur development of the Texas NGV Triangle, a swath of space along the interstate highways between D/FW, Austin, Houston and San Antonio, where about 30 natural-gas refueling stations will be built.

The bill also encourages companies to convert their gasoline-fueled fleets to NGVs. Its most important benefit, according to Morgan: The bill uses existing gas taxes set aside for infrastructure development, allocating $10 million for the Triangle ($8 million for conversions and $2 million for stations).

“It puts the already-collected tax monies to work in infrastructure that will attract business, investments and clean technologies,” Morgan says.

Beyond that, with natural gas at its disposal, the United States will be one step closer to sustainability, he says.
“There’s not one country that can tell us what we can do with natural gas. This is homegrown. This is domestic. This is good stuff.”

On the Web:
TCU Energy Institute – www.energyinstitute.tcu.edu