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Natural gas production, use may be here for long haul

| Sunday, March 4, 2012

WASHINGTON -- A Made-in-America fuel source may soon be moving tractor-trailers across the United States.

Carriers like Ryder System are buying long-haul trucks that run on natural gas, which costs about $1.50 a gallon cheaper than diesel. As adoption grows, Clean Energy Fuels and Westport Innovations plan to profit from a marriage of technology and domestic energy that has the political blessing of President Obama and the financial backing of T. Boone Pickens.

Using natural gas could cut fuel costs by more than $20,000 for a truck traveling a typical long-haul distance of 100,000 miles a year, according to JMP Securities' Shawn Severson. Shares in Clean Energy and Westport are up at least 30 percent since the end of last year.

"Natural gas is green in terms of the environment, but the real green is in the money," said Severson, a San Francisco-based clean-technology analyst. "If you do not have this fuel in your fleet for whatever percentage is appropriate, you're going to be at an economic disadvantage."

Clean Energy is tackling the so-called chicken-or-egg problem by building the fueling depots that natural gas-powered fleets require before they can proliferate. Such a network sets in motion part of a four-year-old plan by Pickens aimed at cutting the nation's fuel costs, reducing reliance on overseas energy and generating jobs.

"It's a helluva deal for the country," Pickens, the 83-year-old founder and chairman of Dallas-based BP Capital, said in a telephone interview. He's also Clean Energy's largest shareholder. "It's low-hanging fruit. It's just sitting there," he said.

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