Columbia Natural Gas Station Nears Finish Despite Debate

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COLUMBIA - Workers are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the construction of Columbia's first Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling station.

A compressed natural gas station fuels vehicles that run on natural gas instead of diesel or gasoline.

Last September, the Columbia City Council approved a 15-year contract with Clean Energy, the nation's largest supplier of natural gas, with a 4-3 vote.

This will be the only CNG station between Kansas City and St. Louis, two cities that have used natural gas powered vehicles for close to 15 years.

Steven Sapp, public information specialist for Columbia Public Works said the gas station could motivate companies to convert to natural gas-powered vehicles. 

"Being the only station between two big cities opens up the possibility for shipping companies that use Interstate 70 on a regular basis to convert their fleet over to CNG."

The station is at 1900 Lake Ridgeway Drive, and will be open to the public. As of right now, Columbia Public Works said it only knows of one Columbia resident who drives a natural gas-powered car. The city plans to have 22 CNG vehicles in its fleet. A solid waste vehicle and a couple para-transit vehicles have already arrived.

"CNG vehicles are more expensive to buy," Sapp said, "however, they do have less maintenance cost, and because the gas to CNG equivalent in price is dramatically different right now, the savings quickly add up."

Sapp said the cost of the natural gas is up to 50 percent less than the cost of diesel and gasoline. The Columbia City Council said in the contract Clean Energy has to sell $15,000 gas-gallon equivalents per month. Sapp said meeting that goal should be fairly easy.

Sapp also added compressed natural gas is a much cleaner fuel that will not contribute to greenhouse gases.

Environmentalists disagree. Founder and President of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition Monta Welch said, "People need to see past the tailpipe."

Although CNG doesn't pollute the air through the tailpipe like diesel does, the way the natural gas is produced is extremely harmful to the environment.

"It is inaccurate to say CNG is eco-friendly," said Welch. "It has been sold to people that way, but the truth is, it is not better environmentally. Researchers have found that there is so much methane escape and methane is many times worse for greenhouse gas emission issues and global warming issues."

Research conducted by 16 scientists from federal laboratories and seven universities including Stanford, Harvard and MIT published a report which states although burning natural gas produces 30 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions than burning diesel, the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

According to the study, those methane leaks cancel out the climate change benefits of using natural gas as a transportation fuel. 

The debate still stands, but the CNG station in Columbia is quickly moving forward with the construction. Columbia Public Works hopes to have the station up and running by the end of July.