CNG Fueling Stations Grow In Pittsburgh Region, But Access Still Hard To Find

Jun 7, 2017

Until this week, the Mid Mon Transit Authority in Donora had eight Compressed Natural Gas, or CNG, fueled buses but no permanent place to fill them. That's changed thanks to a public-private partnership between the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Trillium CNG.

The state’s deal with Trillium includes the construction of 29 CNG fueling station across the state by 2021.  The facility at the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority is the third to come on line.

Clean Cities Pittsburgh works to promote the use of alternative fuels. Executive Director Rick Price said weighing the decision to move to a CNG fleet is something each company needs to do individually.

“Most of it is based on economics,” he said, noting the approximately 30 percent saving on fuel costs between diesel and CNG. “In those economics you also have to take into account the maintenance reduction there is on natural gas vehicles.”

CNG leaves fewer carbon deposits, which has been shown to lead to lower maintenance costs.

“There’s also that environmental benefit,” Price said.

Until now, the authority was using a mobile fueling unit that picked up the natural gas at a depot in Washington, Pa. and then parked at the authority’s garage to fill up the fleet. Authority Executive Director Donna Weckoski said now that the authority has the new permanent fueling station, it plans to be a CNG-only fleet by 2022.

She said it was a decision based on more than just cost savings.

“We’re sitting on the Marcellus shale here and it’s just a really good efficient way to get our fueling,” Weckoski said. “We have it. It’s available to us. We don’t need to depend on any other country—any other part of the United States— because it’s right here today for us.”

The new fueling depot is not open to the public. Weckoski said they contemplated allowing the public to use the pumps, but simply did not have enough space to make it work.

However, several of the 29 stations to be opened across the state under the partnership will be available to the public, including a facility in Johnstown that opened earlier this year.

A public private partnership between PennDOT and Trillium CNG is expected to open 29 new CNG fueling stations by 2021
Credit PennDOT

According to Price, there are 22 public CNG fueling stations in the region. Two of them are in the city of Pittsburgh, as well as one at Pittsburgh International Airport. Most of the others are along major highways.

Even as the infrastructure grows, it is getting harder for individuals to purchase CNG cars. Honda, Chevrolet and other car makers have stopped producing CNG cars.

There are a few light trucks that are rolling off production lines, but they are targeted for fleet use rather than individual use.