DALLAS – Pioneer Natural Resources, a Dallas-based coal bed methane producer and one of the top employers in Las Animas County, plans to convert a fleet of company trucks from running on leaded gasoline to compressed natural gas. Officials with Pioneer said the company has engaged in a five-year pilot program to equip 25 of its Ford F-250 field vehicles to operate on compressed natural gas in order to explore how viable CNG vehicles will be for operations in the Raton Basin, according to www.chieftain.com.

The company has already started converting vehicles and installing the CNG fueling station and other infrastructure at its Trinidad field office.

FuelTek Conversion Corp. of Denver is converting the Pioneer pilot fleet. It can cost up to $12,000 to convert certain vehicles, according to Wes Biggers, owner and president of FuelTek. And building an inexpensive fuel station can cost about $50,000.

FuelTek is one of three companies in the country that is certified in this technology. Biggers said the same natural gas used to heat homes is used to run converted cars.

An automobile needs to be able to carry the natural gas with it in a storage tank. Once the natural gas enters the vehicle, it travels from the fuel tank through a regulator which drops the storage pressure from 3,600 pounds per square inch to the working pressure of the fuel injector, which is between 110 and 150 pounds per square inch. A computer that controls the natural gas system drives the fuel injectors, which inject the correct metered amount of natural gas into the cylinders just as regular gasoline would. The fuel is mixed in the cylinders with air and ignited by a spark plug.