DENVER --- EnCana Oil & Gas, a major North American natural gas producer, said it has launched a plan to convert a number of its Colorado vehicles to run on compressed natural gas, the Post Independent reported. 

The company said it has started converting its fleet of F-250 pickup trucks to run on natural gas, and has bought eight Honda Civic GX sedans for employees not signed up to use the pickups. The Hondas will be used across the company's regional footprint -- four in Denver, one in Parachute, two in Texas, and one in Wyoming, the newspaper reported.

The plan is to have 52 bi-fuel vehicles, running either on CNG or gasoline, by the end of 2011, according to Wendy Wiedenbeck, community relations advisor for EnCana, and David Hill, who is leading the conversion program. Hill said that would amount to about 30 percent of the company's fleet in the Southern Rockies region, and 10 percent of its entire U.S. fleet.

Wiedenbeck said that CNG vehicles produce between 20 and 40 percent lower greenhouse-gas emissions than standard gasoline-powered vehicles. She called CNG fuel "a reliable, lower-cost, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fuel."

Hill said EnCana is also encouraging other local gas-well operators, contractors, trucking companies and operators of vehicle fleets in general to make the transition to CNG.

"It's hard to do this alone," Hill said. He admitted that it's likely that most of EnCana's Western Slope fleet will not be converted until there is enough demand to warrant the installation of CNG pumps at local service stations. He said the company has no plans to put together its own refueling operation, with the exception of a small "slow-fueling" tank that "takes almost a whole day to fill up one vehicle" and is of limited use.

The company already has four F-250s and a couple of Hondas on the road along the Front Range, where there are a dozen public CNG outlets to choose from.

"It is a capital intensive process," Hill told the Post Independent, explaining that it costs $10,000 to $12,000 per truck to do the conversion. But, he continued, "It's definitely a cleaner-burning fuel," and it costs less than half the price of gasoline at the pump.

The program, Wiedenbeck said, is "part of a broad strategy" to encourage the public to see natural gas as an alternative fuel.