As with many companies in the energy sector, Encana is converting its fleet of light-duty vehicles to run on its preferred fuel source, in this case natural gas. The company is considered one of North America’s leading natural gas producers.
In the United States, Encana operates a fleet of 700 vehicles, primarily light-duty 3/4-ton trucks, which it uses for the maintenance of its facilities, such as well pads, tank batteries, and compressors used in extraction and production.
Green Fleet spoke with David Hill, vice president of operations for Encana’s Natural Gas Economy division, about the company’s plans to convert its fleet to bi-fuel CNG vehicles and its progress toward this goal.
“We have converted about 60 vehicles in our fleet. Our goal is to be at 200 by the end of 2011,” Hill said. “I think our intent is to convert as many vehicles as possible. Over the next three years, we plan to convert the majority of our fleet over. I can’t say 100 percent, because there are some areas that are so remote that there is no infrastructure. Because of limitations on infrastructure, we’re going with bi-fuel vehicles.”
To deal with the infrastructure issue, the company is dovetailing its efforts to build new natural gas fueling stations with its efforts to convert its fleet to CNG.
“Here in Denver, we have several public stations available to our fleet. We are working where we have existing infrastructure. Encana’s approach has been three-fold to support fueling station development,” Hill said. “First, we support stations with our fleet volume. Second, we support them with the contribution of capital. Finally, if no one steps forward [in an area without a station], we build one.”
The strategy for this conversion is slow, but steady. “We’re not prematurely miling-out our vehicles,” he said “As they reach the end of their lease, we replace them with a new vehicle that is targeted for CNG conversion.”
The company is primarily using 3/4-ton pickup trucks such as the Chevrolet 2500, Ford F-250, and Ram 2500 in its fleet and targets these vehicles for conversion.
“On a 3/4-ton extended cab, we typically install a CNG bi-fuel kit with a 20-gallon equivalent tank for CNG. We leave the gasoline system intact and put [the CNG tank] on the bed against the cab,” Hill said.
He added that the company uses kits from IMPCO Technologies due to product reliability and availability.
According to Hill, the company’s drivers typically travel 100 miles per day, six days per week. The duty cycle for these vehicles is around 25,000 miles per year. “Our employees’ vehicles consume 10-12 gallons of natural gas per day,” he said. “Each probably consumes about 2,000 gallons per year.”
To address a lack of vehicle selection, Encana is working directly with the automakers to bring more CNG-powered vehicles to the marketplace.
“GM announced their CNG van late last year,” Hill said. “We’re hoping that a couple of [the OEMs] will bring to market a bi-fuel 3/4-ton pickup. We want to see them bring an OEM-supported vehicle directly to the market in 2012.”
Hill said that although the company is in the process of converting its vehicles, it encounters the same challenges that many others run into, specifically the lag time between late-model vehicle release dates and conversion kit approval.
“Some of the frustrations we have when converting our fleet is the same challenge that anybody has,” Hill said. “There is no vehicle anybody can buy — I have to use a conversion kit. For those kits, we’re in 2011, and there are no certified kits for the 2011 model-year even though we’ve bought 2011 model-year vehicles.
“It’s quite a process,” Hill said. “Kit manufacturers have to jump through a lot of hoops to get one certified. We’d like them to go faster and get them out there, but that’s been one of the hurdles.”
Hill said the vehicles the company has converted are still early in their lifecycles, but Encana hasn’t encountered problems or complaints from personnel using the vehicles. He said the first converted vehicles have reached nearly 36,000 miles.
When asked about how dealing with multiple fuel types will impact fleet management, Hill said he believes there is a new reality today for fleet managers.
“The new reality is that we need multiple fuels, which is a challenge for fleet managers, for different duty cycles,” Hill said. “We’re a natural gas company and even for us, change is difficult,” Hill said.
Training Mechanics and Drivers
Part of dealing with this new reality is training mechanics and drivers. The first challenge the company has encountered with regard to CNG vehicles is many technicians are not familiar with CNG fueling systems. “That’s an area of need, increasing training of mechanics on gaseous fuel systems. There are plenty of certified courses out there,” Hill said.
Beyond training on CNG fueling systems, the company instituted a number of policies to get its fleet drivers up to speed on these vehicles.
“We have protocols in place, which we call Management of Change,” Hill explained. “Any time we change a process, we go through the Management of Change process. Our drivers receive training on the fuel system and are educated about where to get fuel. Employees can check out and drive natural gas vehicles overnight. They have to go through a training program about natural gas that explains how it works, how to refuel, and how to answer questions from consumers. That’s been quite successful, and we’re working on other programs, for example an employee benefits program, to encourage adoption. Some of our peer companies have employee incentive programs to adopt natural gas vehicles.”
Hill said the company is working on an award program that involves gift cards and company recognition for drivers displacing the most petroleum. “We want to incentivize good practices and good behavior, doing the right thing for the company and environment,” Hill said “Drivers can qualify as many times as they earn it. It becomes a badge of honor.”
Beyond Encana, the company said a number of other energy companies involved in the natural gas market are interested in converting vehicles to run on natural gas.
“We’re proud of what we’re doing but also of what others are doing,” Hill said. “Some other companies are leaders out there. It’s really our peer companies that are progressive, companies like Apache, Chesapeake, Newfield Energy, Anadarko, Noble Energy, Williams Energy, etc. Those companies are taking similar approaches with their fleets, converting their vehicles, and are directly or indirectly supporting us. We’re working together through ANGA (the American Natural Gas Alliance). They have an NGV task group. We have been working with the Natural Gas Vehicle Association and the American Natural Gas Association. The key thing is to advocate and talk about it, but we ought to walk the talk ourselves.”