CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's abundant natural gas supply has Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ready to order a cost-benefit analysis of switching at least part of the state's vehicle fleet from gasoline and diesel, according to administration officials and those who have been asked to serve on the resulting task force.
Tomblin plans to issue an executive order that also would promote this alternative source among the public, said Rob Alsop, his chief of staff.
"He thinks that, given the price of natural gas and what looks like the long-term development of the Marcellus Shale, this can become a resource for our fleet, instead of depending on oil," Alsop said. "It could help with job creation and lowering transportation costs in the state."
The task force is expected to include top executives from gas producers and companies with such relevant holdings as service stations.
"We're interested in demonstrating that we can improve our nation's energy security -- hopefully by converting at least part of the vehicular fleet in this country -- starting here in West Virginia," said Phil Reale of the state's Independent Oil and Gas Association, who is among those asked to join the task force. "We want to demonstrate that West Virginia has vision and can lead the way in changing the energy sector of our economy."
Scott Rotruck, a Chesapeake Energy executive and another task force member, called switching at least part of the fleet "an excellent first step in a broader movement that would change the way we all fuel our cars in the U.S.
"The state has several large roles to play, notably this time as a 'market player' with fleet conversion."
Tomblin is among 13 governors who appealed to automakers in an April 27 letter to help them jointly shift their fleets.
"A bipartisan partnership between governors and auto manufacturers in the U.S. makes sense and has the potential to create new options for alternative fuel vehicles and transportation fuel diversity," the letter stated. "We are committed to explore the aggregation of our annual state fleet vehicle procurements to provide an incentive to manufacture affordable, functional natural gas vehicles."
West Virginia has been part of a multi-state push to encourage natural gas vehicles since at least January, when Tomblin announced a cooperative agreement during his State of the State address. Tomblin then also pledged to explore converting state vehicles to that alternative fuel.
"It makes sense to start using fuels for our cars and buses that we produce right here in West Virginia," he said in that speech. "It is in America's best interest, and we can lead the way."
The 13-state campaign includes neighboring Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Another state involved, Mississippi, recently sought bids for changing 10 of its vehicles to test the concept.