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By Craig Jackson

The media is filled with stories about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, mostly coming from environmental groups fearing for the safety of our air and water. There are many reasons why embracing this new technology is good for our natural environment and our economy.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is a gasoline alternative, made from compressing natural gas to less than 1 percent of its volume. It burns more cleanly than traditional fossil fuels and it costs about 50 percent less than gasoline or diesel. CNG also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by from 23 percent to 30 percent, depending on the vehicle.

CNG is clean, affordable and abundant: 98 percent of the natural gas consumed in the United States comes from this country or Canada. During the presidential political conventions in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., last summer, delegates could ride shuttle buses powered by compressed natural gas.

Businesses and operators around the country, including Waste Management and Sonwil Distribution right here in Western New York, are converting fleets to CNG to save costs and our environment, too. In 2011, Waste Management transitioned 80 percent of its fleet to CNG, saving an estimated $300,000 per truck per year. The transition will increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions by 15 percent by 2020.

In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Environmental Protection is offering seminars for municipal and commercial fleet operators and offering grants for fleet conversions. In Santa Fe, N.M., city officials are transitioning to CNG-powered garbage trucks.

Automakers see this as a way of the future. Honda rolled out its Natural Green Civic sedan nationwide to consumers in 2012. Chrysler, Ford and General Motors began releasing CNG-powered trucks in model year 2013.

What is fueling this interest? Technology has made extracting natural gas from previously inaccessible shale possible. In 2000, only 2 percent of our natural gas came from shale. By 2012, that amount grew to 37 percent. Abundance leads to innovation, too. The U.S. Department of Energy announced in July that it will award $30 million to 13 cutting-edge research projects through its Advanced Research Projects Agency. This initiative will encourage development of natural gas tanks and compressors for readier use.

Here in Western New York, CNG for Upstate NY was founded in 2011 to foster learning, collaboration and action on CNG vehicle fueling and infrastructure.

With the resources of the Marcellus shale under New York’s Southern Tier, economic prosperity, a cleaner fuel source and a safe environment are just a few hours away from CNG users in our region. We will encourage a greener New York when we embrace the clean power of natural gas.

Craig Jackson is business development manager at Cobey Inc. in Buffalo.