Frac sand has been the talk of the town for months in the Winona area. Frac sand is a crush-resistant, round type of sand found in abundance here and used for hydraulic fracturing processes in other states. The sand is used to hold open cracks in shale rock formations so more oil and natural gas can be extracted.
Natural gas, an end product, has received less attention in the Winona area. The introduction of the hydraulic fracturing extraction process has meant a swell in natural gas production, and with it, reduced prices for consumers. Due to those lower prices, natural gas vehicles have become more attractive for certain customers: those who own fleets of vehicles that travel many miles in relatively small areas, such as taxis and buses. A natural gas refueling center is planned for the Minnesota City Kwik Trip, which will make vehicles powered by natural gas more promising in the area.
The Winona County Board was briefed Tuesday on possible savings by adding some natural gas vehicles to its fleet. Commissioners learned that natural gas vehicles, according to the U. S. Department of Energy, cost less to drive and have lower emissions than their gasoline and diesel counterparts.
“You are going to see more and more fleets going to something like this because of the money you can save,” said Jill Johnson, Winona County Hazardous Waste Manager. She explained that Winona County would likely be looking at the lighter weight natural gas vehicles. Commissioner Marcia Ward added that the county owns many smaller vehicles, which are used by human services and public health employees that don’t travel far from the city of Winona, and would make a good fit for natural gas.
The county’s contractor for recycling services, Veolia, Inc., has a fleet of natural gas trucks used outside of Minnesota, noted Ward, adding that Peterbilt has also been working on large equipment that runs on natural gas.
Johnson explained some of the other benefits of natural gas vehicles. “Emissions are much less [than those of gasoline and diesel vehicles],” she said. “It’s going to continue to grow. I think one of the things people like about natural gas is it’s a domestic [energy] source.”
Commissioner Jim Pomeroy wondered whether there might be a new tax applied to natural gas vehicles to go toward roadway infrastructure costs the way the current gas tax is used, and Johnson admitted such a tax would likely be created in the future.
Most government units purchase vehicles using a negotiated contract price from the state, and Johnson explained that since Minnesota doesn’t currently have a contract for natural gas vehicles, state leaders were exploring whether local units of government such as the county could purchase them under the state of Oklahoma’s contract. Word on that decision will be coming soon, she said.