Natural Gas-Fueled Towboat To Be Built in Ohio Valley

Wheeling Intelligencer
11 November 2015
By Casey Junkins, Staff Writer

RAYLAND - Development of the area's Marcellus and Utica shale reserves may allow towboats that power barges along the Ohio River to run on natural gas rather than diesel fuel, a measure that would both reduce dependence on foreign energy sources and mitigate air pollution.

Tuesday, officials with the Pittsburgh-based Clean Fuels Clean Rivers organization joined Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, members of the U.S. Coast Guard and local leaders to confirm plans to convert the M/V Ron Chris towboat to run on liquefied natural gas, rather than diesel fuel. The project is funded by a $730,000 grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration.

As the first project of its kind in the nation, organizers said the location in Rayland was chosen for two reasons: the steady supply of local natural gas and its location along the Ohio River, which meets the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at Pittsburgh.

"Inside the 500-mile circle surrounding Pittsburgh sits the single largest energy supply going," Robert H. Beatty Jr., director of technology and government affairs for Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, said. "We have the perfect storm right under our feet."

Liquefied natural gas, commonly known as LNG, should not be confused with natural gas liquids, or NGLs, which consist of ethane, butane, propane and other wet gases. Liquefied natural gas typically is methane - the same gas used to heat homes - that is "cooled until it becomes a liquid and then safely stored at essentially atmospheric pressure," according to the International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for the Pittsburgh region and the entire Ohio River community, (the) heart of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, to demonstrate this innovative application for natural gas," said Lutitia Clipper, CEO of Clipper Enterprises and the project manager. "There are more than 500 inland towing vessels operating in the region.

These include both regional and non-regional operators. There are 261 regional towboats operating in the Pittsburgh area, and almost 65 percent are in the harbor vessel category.

"This will allow us to make our air cleaner and our water more pure," she added.

The Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, and Emissions at West Virginia University is also involved in the project. This center recently received acclaim for its work that found several Volkswagen and Audi vehicles allegedly emitted pollution up to 40 times the level allowed by the federal Clean Air Act.

The two-year project involves converting the towboat to run on LNG and then performing significant tests to ensure that it produces less emissions than the diesel-powered version.

"We hope the study will show that LNG is a good alternative fuel for a towboat," Susan Oliver, spokeswoman for Clean Fuels Clean Rivers said.

In May, Dominion Resources received final federal approval to export 770 million cubic feet of LNG daily from its $3.8 billion Cove Point site in Maryland.

With the process of converting towboats to operate on natural gas, the delivery mechanism for the LNG could also run on the fuel.

Johnson briefly addressed the crowd on the overall state of the local industry as he sees it. He said the $5.7 billion PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker - for which the company has agreed to spend $100 million for engineering and design plans -- could lead to a resurgence of the manufacturing base once prevalent along the Ohio River.

"We've got companies right now that are looking at where they can locate along this river," Johnson said, adding this is due to the relatively cheap supply of energy they can get from natural gas.