Questar, state to boost natural gas for vehicles

Compression upgrade will help customers with quicker fill-ups.
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Utah and its natural gas utility are boosting filling station capacity along Interstate 15 this year in an effort to encourage consumers to drive cleaner-burning cars, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. announced Thursday.

Questar will open two new natural gas stations in southern Utah, and the state government will upgrade its six public-use outlets to boost capacity. The public-private moves are part of an initiative Huntsman said should encourage bordering states to build the infrastructure to make natural-gas vehicles more convenient. Utah and the nation have abundant gas preserves that can decrease dependence on foreign oil, the governor said.

"It's here," he said. "It's part of our state. It creates jobs. It cleans the air."

For its part, Utah will spend $100,000 from the Department of Administrative Services on each of six Wasatch Front filling stations to increase compression. Those stations formerly served only the state fleet and dispense gas too slowly to satisfy public demand, said Dianne Nielson, the governor's energy adviser.

The governor chose an Orem Sinclair station for his announcement because it is one of two on the Wasatch Front where Questar this year will dramatically boost compression. The gas company's president, Ronald Jibson, said the Orem station and one in Woods Cross will get new compressors to increase their capacity from 100 cubic feet per minute to 700. Those stations' old compressors then will go to southern Utah, where Questar will stock new stations around Beaver and in either Cedar City or St. George.

Overall, Questar's 19 Utah filling stations will add 47 percent to filling capacity, Jibson said. It should be a major improvement for consumers who pay to convert cars or buy those that are factory-made for natural gas. Last summer, with gasoline prices soaring, the state suffered a lack of compression capacity to keep up with demand for the cheaper fuel.

"We got behind," Jibson said.

Thursday's announcement followed last week's filing of a lawsuit challenging a new state rule that requires Environmental Protection Agency approval of conversion kits on Utah vehicles. Some owners insist EPA rules don't add safety but do make widespread conversion to natural gas cost-prohibitive. Huntsman said the state will follow federal rules to ensure safety, though he hopes an increasing number of consumers will cause EPA to streamline its permitting to minimize costs to manufacturers.