Officials with Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp. plan to attend what the American Trucking Associations says is the “first-ever summit dedicated to exploring the full range
of issues related to the use of natural gas in the trucking industry.”
The ATA Summit on Natural Gas in Trucking is set for Nov. 28-30 in Arlington, Va.
According to the ATA, topics will include recent fleet experiences with natural gas, existing and potential technology from truck and engine manufacturers, and the status and timeline for expanding the nation’s fueling infrastructure.
“There has been a great deal of discussion about natural gas, but until now, no one has brought together all the pieces of the puzzle to show the whole picture. This summit will accomplish exactly that,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement.
Boone Pickens, the Texas oil exec who has become a crusader for use of natural gas as a means for the U.S. to become energy independent, has said the trucking industry must convert to natural gas to achieve that independence.
“Trucking consumes half of the five million barrels we buy from OPEC each day,” he said during a recent interview with Lane Kidd, executive director of the Arkansas Trucking Association.
“I’ve talked to trucking guys,” Pickens said, “whose companies consume 100 million gallons of fuel a year and they see very quickly how they can save a dollar and a half a gallon. It doesn’t take but about a second for them to see that’s a hundred and fifty million dollars.”
The major hurdles in the conversion is that natural gas trucks are more expensive than those using diesel, and not enough natural gas fueling infrastructure along the nation’s interstates and highways.
David Humphrey, Arkansas Best vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, said the company will attend the ATA summit. He said the company — whose primary subsidiary is ABF Freight System, one of the largest less-than-truckload carriers in the U.S. — is interested in learning all it can about “all of the factors associated with the use of natural gas in our tractors.”
Humphrey explained: “There are many elements to consider in deciding to switch some portion of our fleet to natural gas. Among other things, these include the upfront investment in the trucks, the fueling infrastructure, required modifications to our shop facilities, equipment dependability, equipment durability and the residual value of the trucks after their use in our fleet. We would also have to consider our best application for natural gas equipment, either in our local city fleet or in our over-the-road fleet.”
National energy independence is also a consideration for Arkansas Best.
“We certainly want to better understand how natural gas would work in our network and how its use might allow our company, and our country, to reduce dependence on foreign oil,” Humphrey said.
Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the retailer has been invited to speak at the ATA summit but has not yet responded to the invitation.
Wal-Mart operates the fourth-largest private trucking operation in the country with an estimated 6,543 tractors and 55,000 trailers that haul merchandise from 147 regional distribution centers to stores in the U.S., according to Trucking Topics.
The Bentonville-based retailer is also testing the use of liquid natural gas with its fleet in California, according to Buchanan. Also, industry analysts say Wal-Mart is also asking its dedicated carriers to consider fuel alternatives as the retail giant pushes its image as a sustainability leader.
“Given the size of Walmart’s fleet, we are striving to lead the industry in testing, piloting,and deploying a suite of clean technologies that will help us save money on diesel fuel, reduce air pollutants in the communities we serve,” Buchanan said during a January interview with The City Wire.
Officials with Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Inc. declined to comment on the summit or any interest the company may have in alternative fuels.
Graves, the ATA chief, said the summit could be a milestone in moving the industry toward alternative fuel use.
“We live in an age of great uncertainty regarding the supply and cost of traditional fuels like gasoline and diesel. A fact, that when coupled with the enormous pressure our industry faces to reduce our environmental impact and reduce costs, makes natural gas a very intriguing and frankly very promising avenue for trucking,” Graves said. “As a result, we expect this natural gas summit not just to be attended by a whole host of leading executives from trucking, manufacturing, the energy sector and the government, but we expect it will come to be thought of as an important mile marker on the road to increased natural gas use in trucking.”