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First public natural gas fueling station opens in Philadelphia, despite low demand

 Philadelphia's first public natural gas vehicle (NGV) fueling facility opens in East Falls. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Philadelphia's first public natural gas vehicle (NGV) fueling facility opens in East Falls. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

The first filling station for natural gas vehicles in Philadelphia is now open to the public, bringing the total number of stations offering compressed natural gas (CNG) in Pennsylvania up to 26.

Natural gas is cheaper than gasoline and diesel. Despite an abundant supply, it has been slow to catch on as a transportation fuel – in part, because there are so few places to fill up. As a result, CNG vehicles have become more popular with businesses that operate large fleets of buses and trucks.

The new facility, just off Route 1 in Philadelphia’s East Falls neighborhood, was built by VNG Inc. in an existing BP gas station, complete with a convenience store, a Dunkin’ Donuts, and several rows of traditional gas pumps. The goal, said VNG’s chief operating officer Robert Friedman, is to provide everyday drivers with a “familiar, convenient and high-quality retail experience.”

Friedman acknowledged that the market for CNG is still small, with only about 100,000 natural gas vehicles on the road across the country. However, he said he is encouraged by the record-breaking production in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.

“This is a trend we not only expect to continue, but over the next several years, we expect this to accelerate,” Friedman said.

VNG received a $270,000 grant from the Department of Environmental Protection to help buy 35 CNG vehicles for the company’s partners – including Comcast and Aqua America – that have committed to filling up at the new facility in Philadelphia.

Gov. Tom Corbett, who was on hand for the ribbon-cutting Tuesday, said he wants to see more Pennsylvania drivers filling the tank with natural gas.

“This, in addition to being less expensive, provides competition. And when you provide competition, it makes those on the oil side start to have to lower their prices,” Corbett said. 

This story comes from StateImpact Pennsylvania — a public media partnership between WHYY and WITF covering the state’s energy economy.

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