Did you know that BNSF, the railway company owned by Warren Buffet’s Birkshire Hathaway, is probably the second largest purchaser of diesel fuel in the United States, coming in only after the US Navy?
That’s a lot of diesel fuel.
With diesel prices near $4 per gallon, and natural gas (CNG) at around half of that price, the savings from switching to CNG on such a large scale become quite large.
The Wall Street Journal reports that BNSF has at least 6,900 existing locomotives that run on diesel now, which means that it could be quite expensive to convert them all. However, BNSF is working with General Electric and Caterpillar to make an engine that can run on both diesel and natural gas.
Aside from the fuel savings, another big incentive for BNSF to switch to natural gas is to be able to meet new federal air pollution standards that will hit around 2015.
One of the biggest challenges of converting diesel 18 wheelers over to natural gas is the cost of building the infrastructure to have fueling stations everywhere they would be needed. With trains, it is much, much easier to solve this problem, because trains always go on a predetermined route. So you could build fewer refueling stations and still keep everything going.
However you feel about fracking, it looks like natural gas can make a significant difference in both CO2 emissions and air pollution in general.
In fact, CO2 emissions have dramatically dropped by nearly 12 percent over the past five years, reaching levels that we haven’t seen since 1996. This is attributed largely to the switch from electric power generators moving from coal to natural gas.