We recently dodged a bullet here in Hampton Roads, Virginia; the full force of Hurricane Sandy passed about 350 miles east of us. Installations to the North were not as fortunate.

The impact of this storm reminded me of Homestead Air Force Base after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Keesler Air Force Base after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These “Once in a Century Events” are occurring with alarming frequency. Whether you subscribe to Global Warming or not, it appears that “Super Storms” are happening more often and it would be wise to take prudent measures to prepare for the next one. The biggest constraint is, “How do you prepare for disasters with limited funding?”

“Super Storms” and other natural disasters expose vulnerabilities for military bases. One of the more serious is the loss of electrical power. Utility power lines are typically above ground on poles and metal towers. Those lines are extremely susceptible to high winds, falling trees, storm surges washing the ground away under the towers and more. Our electrical infrastructure is really quite fragile. When it works, it works very well. When it goes down, we find ourselves thrust back in time to building fires and reading by candlelight.

We have a reliable, inexpensive, domestic fuel source that will power our vehicles and military facilities through normal times and disasters alike. That fuel is Natural Gas.

The inherent nature of the domestic natural gas system causes it to be a safe and reliable fuel, especially during disasters. Reasons that natural gas is a “Fuel of Choice” include:

  • Natural gas lines have historically been run underground. There are a few places where natural gas pipelines are above ground (river crossings for example) but for the most part, the underground pipelines are protected from high winds and storm surges.
  • Natural gas compressor stations have the ability to siphon fuel from the gas pipeline itself to run the compressors. As such, if electrical power was secured to a NG compressor station for any reason, they could continue to operate.
  •  The discovery of shale gas deposits across North America has greatly reduced the commodity cost of natural gas such that it is much less expensive per BTU than gasoline or diesel equivalents. A gasoline gallon equivalent of Natural Gas at Naval Station Norfolk is ~$1.30 while gasoline is $3.50 and #2 Diesel is ~$3.05 for the same amount of energy.
  • Natural gas produces fewer emissions per BTU than diesel or gasoline. Actual reductions will vary but are approximately:
    • 80% Lower Carbon Monoxide (CO)
    • 80% Lower NOx
    • 25% Lower CO2

Most military installations have “Backup Diesels” to operate critical loads. These diesel engines can be retrofitted for a few thousand dollars to run on a mix of natural gas and #2 Diesel. The conversion kits are “Off the Shelf” items and can be installed in a few hours by a competent technician. The conversion kits allow an engine to start on 100% diesel, come up to speed and temperature (five minutes or so) then a control mechanism begins feeding natural gas and reducing diesel fuel to the cylinders. Depending on the type of engine and age, the natural gas/diesel mixture maybe 50-50% or as high as 80% natural gas to 20% diesel.

What this retrofit does is to extend the run time of your existing liquid fuel supply before you need replenishment. If roads and bridges are washed out and you had a two day supply of diesel fuel previously, now you have a 4 day to 10 day supply of fuel without resupply.

Vehicles can also use natural gas as a fuel. Usually they are Bi-Fuel and run on gasoline/diesel and natural gas. The gas is stored under pressure in a tank as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and the vehicle can switch between fuel sources on the fly. The range on each CNG fill up is approximately 100 miles depending on tank size.

As the number of refueling stations in CONUS is limited, CNG vehicles are suitable for vehicles that travel in a fifty mile radius from a central re-fueling point. Appropriate vehicle uses include: Fleet vans, base taxis, buses, airport authority, waste pickup, security and emergency. As there is a premium paid to have Bi-fuel capabilities, the highest ROI will come from vehicles that are used extensively and operate most of their miles close to the fueling station.

We are not as prepared for the next major disaster as we could be. For a modest investment, DoD installations can retrofit existing backup gen sets to operate on diesel and domestically produced natural gas. As fleet vehicles are retired, consider purchasing Bi-Fuel Natural Gas vehicles to replace them. If the gasoline/diesel supply is interrupted, you’ll still be able to operate fleet and emergency vehicles with no problem. Both of these options provide a return on investment of scarce capital dollars.

We will also “Lead by Example” in our local communities as we promote natural gas conversion. This will help wean our country off foreign oil and increase our own energy security before and after future disasters.


Cherokee Energy Management & Construction, Inc. does not own shares in any Natural Gas, diesel engine or automobile company. We do have a contractual agreement with AGLR Energy Services and occasionally perform Energy Audits for AGLR. Cherokee Energy is not compensated for any current or future natural gas consumption by anyone.