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Councilman floats natural-gas alternative to fueling city's fleet

David Oh eyes big-term investment for long-term savings.

Councilman David Oh ( Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer / File )
Councilman David Oh ( Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer / File )Read more

CITY COUNCIL heard testimony yesterday from the brass of gas companies pushing for Philadelphia to use natural gas and other alternatives to fuel the city's municipal fleet. But opponents of the measure say that idea is a lot of hot air.

Administrators from the city's Office of Fleet Management, local gas-industry providers and private companies already undergoing fleet conversion testified during a hearing before the Committee on Global Opportunities and the Creative/Innovative Economy yesterday in City Hall.

Councilman David Oh, chairman of the committee, offered a resolution that explored converting Philadelphia's slowly dwindling and "gas-guzzling" fleet of vehicles to run on compressed natural gas and other fuel alternatives. He said taxpayers could see long-term savings because natural gas costs roughly half the going rate for traditional gasoline.

"Many times the issues of alternative fuels and clean energy are misunderstood," Oh said.

"The primary issue we're dealing with is the bread and butter, the nuts and bolts of what most average people care about - the performance of our vehicles, especially public-safety vehicles, the maintenance of those vehicles, and the potential cost savings that save tax dollars so that we can use those funds for other things that are much needed in our city," he added.

But critics of the measure say drilling in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale - a source of natural gas in the western part of the state - is not only dangerous to the land and water but also contains many hidden costs. Iris Marie Bloom, executive director of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Protecting Our Waters, called it a "boom-and-bust industry" and opposed the use of shale gas from fracking.

According to the manager of the city's Office of Fleet Management, the aging fleet is as "lean as operationally advised," with about 5,800 vehicles, down from 6,300 five years ago.