A CNG pump at a Love's Travel Stop in Oklahoma

Amidst all the talk and campaign promises about clean energy, not to mention federal grants and tax breaks for hybrid cars, solar plants and wind farms, compressed natural gas (CNG) has been proving itself a workable alternative in one state where it's been widely adopted.

For a variety of local reasons, Oklahoma has become the poster child for CNG, which is available at many of the truck stops, service stations and convenience stores in the state. 

"A retailer today in Oklahoma can sell CNG for $1.39 a gallon," said Norman Herrera, Chesapeake Energy's director of market development, according to Convenience Store News. "The gasoline price may be $3.50. CNG compares really favorably to gasoline."

Environmentalists aren't sold on natural gas because it is a fossil fuel and the environmental cost of extracting it can be high. But it's clean-burning and cheap for those who are able to use it.

No cars

But the biggest barrier to widespread adoption of CNG to fuel consumers' cars is its limited availability in much of the country, followed by a lack of cars equipped to burn it. Though it's increasingly used by buses, trucks and other fleet vehicles, CNG is not yet a common option on passenger cars.

The Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans accept natural gas and are affordable, with price tags starting at $24,985 and $28,940, respectively. But consumers may not be interested in purchasing vans that look like commercial vehicles.

General Motors will produce a natural gas-accepting Chevy Silverado later this year, Herrera said.  It will be equipped to handle both gasoline and CNG. The sticker price is not yet known.

Honda's Civic NG has been available for 13 years and gets an estimated 27/38 mpg rating.  But only 13,000 have been sold in all 13 years. Many of those are used by meter maids and other fleet users.

Few options

So, for now, consumers searching for higher mileage and lower fuel costs have a choice: they can buy one of the few CNG-equipped vehicles or convert their own car to run on CNG.  Then there's the problem of finding CNG pumps. For that, you may have to get a job as a meter maid.

Or maybe you'd sooner move to Oklahoma.

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