Vast deposits of oil and natural gas, much of it underneath West Virginia, mean the United States may achieve energy independence within as little as a decade. Now, the question is how to make use of our new-found fuel riches as efficiently as possible.
Here in the Mountain State, more use of vehicles powered by natural gas is one possibility. State government, along with some local officials, is looking into taking the lead.
Natural gas vehicles are appealing in many ways. For one, the gas equivalent of gasoline is about half the cost.
One proposal is to convert 6,000 state government vehicles to use natural gas. In theory, that could save taxpayers some money, while encouraging establishment of more natural gas filling stations.
This is nothing new, however. About two decades ago, the state launched a similar experiment. At one point, as many as 1,200 gas-powered vehicles were in the state fleet. But then, natural gas prices went up and, temporarily, gasoline prices went down. The trial was abandoned.
It was far from trouble-free, as some of those who drove the gas vehicles have warned. For one thing, finding places to refill them wasn't easy. Often, state employees and officials who had dual-fuel vehicles had to turn off the gas and fill up with gasoline.
That experience was a valuable lesson. It was a reminder that vehicles capable of operating solely on natural gas are not a good idea. Dual-fuel cars and trucks are the way to go, at least for now.
But there is another issue, and it is one state officials should consider more carefully than did President Barack Obama in his "green" energy policy.
Obama's administration has thrown away billions of taxpayers' dollars in subsidies to expensive, unproven technologies such as solar and wind power.
The situation with our state and natural gas is far different. Gas-powered vehicle technology is far more practical and shows real promise of saving money for taxpayers.
Still, state officials should proceed with caution in converting state vehicles before the natural gas filling station infrastructure to serve them is in place. West Virginia taxpayers cannot afford an expensive experiment not grounded on a realistic prospect of success.