St. Johns County’s new compressed natural gas fueling station filled up its first tank after two years of planning.
A Miami-based natural gas company is hoping it’s just the first step in its expansion into Northeast Florida, despite environmentalists’ concerns.
On State Road 16 in St. Augustine, a crowd got its first look at NoPetro’s $2 million compressed natural gas station Wednesday.
The county is leasing the land near Interstate 95 to the company and will begin collecting $40,000 a year after fulfilling its promise to buy at least 300,000 gallons of compressed natural gas.
Public Works Director Neal Shinkre said that won't take long because the county is bound to buy a certain amount of gas from the station annually.
“We had to dedicate our revenue. So, we have to make sure that we buy about 175,000 gallons of fuel from them. That gives them that baseline and jumpstart,” he said.
Shinkre said the county is expanding its natural gas vehicle fleet, by buying new cars and trucks and converting old ones. It’s costly, but he said the reliably cheap fuel will end up saving St. Johns money in the long run.
Still, some environmentalists oppose expanding natural gas usage because, although the fuel burns cleaner than traditional oil, the way it’s extracted — called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is considered more risky. But NoPetro CEO Jorge Herrera said the fuel can be extracted safely with the right safeguards.
“When natural gas is produced in a responsible and quality-controlled manner, the risks are eliminated,” he said.
Proposed state standards for natural gas drilling in Florida failed in the Legislature the last two years after environmentalists argued water contamination is inherent to the fracking process.
Herrera said his company hopes to open another compressed natural gas station on the north side of St. Johns County soon.