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CDFA Rewrites Proposed Quality-Control Regulation for Natural Gas Fuels

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October 10, 2016

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has substantially rewritten its proposed natural gas fuel quality-control regulation and extended the implementation date by one year.

In July, the CDFA proposed mandating a minimum amount of methane in natural gas fuels by Jan. 1, 2017, and imposing labeling requirements at the pump to ensure fuel purity. The proposal met substantial opposition from utilities, clean fuel providers, and other natural gas industry stakeholders who saw it as unrealistically difficult to comply with. Many also complained that the CDFA’s suggested minimum methane number of 75 was chosen arbitrarily.

“We asked the CDFA to wait to establish a minimum methane number until after gathering input from all stakeholders, including vehicle and engine manufacturers and fuel suppliers. We’re glad to see that the regulation’s implementation date has been pushed out, which gives everyone more time to ramp up,” said Coalition President Thomas Lawson.

The first part of the modified draft proposes that by Jan. 1, 2018, all natural gas fuels sold for use in internal combustion engines must meet the latest SAE International J616 standard for CNG vehicle fuel. The J616 standard provides parameters for several CNG specifications, including methane, ethane, hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The latest version provides minimum or maximum values (or both) for each specification, and indicates the test methods used to determine the composition of each element.

Relying on the work by SAE International, which establishes technical standards for transportation industries, “gives us an internationally accepted standard that everyone can support,” said Lawson. He added that the federal government may introduce a minimum methane number for natural gas fuels in the spring of 2017, which could render any California requirement obsolete.

In addition to stipulating a minimum methane number of 75 for all NGV fuels, the original proposal made retailers responsible for making sure fuels met the requirement. However, as Lawson pointed out in comments submitted to the CDFA, this would put an unfair burden on retailers, who would have to invest in expensive equipment to raise the methane number in some of the fuels they sell. The modified proposal makes fuel suppliers, rather than retailers, responsible for controlling a fuel’s methane number.

The second part of the modified proposal is largely unchanged. Although the proposed regulation eliminates a CDFA-mandated minimum methane number, it still mandates labeling of NGV fuel dispensers with whatever the minimum methane number is. Fuel suppliers will have to provide retailers with the fuel’s minimum methane number, which is a measure of its antiknock property.

Also, similar to the requirements for gasoline and diesel fuels, the proposal limits signs at the fueling station to the actual price per gge or dge, a conversion chart for liter sales, and the brand name of the natural gas fuel.

The CDFA is collecting feedback on the modified proposal until Oct. 13.

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