KENT - Shale natural gas is powering a growth story at a Kent company that makes water tanks for drilling sites, and an Obama administration official Tuesday said the government wants to make sure demand for the fuel grows as well.
"The president has directed the federal (vehicle) fleet to start to convert to natural gas," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said as he toured MAC Liquid Tank Trailer, which serves drillers in the nearby Marcellus and Utica shale rock formations.
Salazar said package delivery company UPS is converting many of its long-haul semi-trucks to natural gas - actually, liquefied natural gas that's made by lowering the temperature to 260 degree below zero - because natural gas is about a third the price of diesel.
Changing vehicles to natural gas also will require an extensive new network of fueling stations and storage areas, Salazar said.
"There are infrastructure needs on the highway system to have places where long-haul vehicles can fill up with natural gas," he said.
Salazar, who owns a ranch in Colorado, and Conny, who has a farm in the Beloit area of western Mahoning County, both stressed environmental safety when drilling and disposing of waste.
"We can't explore for natural gas in a way that harms the streams and country we live in," said Conny, who started the business in a garage in 1993 with $8,000 from his mother. "I trust the politicians to police this."
Conny's company makes large round aluminum sections that workers weld into 6,300-gallon vacuum tanks attached to truck frames that are used to carry clean water to drilling sites for hydraulic fracturing.
The 43-foot long tanks also are used to carry away wastewater for disposal and treatment.
In addition, the company makes "frack tanks" that store as much as 21,000 gallons on site, although the company plans to phase out that segment.
The Kent plant, which opened in October, employs about 100, with plans to grow to 150 to 180 by year's end, plant manager Ken Grosswiller said. The facility eventually will employ about 230, he said, adding aluminum welders are the biggest need.
The company, which is headquartered in Alliance and runs a plant in Salem, fell to about 160 workers from 500 in 2008, when the Great Recession hit. It now has about 900 workers, with annual sales of $200 million.
Later Tuesday, Salazar visited Lincoln Electric near Cleveland and spoke at the City Club in Cleveland about responsible energy development.