Govs. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio are right to be exploring whether state government vehicle fleets should include cars and trucks fueled by natural gas. They also are correct to be moving cautiously, however.
West Virginia and Ohio are involved in a 13-state consortium promoting use of natural gas in government vehicles. Two representatives, the governors of Colorado and Oklahoma, were in Detroit last week to discuss the initiative with the Big Three automakers. The idea is to encourage production of more cars and trucks that use natural gas instead of gasoline.
Proponents of the idea, including not just state officials but many in local governments, say gas may be cheaper than gasoline, saving taxpayers money. In addition, more natural gas cars and trucks would increase demand for the fuel, benefitting areas like ours with rich deposits of the fuel.
But it is a question whether artificial methods of increasing demand for gas are necessary or even wise in the long run.
Natural gas prices have plummeted during the past few years, going down to about $2 per thousand cubic feet. That prompted some companies to cut back on exploration and development of wells intended to produce ''dry'' gas, though it is important to note ''wet'' gas containing valuable chemicals still is in great demand.
Fairly recent developments have changed the outlook, however. President Barack Obama's war on coal has caused many power companies to decide to close coal-fired generating stations and switch to gas. By itself, that will result in an enormous increase in demand for the fuel.
Already, despite a mild winter, gas prices are trending upward. This week, gas was selling for around $2.80 per thousand cubic feet - an increase of about 40 percent during just the past six months. A price hike for petroleum of that magnitude in that amount of time would cause a national outcry.
Still, even at the current price, gas is a bargain.
But if prices continue to rise, natural gas vehicles may seem to be less of a good deal for consumers and taxpayers.
Again, Govs. Tomblin and Kasich are absolutely right to be looking into state vehicle fleet changeovers to natural gas. But the long-term outlook needs to be their guide concerning whether to proceed with such action.