An Amoco station in Ellicott City would be the county's first commercial service station capable of fueling natural gas-powered cars and trucks, if the oil company wins government approval.
Amoco Oil Co. hopes that by early next year, the station -- on U.S. 40 east of North Ridge Road -- will be filling cylinders in natural gas-powered fleets and perhaps a few private vehicles.
The county Planning Board last week heard plans for the service on the 1.4-acre site and unanimously recommended that the Board of Appeals approve it.
"We are dying for them to open the site at that Amoco. We will be eager first customers," said Janet McGlynn, executive director of the county's Urban-Rural Transportation Alliance (URTA). The alliance christened its two natural gas-powered, seven-passenger Ford vans in July, and has had to fuel them each day at a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. facility in Woodlawn.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, half of URTA's fleet of 22 vehicles must run on alternative fuels by the end of the decade, Ms. McGlynn said.
BG&E; would be both the supplier and the best customer for the Ellicott City outlet. The company has a fleet of 120 vans powered by compressed natural gas, and plans to fuel vehicles from its Ilchester Road facility at the Amoco station.
The utility, which plans to have 500 such vehicles by 1997, operates five locations in central Maryland. The Ellicott City site would be the first commercial facility with the service.
Although they recommended approval, Planning Board members asked about the safety of storing and dispensing the natural gas vapor.
Board member Theodore Mariani said he was concerned about a "major array of cylinders under very high pressure" above ground at the site.
But board Vice Chairwoman Joan Lancos said other people better qualified to judge the safety of the facility had reviewed its plans.
The county Department of Fire and Rescue Services, in a letter to county planners, said the facility would not pose any problem, provided installation and operation meet national fire protection standards.
About 700 stations sell compressed natural gas nationwide, with about two new ones opening each week, said Anthony J. Tangires, who supervises BG&E;'s natural gas marketing effort.
At the Ellicott City station, the fuel would be sold for 80 cents an "equivalent gallon," and would be pumped out of above-ground storage cylinders into the vehicles' gas cylinders with pumps behind the station's existing building. A normal five- to 10-minute fill-up will last about 150 miles.
Because there are so few places to get natural gas, URTA's vans have been fitted with extra tanks to give them a range of 200-250 miles, Ms. McGlynn said.
"If you run out of gas, you have no road service," she added.
Amoco, a major producer of natural gas, would pay the $250,000 cost of installing the service in Ellicott City.
In July, Baltimore-based Crown Central Petroleum Corp. and BG&E; opened the state's first commercial natural gas service in downtown Annapolis. The Howard County facility would be the second.
Federal regulations under the Clean Air Act will require companies and government agencies to buy vehicles that use natural gas and other cleaner-burning fuels.
By 1998, 30 percent of vehicles bought by businesses and government agencies with 10 or more vehicles must run on cleaner fuels. By 2000, that requirement will be 70 percent.