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Big Pay Day May Be Coming for Natural Gas Vehicle Stocks

Tickers in this article: LNG HMC CLNE EOG WPRT
PORTLAND, Oregon (TheStreet) -- Driving around my area this Memorial Day Weekend was an expensive proposition. Here in the great state of Oregon it was hard to find unleaded gasoline for less than $4.19-a-gallon.

That means to fill a 15-gallon fuel tank cost around $63, and I'm aware there are many states where the cost is significantly higher.

We're spending a fortune burning a petroleum based fuel and the cost is projected to go even higher in the months and years ahead.

The good news is that many nations of the world including America are making progress by making a shift towards vehicles that burn natural gas instead.

According to the organization Natural Gas Vehicles for America, there are about 120,000 natural gas vehicles (NGV) on U.S. roads today and more than 14.8 million worldwide.

There are about 1,000 NGV fueling stations in the U.S., and half of them are open to the public. That number is expected to grow significantly in the next 24 months.

Last year, a former officer of the publicly-traded company EOG Resources drove across America with a NGV-powered Hummer to prove it is possible.

The fuel cost of the trip was almost half of what it would cost using regular unleaded gasoline.

Honda Motor offers a Civic that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). In fact, it's the only factory-built CNG car in the country available to non-fleet customers. It's available in 36 states so far and the review by Car and Driver for the 2012 model is a fascinating read.

The CNG Civic has many advantages, including a database of publicly accessible CNG refueling stations and, of course, it's cleaner-burning and gets better mileage than a comparable gasoline guzzling vehicle.

Yet, as Car and Driver states, another big advantage is the almost ludicrous difference between the price of a gallon of petroleum-based fuel and a gallon of Compressed Natural Gas:

"The national average for CNG in January 2012 (the most recent month of the EPA’s regular reports) was $2.13 per equivalent gasoline gallon.

"In EPA highway figures and using the most recent national average price of $3.52 per gallon for regular gasoline, the Civic LX and hybrid cost 9.0 and 8.0 cents per mile compared with just 5.6 cents per mile for the CNG."

Now with gasoline prices heading back toward $5-a-gallon, and even with CNG prices rising to $2.50 per equivalent gasoline gallon, the savings per mile is getting close to 50%. There's another added bonus -- the good feeling drivers of CNG vehicles receive from knowing that the carbon emissions from burning natural gas are far less polluting to the air we breathe.

For investors, the opportunities are represented by the companies that are making the refueling stations, the engines that run on compressed or liquid natural gas (LNG) and energy companies that provide LNG.