The natural gas boom is upon us. Largely because of new applications of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, natural gas production is projected to grow steadily and jump 56% from 2012 to 2014 according to an annual report by the Energy Information Administration. Because of increased demand for natural gas and related products, Trinity Industries (NYSE:TRN), Cummins (NYSE:CMI), Westport Innovations (NASDAQ:WPRT), and Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE) are set to see great increases in revenue over the next few years.
Natural gas is the energy of the future
With the price of oil increasing recently to around $100 a barrel, companies are looking for any way to escape this cash-sucking fuel. Over the next decade, demand will start to move from oil to natural gas as companies seek to decrease fuel costs. As Andrew Littlefair, the CEO of Clean Energy Fuels, explains, "The commodity cost per gallon of natural gas is around 47 cents. Adding in the expenses of having to haul it and store it, the cost at the pump would still only by around $1.50. Natural gas prices could double and total costs per gallon would still only be about $2.00. It should be easy competition against diesel at $4.00 and rising."
Warren Buffett recently said his railroad is looking into locomotives that run on liquid natural gas because it's so much cheaper than diesel. It's only a matter of time before other railroads, trucking companies, and car manufacturers do the same.
Well positioned companies
As demand for natural gas increases, suppliers will need to start shipping their product across the country. Trinity Industries recently bought out WesMor Cryogenic Companies and Alloy Custom Products – two companies that specialize in cryogenic shipping containers used to ship liquefied natural gas. Trinity understands that the demand for natural gas will grow rapidly over the next few decades and the company stands to profit from anyone who needs to transport liquefied natural gas within America. Unlike other railcar makers, Trinity has uniquely positioned itself to be the main player in the liquefied natural gas shipping container market.
Not only will there be demand to ship natural gas across America, there will also be demand for engines that run on natural gas. Cummins and Westport Innovations have collaborated and are leading the way with new natural gas engines. Cummins manufactures the actual engines whereas Westport is responsible for developing proprietary technology that is to be used in the engines. Although Westport's financial statements may not look strong on the surface, it is the leading company in this new and exciting industry of natural gas engines.
Lastly, all of these trucks and other vehicles will have to fill up their tanks at fueling stations. Clean Energy Fuels builds and operates compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas fueling stations. As more and more natural gas engines are sold throughout the country, demand will increase for fueling stations. Like Westport Innovations, Clean Energy Fuels is spending money hand over fist. The company is about halfway through building its America's Natural Gas Highway program, which aims to build hundreds of natural gas stations across the country.
Even though Clean Energy has high anticipated infrastructure costs, recent partnerships with United Parcel Service and General Electric show that Clean Energy isn't the only company betting on natural gas as a fuel of the future. Clean Energy recently signed a multi-year liquid natural gas fuel agreement with UPS to be its exclusive LNG fuel supplier. Along the same lines, Clean Energy has also partnered with General Electric to build MicroLNG plants that "rapidly liquefy natural gas while minimizing a site's physical footprint."
Optimism amid small profits
The income statements for many of these new firms look grim. Some have yet to post a profit and won't do so for many quarters to come. However, this isn't enough to scare away one big name investor: T. Boone Pickens. Pickens understands that natural gas is the future. He has made investments in many natural gas companies including Clean Energy Fuels, which he co-founded with Littlefair. He recently bought out Chesapeake Energy's remaining stake in the company in exchange for a $60 million promissory note, which increases Pickens' stake in Clean Energy Fuels to nearly 25%.
If oil prices continue to rise, big commercial and industrial players like GE and UPS will start to demand more natural gas products. They will need to have natural gas shipped to them in Trinity Industries containers, pumped into their tanks by Clean Energy Fuels, and carried away by trucks powered by a Cummins engine.