Southwestern Energy Company (NYSE: SWN) opened its first compressed natural gas (CNG) station by one of its subsidiaries on Friday.

The station, located at 16038 Highway. 65 South in Damascus, is the first CNG fueling station in central Arkansas that is open to the public.

SWN will use the station to fuel its current fleet of 40 CNG-powered vehicles. The company is expected to increase that fleet to 100 by the end of the year.

"As gasoline prices continue to remain high, CNG provides consumers with a more affordable option to fuel their vehicles," said Steve Mueller, Southwestern Energy president and CEO.

The price per gallon equivalent at the station is currently $1.60. According to Mueller, CNG has benefits that go beyond the price at the pump.

"One of the biggest benefits of the compressed natural gas at our station is that it comes directly from the Fayetteville Shale, which means it’s domestically produced," he added. "Natural gas is abundant in Arkansas. We are able to capture that resource, use it to fuel our fleet and provide this valued source of energy to other Arkansans."

CNG has environmental benefits as well. Vehicles powered by CNG produce lower levels of emissions and pollutants compared with diesel and gasoline. Due to less carbon residue, vehicle life can be expected to increase by 75 percent, according to industry studies. 

Arkansas has four CNG stations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center.

Fort Smith is currently home to the state’s only other public-use station. The others are privately held. The City of North Little Rock is expected to open its CNG station in the coming months.

(Crain Automotive in Conway has a fueling station, providing compressed natural gas to Conway Chamber of Commerce’s signature van.)

Mueller says local residents stop by the Damascus station frequently to inquire about CNG and how they can convert or purchase a new CNG-powered vehicle.

Interest is also coming from some of the company’s vendors.

"Several of our vendors in the Fayetteville Shale play are in the process of adding CNG vehicles to their fleets," said Mueller. "That’s exciting news for us. We’re proud to be part of an industry that is providing consumers a domestically produced alternative fuel source that is not only clean and affordable, it’s abundant."

The station currently has three CNG pumps with six dispensers. The unmanned facility is open 24 hours a day. 

Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN)

Southwestern Energy Company is an integrated company whose wholly-owned subsidiaries are engaged in oil and gas exploration and production, natural gas gathering and marketing. The majority of the company’s operations are located in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Additionally, SWN is currently conducting an exploration program in New Brunswick, Canada. SWN led the discovery and development of the Fayetteville Shale play and today is the largest operator in the shale producing approximately 1,635 million cubic feet of gas per day as of Dec. 31, 2010.