The Great Nat Gas Giveaway

What do you do when the commodity you produce and sell is cheaper than it's been in a decade? Why, you give away trucks that run on the stuff, of course. In perhaps the most bizarre example of giving away the razor to sell the blades, Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN) started giving away trucks that run on natural gas last week.

Please, sir, buy more natural gas
If you've been following natural gas prices, you can understand the logic here. Southwestern is the eighth largest producer of U.S. natural gas. And unlike diverse competitors ExxonMobil or Anadarko, its production is almost entirely natural gas. Anything to drive up demand, like vehicles that run on natural gas, is going to help Southwestern in the future.

Though the company performed well in 2011, the persistent basement-dwelling price of methane will make 2012 challenging. Like Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) , Southwestern has curbed drilling and reduced its initial production guidance.

But back to those free trucks.

A truck in every pot
Though Southwestern only gave away 21 trucks to employees Wednesday, the hope was that the move would spur interest via word-of-mouth from the new car owners. Southwestern has also pledged to reimburse 100 employees for converting to CNG vehicles and plans to help install home-based fueling systems.

All of the trucks were made by General Motors, and included the Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Silverado, GMC Yukon, and GMC Sierra. The trucks run on compressed natural gas, or CNG. The giveaway is part of the company's bigger vision of natural gas as a fuel that includes investing in three CNG filling stations in Arkansas and converting 20% of Southwestern's fleet to CNG vehicles by the end of 2012.

The bigger picture
As Fool Brian Stoffel tells it, our oil-loving nation is making a change. Companies such as Westport Innovations (Nasdaq: WPRT) and Clean Energy Fuels (Nasdaq: CLNE) are making a big difference in how we get around. Westport continues to line up new contracts to develop engines for long-haul trucking fleets, and Clean Energy is building fueling stations to create a nationwide network that will make nat-gas-vehicle use much more viable for commercial purposes.

Chesapeake Energy is also getting in on the action, partnering with 3M (NYSE: MMM) to develop advanced CNG fuel tanks. The new tanks will be 10% to 20% lighter with 10% to 20% more capacity than the tanks on the market right now.

It seems that if the industry has any say, there will be plenty of natural gas vehicles in our future.