DANVILLE - A Geisinger Health System administrator says the company is studying the potential for a business partnership to create a natural gas fueling station.

Al Neuner, vice president of facilities operations, said in an e-mail through a spokesperson that the review is part of a continuing evaluation of a state grant program providing incentives for using natural gas to fuel fleet vehicles like large trucks and, in Geisinger's case, shuttle buses.

"Although this grant is somewhat attractive for vehicle purchase, the high cost item is the fueling station, which currently has no funding available," Neuner said in the e-mail. "We are evaluating whether there is a way to make this work by partnership with others.

"I suspect this will be a study item over the next several months."

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is offering $20 million over the next three years through its Natural Gas Vehicle Grant Program - $10 million in 2013, $7.5 million in 2014 and $2.5 million in 2015.

The funding covers about half the incremental costs to convert or purchase a fleet of at least five vehicles. Vehicles must weigh more than 14,000 pounds to qualify. The maximum award per vehicle is $25,000.

None of the funding, however, is eligible for infrastructure development for fueling stations, and access to such a facility or a plan to build at least one in Pennsylvania is a grant requirement.

Geisinger has been researching the use of natural gas vehicles over the past year, Neuner said, adding that it is too early to speculate where a potential fueling station would be constructed if the project were to become reality.

The cost to either convert or purchase new a natural gas vehicle compared to one fueled by diesel is significant. So, too, is the price of diesel fuel above natural gas, and over time, it's the fuel costs where savings potentially could be realized.

Diesel averaged $4.02 a gallon this week, and regular unleaded gasoline $3.39 a gallon, a federal agency reported. That's compared to the $2.16 average for the equivalent of one gallon of compressed natural gas, according to an industry website.

The application period for the first round of funding through the Natural Gas Vehicle Grant Program opened Dec. 1 and closes Feb. 1.

A transportation firm that operates shared-ride routes in Northumberland County, Rabbittransit, is also exploring the potential the grant presents, an company official said Tuesday.