Higher ethanol content problematic

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2011

Growth Energy, a lobby group for a large group of ethanol manufacturing plants in the Midwest, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in early 2010 to increase the ethanol content of motor fuels from the current 10 percent maximum (except for “Flex” fuel) to 15 percent, a 50 percent increase. The EPA allowed input into this proposal and was inundated with replies, mostly negative. Despite the response, the EPA began testing vehicles with 15 percent ethanol. In December 2010 the EPA issued “conditional approval” for the use of 15 percent ethanol gasoline in 2007-and-newer cars and light trucks. Then in January 2011 it extended the approval to use this new gasoline in 2001 through 2006 cars and light trucks, despite lawsuits against the EPA from eight different groups. The biggest concern expressed by litigants was the potential for “misfueling,” or using this gasoline in equipment that was not designed to operate with this fuel.

In the EPA’s conditional approval of this new fuel, they made the following statement on their website:

What Vehicles and Engines May Not Use E15?

• All motorcycles.

• All vehicles with heavy-duty engines, such as school buses, transit buses, and delivery trucks.

• All off-road vehicles, such as boats and snowmobiles (includes four wheelers and jet skis).

• All engines in off-road equipment, such as lawnmowers and chain saws.

• All 2000 model-year and older cars (and light trucks).

(Also gasoline powered home generators)

The EPA’s final rule on 15 percent ethanol gasoline can be found at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/regs/ fuels/additive/e15/index.htm.

The issue that concerns so many people is that all “major” oil refiners in the country (and in Louisiana) — Shell, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, BP, Marathon, Citgo and Conoco/Phillips — with very few exceptions, are blending all of their gasoline sold (at least in Louisiana) as ethanol gasoline.  Sources of ethanol-free gasoline are becoming fewer and fewer. There are only four small refineries that still sell ethanol-free gas in Louisiana, except for a small amount sold to south and north Louisiana by Citgo through an exchange agreement with Conoco/ Phillips in the Lake Charles area. In many states it is nearly impossible to locate a station that sells ethanol-free gasoline, and in fact, several states require all gas sold in their state contain ethanol. And this is despite the fact the EPA only requires refineries blend 8 percent of their total gasoline sales as ethanol gas in 2011.  

I am a retired chemist who worked for over 32 years in the oil and petrochemical industry and have been researching ethanol gasoline issues relative to the negative impact it has on marine engines and lawn and garden tools for several years. I created a new website, www.PeteLandrysReal Gas.com, in early 2011 to help boaters and fishermen locate sources of ethanol-free gas. The website includes a list of ethanol free gas stations in all of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, plus pages of information on the latest national news on ethanol gas. The ethanol-free gas station list had over 1,022 ethanol-free gas stations in Louisiana before the largest remaining supplier of ethanol-free gas to south and north Louisiana elected to also start selling all of its gas as ethanol gas near the end of June 2011. After Marathon Oil stopped selling ethanol-free gas, it forced more than 50 ethanol-free stations to date to switch to ethanol gas since their distributor could no longer supply them with ethanol-free gas. The concern is there will likely be many, many more stations that will be required to switch to ethanol gas because of less and less availability of ethanol-free gas. 

So, why are nearly all major oil refineries blending essentially all of their gas as ethanol gasoline when they are only required to blend 8 percent of their total gasoline sales as ethanol gas in 2011?  Many believe it is because since 2004 the federal government has been giving refineries a 45-cent-per-gallon Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit to blend ethanol gas. In 2010 alone, this tax credit totaled over $5 billion! This credit is currently set to expire Dec. 31 of this year. The U.S. Senate voted in June to let this credit expire and not extend it. The U.S. House is set to vote on it soon.

The greatest concern that will be facing consumers in the near future is that if all current 10 percent ethanol stations convert to selling the new 15 percent ethanol gasoline next year, and, if sources of ethanol-free gas are not readily available, there will be a crisis

of major proportions in Louisiana and across our country. Should this happen, people who own

2000 and older model cars and

light trucks, vehicles with heavy-duty engines, such as school buses, transit buses and delivery trucks, boats, motorcycles, four wheelers, jet skis, snow mobiles, chain saws and all lawn and garden tools will not have fuel available to operate this equipment. In Louisiana alone, there are 319,950 registered boats. Considering all other

equipment, it will likely impact millions of people in Louisiana alone. Oil refineries will be

faced with a huge public relations nightmare if they do not blend ethanol-free gasoline and make it readily available to consumers to prevent this potential crisis. Hopefully U.S. refinery management will soon realize this situation and respond to this potential crisis and start blending and selling ethanol-free gas again (especially 87 octane regular gas) and make it available at their gas stations. 

So when consumers begin seeing the new 15 percent ethanol gas at service stations, buyer beware! Read the new orange warning label carefully.

Don’t be fooled by the likely cheaper price and be tempted to put it in vehicles and engines it is not designed for. The consequences could be very costly.

“Pete” Landry can be contacted by email at way2gopete@yahoo.com.