National Petroleum News

Date: Month Posted On: October 29, 2010

Gasoline with 15 percent ethanol has been given the green light by the Environmental Protection Agency, but at least one state, Oregon, is giving it a red light, at least for the time being. Will other states follow?

“Obviously, it’s not a mandate,” Brandon Wright, manager of regulatory affairs and communications for the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA), said in a telephone interview with NPN MarketPulse. “If you want to retail E15 you can. We don’t anticipate a rush of folks going out there to convert existing tanks to E15 or making investments to bring E15 dispensers online.”

Marketers must consider a range of questions before making such decisions, Wright said. “Is there a market for it?” Wright asked. “Are there going to be customers who want E15?”

Marketers will have to decide whether to offer E15 based partly on the vehicles in their market, Wright said. The age of vehicles in a market varies from market to market, he noted. “What you see in an urban area or a more upscale neighborhood is probably going to be different than what you might see in western Pennsylvania or in some other parts of the country,” he said.

Since 1979, up to 10 percent ethanol or E10 has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and non-road vehicles. On Oct. 13 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waived a limitation on selling fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks. The waiver applies to fuel that contains up to 15 percent ethanol – known as E15 – and only to model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made the decision after a review of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) extensive testing and other available data on E15’s impact on engine durability and emissions.

“Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks,” Jackson said.

But equipment manufacturers who supply storage tanks and dispensing equipment to fuel wholesalers and retailers have raised a host of concerns, some having to do with ethanol’s effect on equipment, some having to do with practical challenges of offering E15 (see “Gearing Up for Greater Ethanol,” a feature story on

The “vast majority” of equipment now installed at stations is certified to handle E10, Scott Negley, director of alternative energy products for dispenser manufacturer Dresser Wayne, said.

“The issue becomes the UL approval of equipment,” Negley said, referring to Underwriters Laboratories, which establishes safety standards for all manner of equipment, including that used in petroleum wholesaling and retailing operations. If operators begin storing and dispensing fuel with ethanol content greater than 10 percent, they could risk invalidating the UL approval or “listing” of their equipment, Negley said.

The EPA said it is proposing E15 pump labeling requirements, including a requirement that the fuel industry specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. There would also be a quarterly survey of retail stations to help ensure their gas pumps are properly labeled.

Meanwhile states, as Oregon has demonstrated, have concerns of their own.

“We’ve received several inquiries about E15, and whether Oregon plans to require or allow it,” Jason Barber, administrator of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Measurement Standards Division, said in a statement posted on the department’s website. “Even though it has been approved by EPA, several other steps need to happen at the state and national level before consumers can expect E15 at the pump in Oregon,” Barber said.

The most important step, as far as Oregon is concerned, is for the governor and state legislature to approve E15, Barber said. Another step is the creation of national standards for ethanol-gasoline blends up to E15, he noted. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) develops and maintains national standards for certain fuel mixtures, and most states require fuels and fuel blends to meet the appropriate standard. Currently, ASTM does not have a standard that covers E15, Barber said.

“We are members of the National Conference on Weights and Measures, as are most other states,” Barber continued. “We adopt their model fuel quality rules to ensure consistency with other states,” Barber said. “The National Conference is beginning to look at rules for E15, but it could be some time before the rules are approved.”

The EPA is considering further action to increase use of E15. For instance, a decision on its use in model year 2001 to 2006 vehicles will be made after EPA receives the results of additional DOE testing, which is expected to be completed in November, the agency said. No waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in model year 2000 and older cars and light trucks – or in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines – because currently there is not testing data to support such a waiver, the EPA said.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandated an increase in the overall volume of renewable fuels into the marketplace reaching a 36 billion gallon total in 2022. Ethanol is considered a renewable fuel because it is produced from plant products or wastes and not from fossil fuels. Ethanol is blended with gasoline for use in most areas across the country.

The E15 petition was submitted to EPA by Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers in March 2009. In April 2009, EPA sought public comment on the petition and received about 78,000 comments.

The petition was submitted under a Clean Air Act provision that allows EPA to waive the act’s prohibition against the sale of a significantly altered fuel if the petitioner shows that the new fuel will not cause or contribute to the failure of the engine parts that ensure compliance with the act’s emissions limits.