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Hurricane Harvey Causes Fuel Changes

Due to the fuel supply emergency caused by Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a waiver, which relaxes the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) requirement so E15 may be sold immediately in 38 states, including Nebraska.

As of Aug. 31, more than 20 percent of the U.S. oil refining capacity remains offline due to hurricane and flooding damage. Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) predicts a worst-case scenario price spike of 40 to 60 cents.

Under normal circumstances, reformulated gasoline and low volatility conventional gasoline (winter blends) can only be sold after Sept. 15. This short-term waiver helps ensure an adequate fuel supply throughout the country.

By blending more ethanol, the fuel supplies can go further, especially if flex-fuel-vehicle-owners fill up with E85 and drivers with a vehicle 2001 or newer choose E15, noted Jan tenBensel, Nebraska Ethanol Board vice chairman, who farms south of Cambridge, Nebraska.

“One of easiest things we can do to help with Hurricane Harvey recovery is use more ethanol,” tenBensel said. “By using our homegrown, renewable fuel, we can allow petroleum to be diverted to areas that are in a greater need, which also helps mitigate price hikes.”

E15 is a fuel blend containing 15 percent ethanol, just 5 percent more ethanol than the most commonly used fuel in the U.S. – E10.  E15 is often sold at a 5 to 10-cent per gallon discount to E10, and is higher octane for better vehicle performance. E85 contains up to 85 percent ethanol and should only be used in flex fuel vehicles.

“EPA’s expanded emergency waiver allows us to continue to show that ethanol is a high-octane, low cost alternative,” said Pam Miller, Renewable Fuels Nebraska executive committee chair. “RFN recently launched HuskerFuel.com, a website and brand campaign to bring awareness to Nebraska-produced biofuels and higher ethanol blends, like E15 that are available to consumers across the state.”

Due to a quirk in federal gasoline volatility regulations, E15 sales to non-flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) are usually halted from June 1 to September 15. The EPA waiver enacted because of this natural disaster means anyone with a 2001 and newer vehicle can again fill up with E15.

“With gas prices predicted to rise for the foreseeable future, purchasing higher ethanol blends is one way consumers can help free up fuel for areas impacted by the hurricane, and keep money in their own pockets,” said Dave Merrell, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board, who farms near St. Edward, Nebraska. “Ethanol blends are truly better fuels that cost less.”

Nebraska drivers can find higher blends of ethanol throughout the state by visiting  www.AmericanEthanolNE.org or www.HuskerFuel.com.

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