RFA scores retailers for E85, E15 offerings; Big Oil gets an 'F'

By Susanne Retka Schill | July 08, 2014

The five Big Oil brands got an “F” in the Renewable Fuels Association’s score card for their poor performance in offering E15 or E85. A new report released July 8, shows that out of the nearly 48,000 retail gas stations carrying the brand of ConocoPhillips, BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil, fewer than 300 offer E15 or E85, or less than 1 percent.

Among the 34,000 stations carrying other refiner-affiliated brands, only Speedway/SuperAmerica and Cenex received high marks. About 13 percent of Speedway/SuperAmerica branded stations offering higher blends for an A-, and 6 percent of Cenex stations for a B grade. The other oil-refiner branded stations had percentages at 1 percent or less.  

The 74,000 independent, unbranded stations are four to six times more likely to offer E85, the report says. According to U.S. DOE data on E85 and RFA data on E15, 1,700 stations (2.3 percent) sell the higher blends. A separate data set pegs the number higher at 2,570 stations offering renewable fuels.

On the scorecard, RFA gave A+ to several independent/unbranded chains for offering higher blends at more than 25 percent of their stations, including Meijer, Thorntons, Kum & Go, Break Time and Kwik Trip. Meijer Gas took the top honors with 58 percent of its branded stations offering E85 or E15.

The scorecard accompanies RFA’s latest report outlining the strong arm tactics used to prevent or discourage the sale of renewable fuels at Big Oil-branded stations. “Big Oil companies are rigging the market to take away consumer choice and prevent many retailers from offering these clean, homegrown fuels,” RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen said in releasing the report. “When Big oil companies are doing everything they can to keep a lower cost, high performance fuel from the American public, we’ve got to do more.”

A favorite argument of oil companies is that they don’t own many stations and thus don’t have any control over stations offering E15 or E85, said Geoff Cooper, senior vice president. “If you step back, you quickly see the major oil companies still exert tremendous control. There’s a variety of methods used to shut out competition from renewable fuels.”

Among those Cooper listed were fuel contracts that require supplier exclusivity or minimum sales volumes of branded fuels. Contracts often require multiple grades of branded gasoline to be sold at all times or require intimidating warning labels on E85 or E15 dispensers. Branding agreements can discourage or prohibit retailers from promoting or advertising the availability of E85 and contracts can include substantial penalties for violating the terms.

The report also outlines a combination of policy and market-based solutions including:

- A federal investigation into anticompetitive practices

- Enforcement of the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act and Gasohol Competition Act

- Enforcement of the statutory Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requirements

- Investment in infrastructure

- Consumer education about the economic and environmental benefits of biofuels

- Incentivize the continued production of FFVs

The single most important thing, Dinneen stressed in the press call accompanying the release, is “we have to enforce the renewable fuels standard. The RFS was the mechanism to break the monopolistic hold the Big Oil companies have.”

The entire report, “Protecting the Monopoly: How Big Oil Covertly Blocks the Sale of Renewable Fuels,” is available here