E15 can help alleviate fuel shortages from pipeline shutdown

By Erin Voegele | May 11, 2021

Representatives of the ethanol industry are urging U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan to take immediate steps to facilitate the increased use of E15 to help alleviate fuel shortages in states impacted by the recent ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline.

Regan on May 11 issued an emergency fuel waiver to help relieve fuel shortages in states where the supply of reformulated gasoline has been impacted by the pipeline shutdown. The action waives the federal Reid vapor pressure (RVP) requirements for fuel sold in reformulated gasoline areas of the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to facilitate the supply of gasoline. The waiver is effective through May 18.

The Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy are encouraging the EPA to also take immediate steps to facilitate the increased use of E15 to help fill the void in gasoline supplies.

In a letter to Regan, Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA, urges the agency to take two actions. “First, EPA could suspend the requirements outlined in sections 1090.1400 – 1090.1450 of Subpart O (“Survey Provisions”) and section 1090.1510 of Subpart P (“Retailer and Wholesale Purchaser-Consumer Provisions”) to Part 1090 of the Code of Federal Regulations,” Cooper wrote. “Second, EPA could immediately adopt the changes it recently proposed to Underground Storage Tank (UST) regulations in 86 Federal Register 5094 (January 19, 2021). We encourage EPA to also evaluate whether other provisions of Part 1090 should be temporarily suspended to allow for greater use of ethanol during this emergency. These actions would allow many retailers who do not sell E15 today to immediately begin offering the fuel without being unduly delayed.”

Cooper also stressed that at least 180,000 barrels per day of ethanol production capacity is currently idle and could be “quickly activated or reoriented to help alleviate impending fuel shortages on the East Coast.”

“For many reasons, utilizing domestically produced low-carbon fuel to help offset the supply shortage is preferable to importing more petroleum products, as is currently being planned,” he continued.

Cooper also noted that the Colonial Pipeline outage underscores a need for more diversity and flexibility in the U.S. transportation fuels sector. “Overreliance on petroleum has left our transportation fuels infrastructure vulnerable to disruption and volatility, with American consumers bearing the brunt of price spikes and fuel shortages,” he wrote. “By comparison, the fuel ethanol industry’s infrastructure is unconcentrated, dispersed, and uses a variety of efficient delivery channels.”

Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, also sent a letter to Regan and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm calling for the agencies to immediately reduce restrictions on higher ethanol-blended fuels to provide relief from supply disruptions and rising gas prices. “By immediately removing remaining regulatory hurdles and providing greater access to E15, you can help keep fuel prices in check for American consumers and ease concerns about fuel supply,” she wrote.

“We ask that you make E15 broadly available at all fuel terminals in areas impacted by related fuel shortages,” Skor continued. “We also request EPA finalize the proposed rule that would broaden the availability of existing infrastructure for use with E15 and related labeling concerns. We also urge you to remove unnecessary misfuelling requirements, including restrictions on the use of E15 in shared fueling hoses with 10 percent blended fuel and related fuel sampling requirements. Finally, we strongly encourage the government to strengthen its use of higher ethanol blends such as E85 in its current flex-fuel vehicle fleet.”