Switch to low-sulfur heating oil brings corrosion concerns, too… – Advanced Fuel Solutions
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Oil Express Exclusive Report Serving Informed Petroleum Marketers Nationwide

Vol. XLIII, Issue No. 34 – August 31, 2020

Switch to low-sulfur heating oil brings corrosion concerns, too

The rollout of low-sulfur heating oil regulations in the Northeast is also leading to a wave of corrosion and other problems in outdoor home storage tanks across the region similar to those seen for many years by motor fuel retailers, according to a presentation at the ongoing Eastern Energy Expo virtual event. “As this product is being rolled out in different states, we have been picking up the pieces as fuel quality consultants,” said Mark Smith, director of U.S. Sales for Advanced Fuel Solutions during a recent EEE session.

Smith said the staggered rollout, which started with New York State in 2012 and has continued through Pennsylvania’s adoption of new environmental regulations for heating oil that start Sept. 1, “was a blessing” in that it gave service personnel time to learn the symptoms and respond to problems. While Smith’s company sells fuel additives intended to improve fuel quality, his observations are corroborated by anecdotal evidence seen by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which said it has heard of heating oil tank corrosion going back several years. The EPA doesn’t regulate heating oil tanks, so the agency doesn’t keep data on issues relating to them. But, speaking on background, a spokesperson for the agency said corrosion in home systems is a concern. In 2016, the EPA urged tank owners to inspect underground storage tanks containing diesel fuel after a study suggested a high incidence of corroded parts in these tanks. Diesel is similar to No. 2 heating oil. The agency said that while it estimated “there are at least 100,000 federally regulated USTs storing diesel fuel … the number of potentially affected tanks is significantly higher when counting similar-sized aboveground storage tanks and smaller unregulated USTs such as farm tanks and home heating oil tanks.” The reduction of sulfur in heating oil for the most part came about as part of an agreement between Northeast states to cut sulfur content from 500 ppm to 15 ppm. Fuel dealers have long known of the potential for corrosion in underground tanks that store low-sulfur diesel and biodiesel fuels. Lower-sulfur fuels are more hydroscopic, allowing for more moisture in the systems, Smith said. Increased moisture provides more opportunity for microbe proliferation, he said. Microbes excrete acid that damages storage tanks and metal fittings. Reducing sulfur levels allows microbes to grow, which can lead to corrosion problems. Smith cites research done in New York by the National Oilheat Research Alliance about four years after that state switched to low-sulfur heating oil. An initial examination of 114 residential tanks found 43% tested positive for bacteria or fungus, with about half of those showing moderate to heavy bacteria and 93% showing moderate to heavy fungus, he said. A second test of 36 residential tanks showed 86% testing positive for bacteria and fungus, though bacteria levels were slight. “This isn’t a situation that develops over decades or years and years,” said Barry Aruda, AFS’s Northeast Regional manager, during the EEE presentation. “If bacterial contamination is present in your tank, within 24 hours the millions that are already present can become billions. It happens quickly.” Combatting Corrosion Sean Cota, president and CEO of the National Energy & Fuels Institute, said proactive servicing and the proper use of additives are simple ways to head off tank problems. “The biggest thing that causes leakage is homeowners breaking things on the tank. From a degradation perspective, it relates mainly to water and whether or not the fuel is treated, so additives are really important when dealing with most of the problems, but you still need to get the water out,” he said.

During their presentation, Aruda and Smith said heating oil dealers should adopt measures for outdoor tanks similar to those already employed by gas stations to fight contamination. These include taking aggressive steps to prevent water from contaminating heating oil. There are many points along the supply chain where water can get into fuel, ranging from barges that are inadequately pumped out after being ballasted with water to switch loading among tanker trucks to leaky tank covers that allow rainwater to seep in. However, the industry can only control areas where they have access, Smith said. “The battle zone we face really is your customers’ tanks. Something like a broken plastic cover or leaky gaskets all allow water to get in,” Smith said. Fuel managers need to play an active role in assuring fuel quality, since customers will blame the heating oil company for any contamination in fuel they receive. Smith recommended when making deliveries to commercial facilities, staff check the tank first for water contamination to ensure the company isn’t later blamed for a problem that was already present. He also recommended that delivery services conduct bottom samplings of tanks, keep records, and train employees on best practices to avoid contamination. When making deliveries to outside tanks, drivers should inspect fittings and ensure tank caps are put back on properly to avoid water contamination. “I find with housekeeping, a hands-on approach helps customers recognize fuel quality issues,” he said.

Steve Cronin, scronin@opisnet.com

Advanced Fuel Solutions (AFS) develops, brands, and markets performance-enhancing fuel additives for wholesalers, dealers, jobbers, and fleets representing virtually every market segment—including on/off road diesel, gasoline, marine fuel, and home heating oil. Our team of innovators, experts, and jacks of all trades operate at all levels of the supply chain, offering superior fuel quality services and technical support built on decades of industry experience. We source the best available chemical components that deliver the highest, most ratable performance at the most competitive treat cost per gallon. There’s a reason that our very first customer is still with us today. At AFS, we treat our customers as carefully as we treat their fuel.

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