Six months after the Environmental Protection Agency allowed gas stations to begin using a higher blend of ethanol in their gasoline, most Oklahoma retailers have chosen not to market the fuel to regular vehicles.
The EPA authorized the 15 percent ethanol blend — known as E15 — at regular gasoline pumps over the objection of car manufacturers and the AAA.
The government requires retailers who use the fuel to include a label on the pump stating that E15 should be used only in flex-fuel vehicles — which are designed to run on up to 85 percent ethanol — and in 2001 and newer passenger vehicles.
“While EPA does not require retailers to sell E15, the label will help ensure consumers are aware about which vehicles are approved for its use,” the EPA said in a statement to The Oklahoman on Tuesday.
That label doesn't go far enough, said Sharon Basel, communications manager for environment and energy initiatives at General Motors.
“E15 is safe only in our 2012 model year vehicles and later and in our flex-fuel vehicles we have on the road,” she said. “In every instance, we recommend people look at their owner's manual, which specifies which fuels are safe for use. E15 would void the warranty if the vehicle is still under warranty.”
Most Oklahoma retailers have chosen to stay out of the discussion.
Stillwater-based OnCue Express sells E15, but only at a separate terminal labeled for flex-fuel vehicles only.
“We want to take a safe approach with our customers,” OnCue CEO Jim Griffith said. “There is still debate about whether E15 will work with a regular vehicle. I don't even want to get into that. I know E15 works just fine in a flex-fuel vehicle, so that's where we sell it.”
E15, however, has not been a popular choice in Oklahoma, Griffith said.
“We sell some E85, but we don't sell much at all of the E15,” he said.
Because of the low demand, Griffith said he does not expect to add the 15 percent blend at other locations and likely will remove the option from its existing stations.
Tulsa-based QuikTrip does not offer any ethanol blend higher than the standard E10, or 10 percent ethanol mixture.
“There doesn't appear to be much demand for E85. If we sold it, it would be wasting a pump where we could otherwise be using a lot of volume,” spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said. “With regards to E15, in our opinion there are still many unanswered questions that we're uncomfortable with. The biggest is motorists mistakenly using E15 when your manufacturer says it could void the warranty.”
A blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline — known as E10 — quickly has become the most commonly used fuel in the country. E10's adoption has been led by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which requires gasoline producers to blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol into the country's gasoline by 2015.
The EPA this summer granted two partial wavers that allow — but do not require — E15 to be sold more widely.
AAA has called for the EPA to reverse course and prevent E15 from being marketed for anything other than a flex-fuel vehicle.
“In our estimation, the jury is still out,” AAA Oklahoma spokesman Chuck Mai said. “AAA nationally has done a great deal of research on E15 and has uncovered conflicting studies. Some say it's as safe as baby's milk, but other studies show it has a high level of corrosiveness that will denigrate the engine and fuel line over time.
“The bottom line is we just don't know. We feel that rushing E15 to the marketplace until we do know is foolish and compromises motorists' safety.”
Ethanol advocates, however, dismiss the concerns as fear mongering.
“The fact is that E15 is the most studied fuel in the Environmental Protection Agency history,” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “They studied more than 100 vehicles for more than three years. The miles driven on the vehicles were the equivalent of 12 round trips to the moon.
“This is about one thing: market share. Oil companies don't like that ethanol is now 10 percent of the barrel. They don't want ethanol to be 15 percent of the barrel.”