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Concerns raised over increased ethanol content in gas

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Only one station in West Virginia sells a controversial type of higher-ethanol gasoline, but some state officials are still worried about what might happen if the fuel becomes more prevalent.

In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of E15, a mixture of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gas. A lower ethanol mixture, E-10, which is 10 percent ethanol, is already sold at most gas stations in West Virginia.

The EPA says that any vehicle built in 2001 or later can run on E15, but several automakers have disputed that. The automakers, including Chrysler, Toyota, Ford, Honda and Hyundai, say using E15 could damage fuel lines and void vehicle owners' warranties.

The American Automobile Association came out last week with similar concerns about E15.

Renewable fuels supporters say the fuel blend reduces greenhouse gas emissions and that it will decrease the United States' dependence on foreign oil. They say the danger to fuel lines is overstated, and with only a small number of stations nationwide selling the fuel, there's time to educate drivers.

Only one West Virginia gas station --located in the Clarksburg area -- sells E15 gas, said Jan Vineyard, president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association. That gas station got new equipment that was built for E15 gas, she said.

Without the right gas pumps, E15 gas can damage gas station equipment, Vineyard said. It can also void warranties on that equipment, she said.

Gary Howell, a Republican member of the state House of Delegates, introduced a resolution in the House earlier this year calling on federal authorities to stop the implementation of E15 gasoline until more can be known about its effect on engines.

The resolution didn't go anywhere, but Howell, owner of a mail-order auto parts business in Mineral County, plans to try again next year.

The EPA recommends the use of E15 only in flexible-fuel vehicles and those built in 2001 or later. Howell said that would rule out almost half of privately owned vehicles in West Virginia.

"Forty-five percent of the vehicles are older than 2001," Howell said. "They can't use E15, period."

He believes the state shouldn't be using E10, either, but acknowledges that it would be much more difficult to stop those sales.

According to the website pure-gas.org, which describes itself as the definitive list of stations that sell ethanol-free gas in the United States and Canada, only 18 gas stations in West Virginia sell ethanol-free fuel.

In Kanawha County, only two gas stations sell such fuel: an Exxon in Pinch and Oliver Fuels & Oils on MacCorkle Avenue in Jefferson, according to the website.

Only 12 million of the more than 240 million light-duty vehicles in the United States are approved by manufacturers to use the gasoline, according to AAA. Automotive engineering experts believe that sustained use of the gas, both in newer and older vehicles, could cause accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false "check engine" lights for vehicles not approved by manufactures to use E15, according to AAA.

A survey by AAA found that 95 percent of consumers it surveyed had not heard of E15. That means that many drivers could fill their tanks with the gasoline, not knowing it's not approved for all vehicles, AAA argued.

The organization has called on the federal government to stop the sale of E15 gas until more consumer education efforts and gas pumps can be labeled to ease problems for drivers and their vehicles.

Besides problems with engines, Howell said the use of ethanol fuel -- which is made from corn -- is driving up the costs for food.

"It's bad for consumers all around," he said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.

 

 


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