Retailer prepared for ULSD deadline

By Holly Jessen | October 13, 2006
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In preparation for a U.S. EPA deadline, employees of Chief Petroleum Co. were going from pump to pump Oct. 13, replacing labels that said low sulfur diesel with labels that said ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD)."(ULSD) was available, it was actually coming out of the nozzles, but today we've been going along and labeling the pumps," said Rich O'Connell, controller for Chief Petroleum.

ULSD is the new reality for diesel-powered highway vehicles in the United States. Low sulfur diesel, which has a maximum 500 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, is being phased out in favor of ULSD's 15 ppm, according to EPA spokesman John Millett.

As of Oct. 15, a U.S. EPA deadline kicks in requiring retailers that have chosen to sell the fuel to label it accordingly. Apart from the new labels, consumers won't notice anything different, Millett said. In fact, most of them were already filling up with ULSD without even knowing it.

Since June 1, 80 percent of the diesel fuel refineries import or refine has been required to be ULSD. With 2.4 million barrels of ULSD being produced daily, that's actually ahead of the EPA's requirement schedule. "Refineries are going beyond the required production levels for producing ULSD," Millett said. "Ninety percent of all highway diesel is now ULSD."

The requirement that all diesel fuel meet ULSD specifications doesn't kick in until Dec. 1, 2010, making the next four years a transition period. That's something there has been confusion over. However, due to the large amounts of ULSD already being produced it's already an essentially unavoidable reality for retailers, Millett said.

O'Connell confirmed that. Supplies of low sulfur diesel just aren't available, at least in his area. Chief Petroleum is based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Suppliers don't want to ship 500 ppm fuel by pipeline for fear of contaminating 15 ppm fuel, O'Connell said. There's also not enough storage to keep separate supplies of both fuels on hand, he added. "You have a choice, of course, to market it or not market it, but in this part of the world it's pretty much all ULSD," he said.

Chief Petroleum sells diesel at five "card lock" locations in Colorado Springs, Colo., Card lock locations are automated service stations without attendants or a convenience store. Customers have had questions about ULSD. "There seems to be a lot of confusion and a lot of fear," O'Connell said.

The biggest concern is the loss of lubricity due to the removal of sulfur from diesel. There are concerns that the low lubricity of ULSD will cause engine troubles, he said. However, potential problems were staved off by a federal mandate that requires lubricity additives be added to diesel fuel.

The EPA is excited about the switch to ULSD due to the expected health and environmental benefits, Millett said. The agency estimates that when the switch to ULSD is finalized, it will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 2.6 million tons and reduce particulate matter by 110,000 tons annually.

Overall, the switch to ULSD has gone well. "It's been a very smooth transition," Millett said.

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Holly Jessen is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach her at or (701) 746-8385.

Posted: 4:45 p.m. CDT Friday, October 13, 2006
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