City council to consider mandating oil blend with 15% ethanol

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The Chicago city council will consider an ordinance mandating the blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent oil, or E-15, this week.

The ordinance says any gas station that sells more than 850,000 gallons of gas a year and has the underground storage tanks necessary for E-15 would have one year to put E-15 in at every fueling station, in place of the mid grade fuel.

It would be 53 percent of the 470 stations in Chicago.

Click here to read the ordinance: Proposed Ordinance

The majority of the gas we fill our tanks with now is E-10. That's a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent oil.

E-15 is a blend with 50 percent more ethanol.

It's a move the ethanol industry is pushing hard.

"We think it's a great choice for consumers,” says Jeff Broin of POET & Growth Energy. “It's going to lower gas prices, clean up the environment  and make our country a lot less reliant on foreign sources of energy."

Illinois is the third largest ethanol producing state in the country with 14 ethanol plants.   The ethanol industry wants E-15 in Chicago so much that it has pooled together $10 million dollars to pay for gas stations to retrofit their pumps so they can fuel E-15.

Russ Garcia owns six gas stations in Chicago. He says none of his customers have asked for E-15 and worries no one would buy it over the mid-grade fuel it would replace.

“You are going to have less sales there cause you mandated they put in a product that nobody wants, “ says Jim Watson of the Illinois Petroleum Council. “So what's going to happen to the cities tax revs? They are going to go down. And all this is for what? The corn ethanol industry.”

Currently there are six stations in Illinois that sell E-15, just one in northern Illinois in Rochelle where E-15 is sold at the Petro Travel Plaza to give drivers a more diverse offering and a cheaper fuel. Manager Jill Sanders says none of her customers who use E-15 have reported problems with vehicle wear or misfueling.  Asked if it has caused any problems for drivers Sanders said, “No, absolutely not. "

E-15 accounts for about 6 percent of sales but Sanders thinks that number would be higher if there were less confusion surrounding E-15.

The confusion is whether specific vehicles can even take the fuel.

On the EPA approved label at the pump, it says vehicles model year 2001 or later can take the fuel. But Ford tells WGN News it only recommends E-15 for its vehicles model year 2013 and later and if used by other model years could result in "quality…durability… and performance problems"

WGN News reached out to 16 auto manufacturers.  Of the 12 that responded, none recommended the use of E-15 in their vehicles made before 2011 and several went so far as to say warranties would not cover damage caused by E-15 use.   Manufacturers say any newer models that do allow for E-15 use have engine hardware and components specifically designed for the fuel.

Based on manufacturers recommendations and AAA study concluded only 5 percent of the cars on the road today can use E-15 saying “Our worry is that consumers aren't ready for this … don't know what E-15 is … and don't know whether their car can use it.”

Despite that, the EPA is strong in its stance saying that it looked at over 30 studies conducted by industry, government and academia to come to come to its decision approving E-15 for use in any light duty car, truck or SUV made in 2001 or later.

So if this new fuel is mandated in Chicago, who do consumers trust on whether they should even use it?   It depends on who you ask.

Alderman Anthony Beale, the ordinance’s co-sponsor said, "I believe that those are the scare tactics that the big oil companies are putting pressure on car manufacturers to say these things."

Jim Watson of the Illinois Petroleum Council said, “In this case winners would be the corn ethanol industry. And the losers would be the residents of Chicago and the budget for the city of Chicago."

The issue will be brought up in finance committee on Monday and if approved taken to the full council for a vote on Wednesday.

Below is a PDF document of responses WGN received from the EPA and the auto manufacturers so you can see what each says about whether your car can handle E-15 and decide for yourself.

Many want to know if it is it cheaper. Yes. But opponents say it also has less energy so you'll be filling up more. Information on that and environmental impact is also included in the pdf.

PDF Document: E-15 Manufacturers Responses

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