8 Ways Fuel Contamination Can Spoil a Fuel Operation

No matter what industry you are in, detecting problems at the onset and before things can get worse is a worthy goal that can mean the difference between profit and loss, and the life and death of your business.

In the fueling industry, one of the biggest headaches facing convenience store owners and operators concerns detecting the presence of contaminated fuel in dispensers and underground storage tanks. Having proper checks and balances, such as routine filter dispenser maintenance, is one of the best methods available for keeping fuel quality in check and at relatively low-cost, considering some of the negative ramifications contaminated fuel can present.

Consequences of Dispensing Contaminated Fuel

If left unchecked, contaminated fuel can cause serious problems that can manifest in one or more of the following ways:

1. Loss of Vehicle Performance, Sputtering or Engine Failure.

A customer who pumps contaminated gas into their vehicle may experience loss of acceleration, spontaneous or unstable changes in speed and sputtering. In more severe cases, the engine may seize, leaving the customer who has pumped the contaminated gas stranded or unable to pull away from the dispenser. After getting the repair bill (which can range from $500 for a fuel system flush or up to $17,000 for larger repairs), the customer may call on those responsible to reimburse them for the inconvenience.

2. Deterioration of Customer Loyalty. 

If a gas station dispenses contaminated gas, the station might not know how many customers were affected. By then, it might be too late to repair the damage to your business’ reputation. In severe cases, local news coverage and negative social media reviews can further compound the problem, driving exponentially more customers away from you. (For consideration: with social media, word of mouth is more powerful than ever before.)

3. Service Disruptions and Revenue Losses. 

Once the source of the contamination is identified, gas station operators will need to cordon off the offending dispensers until all contaminated fuel is removed and replaced. This process can take up to several days or weeks, further impacting consumer confidence and loyalty.

4. Loss of Fuel Inventory.

Not only will you have to pay to have the contaminated fuel removed, but you will have to eat the investment that was made to purchase the load of fuel, putting an additional financial drain on your operation.

Consequences of Neglecting Fuel Contamination in Your Underground Storage Tank

Dispenser filters often provide early warning signals to serious system problems in the fueling system, such as corrosion. Since filters collect bits of corrosion particulate, a visual inspection of the filter can help you identify signs of contamination and other potential problems. Not checking for these signs regularly or rectifying problems when they are detected can lead to serious consequences, such as: 

5. Storage Tank Leakage.

Contaminated fuel contains organic microbes, which can eat away at underground storage tanks over time, raising serious environmental concerns. Depending on the severity of the deterioration, you may be responsible for payment of expensive studies, repairs, removal and clean-up costs.

6. Penalties and Fines.

Failing to mitigate leaky underground storage tanks can land you in hot water. The Environmental Protection Agency can charge you up to $37,500 for every day in non-compliance of a corrective action order.

7. Expensive Cleanup Costs. 

The average cost of cleanup for a leaky storage tank can cost as much as $275,000 and range from $1,000 to more than $2 million.

8. Store Closure.

In some severe cases, contaminated fuel can sound the death knell for independent gas station and convenience store operators. The sheer cost of mitigation can be too much for an independent operator to bear, unfortunately leaving closure as the only prudent financial option on the table.

Proactive measures to manage contamination have been shown to be more cost-effective than reactive measures to correct serious fuel quality issues. It is recommended that fuel sites experiencing warning signs of contamination, such as clogged filters or premature slow flow, consult with a tank compliance company about remediation and collaborate with them to develop a prevention strategy.