Storm clouds are brewing once more on the ethanol front.
The EPA is currently gathering comments on a waiver proposal that would allow the amount of ethanol blended in gasoline to increase 50 percent, from what’s known as E10 to E15. Any way you measure it, that’s bad news. Ethanol, gasoline and the wet world that boats call home simply aren’t a good mix. Boat engines — and a host of other types of equipment — just were not designed to run on E15.
This spring Erik Klockars and I worked for the second time in three years on one of the carburetors on my outboard, a project that came courtesy of E10. An experienced marine mechanic in southeastern Connecticut, Klockars says ethanol has probably been responsible for several hundred fuel-related repairs he’s made in the last few years.
“Ethanol and marine fuel systems are simply a bad combination,” says Klockars, a technical consultant for Soundings magazine. “Even boaters who do everything right in terms of keeping their fuel fresh and adding stabilizers and other conditioners have had problems. E15? That would be a disaster. A real disaster. E10 has been bad enough."
"E15? That would be a disaster.
-- Erik Klockars,
A couple years ago, I mothballed a fiberglass fuel tank gelcoated to match my Boston Whaler because of the nasty stuff ethanol can do to fiberglass. That was a relatively easy fix given that the tank was deck-mounted, but the change cost me several hundred dollars — a small price compared to those boaters having to change out integral fiberglass tanks. It wasn’t that long ago that an FRP tank was considered the best you could buy. What a difference a little ethanol makes.
But it’s not just the hassle, frustration or “inconvenience” of having a poor-running gasoline engine that’s the problem here. The real issue is safety. Lose an engine coming into a tricky inlet at dark due to an ethanol fuel problem or have one conk out while backing into a slip in a crosswind, and you know what I’m talking about.
The other area that needs more study and attention is ethanol’s role in causing fuel line leaks. Has the number of boat fires and explosions increased since the arrival of E10? At least one national safety expert believes that may be the case. A bill currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives would, among its provisions, require a much-needed study of ethanol and its impact on marine engines, including its role in fires and explosions.
Enough. E15 is a bad idea. It’s time to put down the sandpaper or chamois for five minutes and let the EPA know how you feel. Time to sound off. This is one battle we don’t want to lose. At the very least, no changes should be made until extensive, independent testing is done. Let’s take the politics out of this debate for a change and inject a little “real” science into the process.
The comment period has been extended until July 20. EPA says it will make a decision by Dec. 1. The easiest way to comment is through the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which you can go to by clicking here or click here to read the document details.
Let your voice be heard on this issue.