California marine dock mistakenly receives E100

By Kris Bevill | September 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted Sept. 19, 2008 at 1:45 p.m. CST

Labor Day weekend is one of the most popular times of the year for boating enthusiasts to get out on the water. In anticipation of the busy weekend, Two Harbors Enterprises, a fueling dock on tiny Santa Catalina Island near the coast of southern California, ordered fuel from their distributor to top off their tanks.

A mistake at the refinery resulted in Two Harbors' storage tanks being pumped full of E100 rather than the unleaded gasoline that had been ordered. Brad Wilson, chief marketing officer for the Santa Catalina Island Co., said its subsidiary, Two Harbors, had no idea it had mistakenly received the shipment of ethanol until someone mentioned that the fuel didn't smell right.

"The refinery actually made the error and put ethanol into an unleaded container," he said. The E100 was then shipped to the distributor before being sent along to Two Harbors - marked as unleaded gasoline the whole way.

Two Harbors' tanks were not empty at the time of the ethanol delivery, so the resulting mixture that was unknowingly made available to customers was approximately an E40 blend. Wilson estimated that by the time the discovery was made 200 boats had been fueled with E40 rather than unleaded gasoline. A handful of land vehicles, mostly Two Harbors' company vehicles, had also filled their tanks with E40.

Wilson was not aware of the pure ethanol being mistakenly delivered by the distributor to any other fuel retailers.

Two Harbors took immediate action to remove the higher blend of ethanol from their tanks and correct any damage that could possibly have been done, Wilson said. The refinery was contacted and accepted responsibility for its mistake. Both the refinery and distributor have been "very cooperative," Wilson added.

"We took a very aggressive approach in trying to contact all of the boaters that did purchase gas," Wilson said. "We don't know everyone but we tried to get the word out to all boaters that were in Two Harbors at that time and might have purchased gas here that there was an issue." His company is offering assistance in switching out the fuel from any boat that purchased fuel at Two Harbors during the Labor Day weekend. Wilson said there hadn't been any reports of damage yet and that immediate damage was not a great concern.

The time of the year poses the greatest risk for potential damage to boats. Labor Day signals the end of the season for many boaters and tanks that are filled with high blends of ethanol could become damaged if left over the winter. "That's why we're so adamant about getting the word out," Wilson said.