Marine industry advocates say high-ethanol gas is not clearly labeled, causing boaters to mis-fuel. Photo: NMMA

High-Ethanol Gas Coming Back, Due to Gas Price Spike

In an effort to combat this spring’s spike in gas prices, President Joe Biden announces an emergency waiver to allow high-ethanol gasoline during the summer months. That could increase the fuel supply, easing prices for drivers. But it could also pose a danger to boat engines, as the marine manufacturing industry fears.

President Biden made the announcement last week during a visit to an ethanol plant, saying the government would ease restrictions on E15 gas, “that uses more ethanol from homegrown crops”, citing a 10-cent per gallon savings versus E10 gasoline. Typically E15 sales are prohibited beginning June 1 under the Clean Air Act due to air pollution concerns, but this year the high-ethanol gas will continue to be sold through summer.

E15 is banned for use in marine engines year-round because it can potentially damage on-board fuel tanks. Because of variations in temperature, moisture binds with the ethanol and settles as sludge at the bottom of the tank. According to the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA), E15 is not safe for engines or fuel systems on boats (or even other small engines, like those in lawnmowers, chainsaws, and generators). Use of E15 even voids some marine engine warranties.

While you won’t find E15 sold at fuel docks, many boaters tow their boats, and thus fill their tanks at gas stations. Fuel labeling at land-based stations can lead to boaters mistakenly putting high-ethanol gas where it doesn’t belong. BoatUS says it’s easy for vessel owners to get tripped up.

“While we understand the need to save money, we are concerned that fuel retailers may market E15 (15% ethanol) fuel, such as ‘regular 88’ or ‘regular unleaded’ as a lower-cost alternative to E10,” says BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy. “With almost no safeguards in place, there is a real chance that boat owners, looking for a bargain will misfuel their boats with E15 fuel.”

E15 gasoline is prohibited by federal law for use in boat engines and voids many engine warranties. Noted by Boat U.S., labeling at land-based fuel stations has caused confusion among boaters, leading some to mistakenly pump the incorrect gas. This “misfueling” could occur more frequently if E15 gas is offered throughout the summer months, when boaters are busy filling up. NMMA has argued in the past that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “efforts to inform the public about the dangers of E15 are woefully inadequate.” The association cites a study from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute that finds more than three out of five Americans mistakenly assume that any gas sold at gas stations is safe for all of their engines.

In a White House fact sheet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator says it will consider modifications to E15 fuel pump labeling. EPA says it will also “work with states to ensure there are no significant air quality impacts through the summer driving season.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano