Goodbye, regular gasoline

Minot and area residents are finding fewer choices at the gasoline pumps.

Regular gasoline is no longer available at most retailers. Consumer choices at the pump are becoming limited to an ethanol blend of 87 or 89 octane or premium non-ethanol gasoline with a 91 octane rating.

Regular gasoline has been a preferred choice for many consumers because of its higher miles per gallon performance versus ethanol blends and because of its known compatibility with certain models of outboard motors and other small engines. Most engine manufacturers have a recommended level of octane to achieve the best performance from their products. Some warn about the negative effects of ethanol.

In North Dakota, the minimum required octane rating for fuel is 87. Fuel that arrives at the Cenex Terminal west of Minot comes from a pipeline out of Laurel, Mont. It carries 85.5 percent octane.

“We add 91 premium and a 10 percent ethanol blend to bring it up to 87,” said Tony Bernhardt, Cenex/Enerbase of Minot. “91 octane is still premium, no ethanol. You may still get some 87 octane with no ethanol as you travel east, but those days are numbered.”

Pump gasoline is blended at terminals such as Cenex in Minot and Glendive, Mont., and Tesoro in Mandan. Federal regulations require that a percentage of all pump fuels sold be “alternative” fuels, such as those containing up to 10 percent ethanol. Because overall fuel usage has been leveling off in the United States, so, too, has the percentage of ethanol sales. Therefore, in many markets, regular gasoline is being pulled to ensure that the percentage of ethanol sold reaches the minimum requirement to comply with alternative fuels incentives provided by the federal government.

“Very soon 87 regular won’t be available in the state,” said Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association. “They won’t be offering that. It wasn’t a mandate. It was a business decision.”

“It’s not a North Dakota problem. It’s a federal problem,” said Bernhardt. “They are pushing alternative fuels.”

Ethanol is usually derived from corn. Drawbacks from using ethanol include possible damage to motors, particularly older rubber hoses and gaskets. Ethanol is also known to be corrosive to metals, a negative effect that can be treated somewhat with certain over-the-counter additives.

“Outboard motors is one thing, but you’ve got chainsaws, jet skis, lawnmowers, too,” said Rud. “You can use 10 percent, but it is not recommended in older motors. You are running some risk.”

Retailer’s pumps are required to post a fuel’s octane rating and the percent of ethanol blend. For example, pumps selling 87 octane will also be labeled as “up to 10 percent ethanol.” Premium gasoline, 91 octane, remains ethanol free but is generally priced at 50 cents per gallon or more than 87 octane.