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OPINIONFuels

Did You Get the Fuel You Paid For?

How to ensure gasoline deliveries get into the proper UST
Photograph: Shutterstock

HAMILTON, Ohio — All consumers, no matter what they are purchasing, want to get what they paid for. That goes for the smallest pack of gum to the biggest house. And when they don’t get it, their feelings can run the gamut from anger to betrayal and confusion to frustration.

Though viewed from the outside as simply suppliers of goods and services, the operators of convenience stores with a fuel offering are also consumers. One of their most important purchases is the gasoline and diesel fuel they provide to the drivers who frequent their locations. Purchasing fuel, however, is a lot different than ordering a few cases of beer or a dozen boxes of candy bars.

That’s because c-store operators can’t really “see” what they are buying. Sure, they can observe the fuel transport parked on the forecourt and the driver attaching hoses to various underground storage tanks (USTs). But how do they really know that the driver is putting the right fuel—or the right amount of fuel—into the proper UST? According to market studies, one out of every 14,000 gasoline deliveries will result in an incorrect octane mix. In one of every 45,000 deliveries, diesel is mistakenly dropped into a gasoline UST, or vice versa.

Margins for Error

As human beings, fuel-transport drivers—even the most sincere and conscientious ones—are as susceptible to making mistakes as anyone. Those same market studies have shown that a distracted driver is the main reason behind an incorrect fuel drop. Another common cause can also be traced back to the fallibility of human beings: USTs marked with unclear or incorrect fuel grades.

In addition to the anger and frustration that can accompany botched fuel drops, there can be far-reaching negative effects. The most debilitating one is that the station may need to be shut down to empty the USTs of the contaminated fuel, all before a batch of new fuel is brought in and unloaded. Second, the engine and other operating systems of the vehicles that receive the wrong fuel can become damaged. When this happens, drivers may return to the retailer for reparations, or they may choose to do business elsewhere. Also, any cleanup operation or vehicle damage can result in bad press that can irreparably tarnish the retailer’s reputation and lead to lost customers.

In addition to incorrect fuel drops, another concern for fuel site operators is a disputed delivery amount. This is three times more likely to happen than an octane mix-up, with one in every 4,000 deliveries questioned by the site operator. With the average trailer involved in 3,650 deliveries a year, on average a disputed delivery will occur just less than once per year per trailer.

Minimizing Mistakes

Taking into account all of the negative outcomes that are possible with incorrect or inaccurate fuel drops, c-store operators need to be 100% certain that they are receiving the right fuel grade and amount every time. However, help has arrived. The fuel industry has moved from analog to the digital world with tank-monitoring technology that is mounted on fuel-delivery transports. These systems now use an easy-to-read and simple-to-use graphic touchscreen display that communicates wirelessly with the trailer’s fuel-delivery and operation-monitoring components. Through the touchscreen display, the system consolidates the driver’s access to the many different control systems on a fuel transport.

For example, if an incorrect truck-to-UST connection is attempted, this new digital technology doesn’t allow the trailer’s valves to open, so the delivery will not commence. At the conclusion of the delivery, which ceases only when the fuel compartment is empty, the touchscreen notifies the driver that the compartment is empty and that all hoses and delivery hardware can be safely disconnected.

These capabilities mean that the days of incorrect or disputed fuel deliveries may soon be a welcome thing of the past. This creates a win-win-win scenario for fuel-transport drivers, c-store operators and the drivers who rely on them to power their vehicles.

Frank Stemporzewski is a product specialist for Civacon, Hamilton, Ohio, a Dover company. He has more than 35 years of experience in the cargo tank industry. Reach him at frank.stemporzewski@ opwglobal.com. 

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