Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Carmel on the Case: Ethanol
Some of the country's biggest oil companies are being sued by Florida boaters. They claim ethanol in the gas they buy is damaging their boats' gas tanks and engines. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.
WSVN -- Here in South Florida there are close to 200,000 registered boats. They come in all shapes and sizes and, for the most part, they need gas to get up and go.
Sue Fonrath: "My son was driving the boat and said, 'I smell gasoline,' and I said, 'Where is it coming from?'"
Sue Fonrath and her family love spending time on the water, and the family's boat has served them well for many years, but on this day they were in trouble off shore.
Sue Fonrath: "And he noticed that the top of the tank had two places where it was dissolved, and the tank started to leak gasoline."
That's right, the gas tank was dissolving. Marine experts say ethanol, a biofuel made from crops like corn and sugar cane, which is added to gasoline is suspected of causing the deterioration of Sue's tank and many others.
Capt. Matt Weick: "Where are we at?"
At the Lauderdale Marina, service manager Capt. Matt Weick says he's seen boaters spend a lot of money to fix their motors and fuel tanks, apparently damaged by ethanol.
Capt. Matt Weick: "Some of the older boats that have fiberglass tanks and some of the boat builders are running into some serious issues."
So serious a lawsuit has been filed against some of the world's largest oil companies.
David Ferguson: "I suspect that there are plenty of boaters out there who have undergone repairs and replacement of parts and have no idea of not only the problem but that the problem caused the damage to their boat."
Attorney David Ferguson says fiberglass fuel tanks aren't the only ones affected.
David Ferguson: "And in fact that mixture is so corrosive that it can attack aluminum tanks, non-fiberglass tanks and, over time, compromise the integrity of those tanks as well."
The lawsuit is by three Florida boaters, but Ferguson says he plans to seek class action status and will ask for financial damages plus a warning at the pump.
Although there is already a notice that fuel contains ethanol, Ferguson says there should be a warning that it may not be appropriate for marine use. An oil industry spokesman disagrees.
Dave Mica: "Whether we get into a lot of detail on that notice is up for debate, but we think the notice as it works right now is best for consumers so that they can do the research."
Dave Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council did not want to discuss the lawsuit, but he did tell us boat owners should do their homework before filling up.
Dave Mica: "Always read the owner's manual to find out exactly what they recommend as far as a product for engine use."
An option for boat owners is to either find a gas station that sells ethanol-free gas or fill up at a marina that has special fuel that is ethanol free.
Mike Driver: "We wanted to avoid giving any boats any gasoline that has ethanol in it because of the problems that they've incurred."
The ethanol-free gas is slightly more expensive.
Mike Driver: "It does cost a little bit more."
Carmel Cafiero: "Worth it in the long run?"
Mike Driver: "Absolutely."
Carmel Cafiero: "Only one oil company commented about the lawsuit and it said it thinks the action is without merit. That said, if you're boating this holiday weekend, make sure you know exactly what's going in your tank and what affect it might have."
IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: