$4 A Gallon? Thank The EPA

Published in the June 2008 Issue June 2008 Column

My Duramax has a 56-gallon fuel tank that I fill on a bi-weekly basis over the winter months. Not counting the Dr. Pepper and jalapeno beef jerky, I seem to be spending close to $450 a week at the corner store lately.

I'm currently paying about $4 a gallon, although diesel fuel in many parts of the country is nearing the $5 a gallon mark. And what's even more insane is that it costs more than gasoline. I probably get more emails and letters about fuel related issues (fuel economy, diesel fuel prices, etc) than anything else. Everyone wants to know the same thing: Why does diesel-a byproduct of the gasoline refinery process-cost more per gallon than gasoline?

Well, it's not that simple. The guys at Mythbusters could tackle this one, because that diesel fuel is a byproduct of gasoline is a myth, at least in the past several months.

Diesel fuel is no longer the leftover crap from gasoline that any diesel engine would burn without a cough. It takes the same high-tech processes in refinement to turn crude into ultra low sulfur diesel as gasoline.

Remember the big switch we went through in January of 2007? The National Clean Diesel Campaign (www.epa.gov/diesel) that mandated the reduction of particulate matter in diesel fuel from 500 parts per million to 15 ppm and required automakers to employ emissions and noise restrictive designs on diesel engines produced after January 1, 2007, deserves a lot of credit for the price you're now paying at the pump.


Because like always, somebody thinks they know what's best for the rest of us. Clean diesel engines? Who wouldn't want that? Of course I'll sign onto that without fully analyzing the effects of the NCDC.

What that someone or some group failed to disclose was that requiring such a drastic increase in how well refined diesel fuel would have to be would cost someone else a lot of money. That someone else is the end user-you. You pay for it at the pump, and you pay for it at the dealership in the form of more expensive (and less fuel-efficient) diesel engines.

At the pump, you're paying in the neighborhood of 14 cents per gallon more for the refinement process of each gallon of ULSD fuel you put in your truck, given current crude prices. Okay, that explains a small rise in costs, but what you don't see broken out in a per-gallon cost is the cost for the refineries to invest in technology to refine the fuel to NCDC standards. In 2001, it was estimated by the Department of Energy that refineries would invest close to $9 billion in upgrading to be able to produce ULSD fuel. And we all know how well the government is at estimating things related to money. Who is really footing that bill? You, me and the guy in the Kenworth.

In the meantime, the vehicles that were produced after the NCDC cutoff of January 1, 2007 get substantially worse fuel economy compared to their predecessors. Ford's 6.4L Powerstroke, GM's LMM Duramax and Dodge's 6.7L Cummins all manage between 10 and 12 miles per gallon based on our own research and testing.

So while you've just paid more for a new diesel engine updated to meet the NCDC emissions standards and are paying more per gallon of ULSD fuel than you've ever paid for diesel fuel, you're now paying for it more often because of poor fuel economy.

Home heating fuel, hurricanes and the simple fact that we apparently will pay that much for fuel do have contributing factors to the rise costs at the fuel pump.

Crude oil may be up to record-setting numbers, but the simple fact remains that diesel fuel costs more than gasoline and doesn't get you as far anymore thanks to the National Clean Diesel Campaign.

(And what really gets me bent is the impact the fuel costs have had on my jalapeno jerky consumption.)

Recommended? What's the other choice--french fry grease?

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