Only the best will do – Leighton O’Brien on fuel quality in C&I magazine


Only the best will do – Leighton O’Brien on fuel quality in C&I magazine

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When it comes to selling the best quality fuel, there is one key factor within the retailer’s control: the quality and upkeep of fuel storage systems. Dan Armes looks at some of the basics to ensure customers can have confidence in your product.

This article appeared first on: C&I Magazine, August/September 2017


Without a doubt, fuel is the core business of any petrol station. Take petrol away from the station, and you take away the main reason for customers to visit the business. With fuel being the key product, it’s troubling that retailers sometimes forget to ensure that they are selling the best quality product. There have been many cases in Australia where contaminated fuel has led to a significant decline in business and even closure of sites.

Petroleum retailers should not only maintain the quality of their fuel because it protects their reputation, but because they must comply with government legislation. The Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 sets out the national standards for fuel quality in Australia. Petroleum retailers must ensure that the fuel they are selling meets the national standards and specifications set out in the Act. Inspectors from State Fair Trading agencies ensure that standards are adhered to at the retail level. Inspectors have the power, with either consent from the retailer or a warrant, to conduct a search, inspect, examine, and take measurements. They also have the right to operate equipment for the purpose of taking a sample of fuel. In most cases, inspectors will take a sample of fuel from the site for lab testing.


Maintaining your storage

Regular maintenance of fuel tanks is very important: it is easy to forget about fuel tanks and neglect regular maintenance as generally they are underground and can suffer from the ‘out of sight out of mind’ syndrome.

Maintaining the integrity of fuel tanks will not only ensure the highest quality fuel is sold to customers, but it will also protect and increase the lifespan of fuel tanks, saving some of the expense of replacement down the line.

The most common fuel contaminant is water. There are a few ways water can enter a fuel tank. These include faulty seals in the lid, formation of condensation, or contamination from a delivery.

Moisture is drawn into tanks as fuel expands and contracts due to changes in temperature, and also when fuel is dispensed. The moisture then condenses inside the tank. One way to avoid this problem is to keep the tank as full as possible, as often as possible.

Tanks should be checked for water using water-finding paste on a regular basis: extra checks should be carried out after storms and large rain events. Seals in the tank lid should be regularly checked to make sure they are in good order and free from damage and wear.

If a large amount of water is found, retailers should immediately cease all use of that tank. They should then contact their fuel supplier and their preferred tank maintenance company to have the issue rectified.

In most cases it’s a fairly simple process to remove the water from the tank, as it will settle on the bottom. If it is not removed, water can cause corrosion, not only in tanks but also in pipework, pumps and dispensers.


Visual Inspection

It is difficult to conduct a visual inspection of underground tanks (for obvious reasons), however if an above ground tank is used, visual checks of the tank should be part of a site’s regular maintenance schedule. Above ground tanks should be checked for signs of perforations, cracks and other structural damage.

Fuel is prone to microbial contamination, through the formation of bacteria and algae. Diesel is the most common type of fuel affected by this type of contamination. Products such as biocides can be applied to fuel to kill biological contaminants. It is important that biocides are used only as a shock treatment as they are not designed for continued use.

It is good practice to conduct a visual check of fuel quality when the tank volumes are measured. Check the dipstick for signs of slime, sludge, foam, discolouration, and anything else unusual. Another sign that a fuel tank has bacterial contamination is if there is a rotten egg smell evident. Staff checking tank volumes should be trained to look out for signs of microbial contamination.

When fuel that contains microbial contamination is used in a vehicle, it can cause issues such as blocked fuel filters, reduced combustion efficiency and corrosion in the engine.

If it is found that a tank contains a large amount of debris, sediment or sludge, it is recommended that retailers have a professional develop a plan of action to fix the issue.

In some cases of contamination, specialised equipment is needed to restore the integrity of fuel tanks.

Leighton O’Brien head of Fuel Services, Toby Griffin, has many years of experience in the maintenance of cleaning of fuel tanks, and said it takes approximately one day to carry out maintenance services on a fuel tank.

“In an underground tank, all the contaminants will sink to the bottom,” he said.

“Specialised cleaning equipment will traverse the bottom of the tank. The vacuum pump will suck up all the contaminants into a settlement tank. The settlement tank on the truck is a concentration of all the contaminants that have been removed. Any fuel that is removed is treated using a multi-stage process which filters and conditions the fuel, ensuring any fuel that comes out goes back into the tank. This ensures that only waste and contaminants are removed from site.”

Mr Griffin recommends that retailers should take a proactive and preventative approach, rather than a reactive approach, when it comes to tank maintenance.

“Poor fuel quality can have a huge impact on sales and brand reputation” he said. “A high percentage of customers choose a retail brand because they associate it with quality fuel. Customers will often return to the same nozzle because they know they are going to get quality fuel.

“If you have a customer that comes into the store and comments on how long it took to fill up, you should do something about it and engage a pump contractor to service the filters and investigate the root cause of why there is ‘slow-flow’ there.

“Customers who do take a preventative approach are reducing their maintenance spend, because if you have good fuel quality, your maintenance costs are going to be lower. There will be less time spent on site servicing automatic tank gages, changing filters and less time managing customer complaints.”

To avoid contamination, it is important that retailers use all tanks regularly and not leave fuel stock to sit in tanks for an extended periods, as this can affect the quality of the fuel.

If tanks are not regularly maintained and checked for contaminants, problems can arise further down the line, including blockages in pipework and filters, and pump/dispenser malfunction. Retailers can avoid the need for costly repairs and downtime with regular maintenance.

Pertolink Engineering state manager Craig Boné said dispensing contaminated fuels has serious ramifications, from an obvious business perspective.

“Should a vehicle owner identify your fuel station as the cause of contamination, the retailer has a legal obligation to initiate and pay for repairs,” he said.

“Usually this is covered by insurance, however, if the retailer is found to have been negligent and has not followed guidelines or standards, they could be personally liable.

“In addition, statutory authorities such as EPA, WorkSafe and LGA can stop you from trading. Word of contaminated fuels travels quickly thanks to social media.”

Mr. Boné emphasised the importance of implementing a daily schedule of fuel inspection; using Statistical Inventory Reconciliation Analysis (SIRA) and ensuring diligence of staff helps to ensure all equipment is undamaged and compliant, and that all fill points are closed, tight and free of water or other contaminants such as oil, sludge and dirt.

It is every petrol station owner’s worst nightmare to have vehicles broken down outside their business as a consequence of contaminated fuel. Ensuring that tanks and fuel are properly maintained will significantly reduce the chances of contamination occurring, and keep your customers returning time and time to refuel.


This article appeared first on: C&I Magazine, August/September 2017

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