The ULSD Blues

Think you know when you're filling up with ULSD? You may not be as smart as you think you are.


It's been a week since I was at the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) Meeting & Expo in Orlando, and my ears are still ringing from the Fleet Talk session. For those of you who've never been to a TMC meeting, Fleet Talk is a special session at which fleet maintenance managers get to gripe freely about the problems they're having with products, regulations, TMC, DOT, OSHA, you name it.   As an editor, I love these meetings, because it gives me a chance to hear the unedited, unguarded opinions of a roomful of very outspoken fleet professionals. I hear things at this meeting that I never hear anywhere else, and I love it.   Last week's meeting started right out with a lot of complaints about ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD): fuel economy is down, fuel filter changes are up, and gel points are up as well. None of that came as a huge shock, but what did surprise me was talk about mislabeled ULSD pumps. According to Darry Stuart, TMC's General Chairman and moderator of the Fleet Talk meeting, 30 to 35 percent of ULSD pumps in the US are not labelled correctly.   Now, why would that be so? Well, according to some of the folks at the meeting, diesel fuel suppliers are so paranoid that a batch of ULSD will be contaminated--for whatever reason--that they are NOT labeling ULSD as ULSD. The thinking is that if they ever failed an inspection--say, for instance, a tank of what is supposed to be ULSD actually had 17 ppm of sulfur instead of the 15 allowed--they would be heavily fined. If, however, that contaminated ULSD isn't being sold as ULSD--in other words, if there's no ULSD label on the pump--there's no fine. Theoretically, at least.   So, is this really happening, or is it an old wives' tale? I'm not sure what to believe, but I know that if I were a fleet operator, I'd be having a LOT of very honest conversations with my fuel supplier.