COMMENT: Mandatory Ethanol Fuel a Bad Idea

THE NSW Government is planning to force petrol companies to add ethanol to all “standard” or “regular” fuel sold at service stations by the middle of the year. This move is being touted as having environmental credentials but many pundits claim it is a ploy to prop up the ethanol industry.

Ethanol is basically alcohol derived from plants. It has a lower heating value than petrol – meaning you get fewer miles per litre – but is a renewable “biofuel” with fewer harmful emissions than the fossil fuels the global economy currently depends on. Most modern cars can run on fuel blended with 10 per cent ethanol, as can other modern internal combustion engines such as outboards.

The NSW Government wants all unleaded fuel to be blended with 6 per cent ethanol by July 1. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell is coming under significant pressure about his decision to mandate ethanol fuel. It will be interesting to see if he and his Government buckle. The deadline for forcing the fuel companies to blend ethanol with their petrol has already been extended by a year and public outcry is becoming more vocal as people begin to understand what this ethanol issue will entail.

The big issue here for boat fishermen is that ethanol-blended fuel is utter crap. In fact, NSW Maritime – the government agency responsible for boating safety – says ethanol-blended fuel is not recommended for use in boats. This is because ethanol is “hygroscopic”, which means it attracts water. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that this has obvious implications for boats. According to the NSW Maritime website, ethanol also adversely affects “carburettors, fibreglass fuel tanks, rubber fuel lines, fittings, seals and filtration systems, particularly in older engines, and non-standard engine installations”.

Premier O’Farrell has very generously given marinas special dispensation to continue selling “straight” fuel. You ever bought fuel from a marina? You need to take a mortgage out to get a couple of litres. And why would someone with a trailer boat go to a marina to buy fuel?

Mr O’Farrell has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about this … Not!

So if you don’t want ethanol fuel buggering up your boat, and probably putting your family at risk while you’re out on the water, you can avoid the issue and by premium fuel, which the Government has decreed will not be tainted by ethanol.

You purchased premium fuel lately? As a bit of an experiment, I put 20.87 litres of Caltex Vortex 98 octane premium fuel in my 4.65m Sea Jay tinny yesterday morning. It cost $1.659 per litre, equalling $34.63. If I’d filled up the 65l tank it would have cost almost $110. This is for a small boat fitted with a 70hp engine. My Bar Crusher 670C has a 200l tank. Filling that up with premium would cost $330. I guess I won’t be fishing as much as I’d like once this stupid ethanol rule comes in …

Like just about all boat owners, I don’t need premium fuel to run my engines – they are designed to run on unleaded – but I will have no choice but to use premium under Mr O’Farrell’s plan. The fact is that ethanol fuel is just not safe in boats. You would be nuts to use ethanol-blended fuel in any boat, big or small. It just ain’t worth it. Unleaded fuel is cheaper than premium but I – and all you guys lucky enough to be living in NSW who like fishing out of boats – fundamentally have no choice but to fork out more of our hard-earned cash just to wet a line after July 1.

On top of all the other crap we have to deal with involving crazy Greens who want to ban fishing, more and more marine parks and a commercial sector that seems out to catch and kill every fish that swims, Premier O’Farrell’s ethanol tax on fishos is just another kick to our collective guts.

This decision is stupid and unnecessary. The petrol companies are up in arms about it, the 750,000 motorists in NSW whose cars won’t run on ethanol fuel or premium are wondering what they hell they’re going to do and boat owners are seething. This fuel tax will damage the already struggling boating and fishing industries. Things are tough enough as it is – we don’t need to pay even more for our fuel!

Rethink this ethanol issue, Mr Premier. You’re on the wrong track.

Jim Harnwell is the editor and publisher of Fishing World magazine.

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