The recent fuel pipeline break in Alabama didn’t affect us much at our house. We really mean it when we talk about being prepared for 90 days.
In the case of the pipeline break, price increases happened almost everywhere on the east coast, and there have been some places where there have been outright shortages.
Fuel shortages are often about a lot more than you running out of fuel or adjusting your lifestyle because you can’t drive around. In this case, it was problems with gas. The next time, it could be diesel. Most of the 18 wheelers you see running up and down the highway run on diesel. Those same 18 wheelers deliver groceries daily to your grocery store and fuel to your gas stations.
The impact of this pipeline break is expected to be over in a week, when everything is expected to be back to normal. Of course they waited a week before they announced it, so that means that the impact was two weeks.
What does that mean to us? You need to be able to make it for two weeks when nothing else is going wrong. Two weeks of going to work every day, feeding your family, going to church on Sunday and essentially doing all of the things that you normally do.
So, how do we do that?
To begin with, you need to keep your vehicle as full of fuel as possible all the time. Develop the habit of filling your fuel tank as it gets to half a tank. Always.
Figure out how much fuel you use in two weeks.
- One of my vehicles is only used for trips. It needs 25 gallons of diesel for 400 miles. One of my vehicles needs 20 gallons of diesel for 860 miles. One needs 20 gallons of gas for 400 miles. If there is a fuel shortage, trips get cancelled, so the first vehicle remains at half full at the worst.
- The second vehicle becomes the “go to work” vehicle. At 50 miles a day round trip that means that if it is full, I have 17.5 days of driving.
- The third vehicle also travels 50 miles a day round trip. If the tank is full, that means 8 days of driving.
Simple computations tell us the amount of fuel we need to have in storage.
- Vehicle 1: None required because trips are cancelled for the duration of the crisis.
- Vehicle 2: None required if the tank is full when the crisis starts. Worst case it’s half full, so we need to have at least 10 gallons in storage.
- Vehicle 3: If the tank is full, we’ll need 20 gallons in storage. If it is half full, we’ll need 30 gallons.
10 gallons of diesel and 30 gallons of gasoline is not hard to store. I don’t consider this my long term storage fuel, so fuel stabilizers aren’t needed. Once I created this amount of storage, I have the cans readily available. I change out the 10 gallons of diesel every week, filling the tank with the fuel in the fuel cans and refilling the diesel fuel cans. I do the same with the gasoline, except it takes 3 weeks to change it all out. Fresh fuel every 3 weeks as the worst.
This planning is all based on the worst case. Vehicle 3 is driven by my wife and if we adjusted our lives out a little, she could ride with me in vehicle two. We could cut back on some of our driving. Nonetheless, it is very doable with a little planning.
Note, we’re only discussing your day to day fuel storage plans. In this posting, we’re not going to go into the concepts of long term fuel storage, nor discuss the pros and cons of E-10 fuel versus non ethanol blended fuel. If you rotate your fuel stocks weekly like we suggest, the E-10 fuel will not be an issue. We will discuss this in a later post.
So, how do you store it? For the purposes of short term storage, most any of the readily available plastic fuel cans are ok. Modern fuel cans are all required to be CARB (California Air Resources Board) compliant. For those of us old enough to remember when gas cans were easy to use, this CARB compliance is what made them a pain in the neck. No more venting, so you get to use a spout that while advertised as child safe is pretty much adult safe too.
There are some ways to overcome this with replacement spouts, drilling of vent holes and such, but the easiest way is to get a self priming siphon hose! It actually makes filling your yard tools and camp stoves/lights much easier, and it is very inexpensive. No more swallowing fuel with an old fashioned siphon hose. Walmart, sporting goods stores, Amazon, you name it, they all sell them and a good one costs less than $9.
As I was about to finish off this post, I got a call from a friend who was checking on the availability of fuel. Turns out he was up in Kentucky this past weekend and was trying to make his way home. I did some spot checking. Where he was, they were out of fuel. I found him a route that got him around Atlanta (shortages listed all over the web), and eventually to some areas that still had fuel.
Well, this got me to thinking. Short term storage of fuel is great if you are at home. What happens if you are on the road?
I did some research. Carrying a fuel can inside your vehicle can be dangerous and there are even a number of states where it is illegal!
Obviously a small diesel engine car (like a VW Jetta/Passat wagon) gets you 600-700 miles of range, which makes it easier to get home. One of the other advantages of a diesel engine is that in an emergency, you can make diesel fuel out of gasoline if that is all you can find (the Army’s field expedient lists adding one quart of motor oil to five gallons of gasoline to make emergency diesel).
But if these aren’t your options, what do you do to safely carry fuel?
There are examples of people who have taken the space where their spare tire is and having a fuel tank fabricated to fit in the space! For some vehicles, they are premade and for the $1700-$2000 price, are connected to your fuel system and are essentially auxiliary tanks. Probably too expensive for most of us. A fabricated tank that merely stores fuel is much cheaper. Using the hose, merely fill your tank.
If you can’t do that, consider a fuel can inside your vehicle. The only one that we would ever take a chance with inside a vehicle is the Scepter fuel cans that are made for the US Military. These were originally designed for the off-road racing folks. They are virtually indestructible, don’t leak, don’t break even if you drive over them, etc. They are made in Canada.
A genuine Scepter fuel container will have the “Scepter” brand name, and “Made in Canada,” molded into the plastic on the side of the can. (It will also say “U.S. Government Property” or “Military Use Only,” but don’t let that put you off.) With the draw down of the perpetual wars, plenty of them are being auctioned off.
Well, when the CARB folks screwed up all the rest of the fuel cans, they screwed these up too. They can no longer be sold new in the USA. If we lived near the border, we’d go and buy them new.
They are very hard to find on the surplus market. Used ones on EBay sell for well over $150. At gun shows (when you find them) they are cheaper. The spouts for them are also expensive, if and when you find them. Another good reason to have the self priming siphon hose.
As with anything used, you face the challenge of finding repair parts (gaskets, adapters for using gasoline instead of the diesel that they were sold to the military for, etc.) That problem too has been solved by creative capitalism. jagmte.com carries and sells all of the parts you might need. We don’t have any business relationship with them, but we love their motto, “just a guy making things easier”. They even sell an emergency plug just in case the cap get’s broken.
A little planning ahead will allow you to smile at your friends who are wasting fuel driving all over the place to find fuel. This peace of mind doesn’t have to be expensive either. You are buying small amounts of fuel, just a little more than you usually buy. If you need 30 gallons for your short term storage, you don’t have to buy all 30 at once. Build up gradually buying an extra five to ten gallons the next time you fill up. In a few weeks, you’ll have what you need.
- PS # 1: A quick caveat on fuel cans. Scepter wasn’t one to lose out of the US market when they could no longer sell the military style cans here. They make a US CARB compliant can for sale in the US. The construction of the basic can is better than the “cheapo” cans you see for sale at the discount stores. It is however hampered by the CARB compliant spout and is nowhere near as tough as a military style. Do not confuse the two. The commercial fuel can is ok for storage at home, but is not durable for in vehicle use. There is another company called Specter that makes and sells fuel cans. Again, don’t be confused by the similar sounding name. They are inexpensive cans that are good enough for home, short term storage, but are not Scepters.
- PS #2: According to my sources at Colonial, it took three days just to get to the broken pipeline. The thing that slowed down the response were the fumes of benzene and gas. Even in suits, they were limited to minutes. I’ve seen comments that folks wished they could have gone there to steal the spilled fuel. The gene pool would have got smaller.
- PS #3: Colonial has recovered much/most of the spilled fuel. They’ve pumped it into tanker trucks. It will be sent back to the refinery to get it cleaned and then resold.
- PS#4: We’ve probably all noticed that diesel fuel wasn’t affected by the break. That’s because the pipeline that broke was the one for gasoline. The supply chain moved from pipeline to tanker trucks and the ports of Savannah and Charleston. They cleaned out the diesel line and gasoline will be flowing through the diesel line for a day or two to get the gasoline tank farms full again.
- PS #5: Lots of conspiracy talk out there right now. Maybe some are true. However, according to my source at Colonial, people don’t realize how many thousands of miles of pipelines there are in the US. Pipelines that need virtually daily maintenance. He said there are leaks and breaks every day. He laughs when he sees the post SHTF movies with clear barren land. He says that if daily maintenance of the pipelines stops, there would be seas of fuel all over the US.