All Things Fuel
ULSD at the pumps not so ultra-low
Although ULSD is popping up around the country, it's probably not the real deal - just yet

By Terry Scruton
senior writer

Though the official deadline for retail roll-out isn't until October, ultra low-sulfur diesel may be closer than you think.

In fact, at some retail outlets, it's already here.

Mindy Long, spokeswoman for Natso, told "Land Line Now" in May that a handful of that group's members were starting to get deliveries of ULSD. Though she did not specify which truck stops those Natso members operate, Long said they most likely were just trying to get a head start on the switchover.

She also said drivers should not expect to find ULSD at too many pumps until it gets closer to October.

"It's still rare that locations will have UL because the refineries aren't producing as much right now as they will be after the EPA deadlines take effect," she said.

Some OOIDA members have reported seeing ULSD at truck stops in Nashville and Virginia. While Long did not confirm that, she did say that most likely some retailers are simply trying to clean the sulfur out of their underground tanks right now.

"(They) can either empty the tank and steam clean it, or, they will take a little more time and let the tank get down as low as possible, and then refill it with ULSD," she said. "They will do this process three or four times - however long it takes - to get the sulfur levels down low enough to meet the EPA guidelines."

Because of this, Long said that any retailer that might be selling ULSD won't label it as such yet because the pumps aren't completely cleaned out, so technically, what's being sold doesn't meet the EPA standard of 15 ppm for ULSD.

Meanwhile, a group called the Clean Diesel Fuel Alliance has launched a Web site aimed at providing information about the changeover to ultra low-sulfur diesel.

The alliance is a cross-section of government agencies and groups representing oil companies, engine manufacturers and the trucking industry, as well as government agencies concerned with ULSD.

The site,, provides, among other things, a breakdown of the deadlines for the rollout of ultra low-sulfur diesel, which are different for California than for the rest of the country.

The deadlines run as follows:

  • Refiners and importers nationwide must ensure that at least 80 percent of the volume of the highway diesel fuel they produce or import is ULSD-compliant by June 1;
  • Diesel fuel classified as ULSD must reach distribution and marketing points downstream from refineries, which includes pipelines, distributors, terminals and transporters, by July 15 in California and by Sept. 1 in the rest of the country;
  • ULSD fuel requirements take effect at retail locations on Sept. 1 in California and Oct. 15 in the rest of the country;
  • Diesel classified as low sulfur may still be sold at retail locations outside of California from Oct. 15 through Dec. 1, 2010.

In other ULSD news, the Environmental Protection Agency has relaxed the testing limits on ultra low-sulfur diesel.

To give testing equipment a little more wiggle room and a little more time to adjust to the new fuel, the EPA has raised the sulfur tolerance level from 2 ppm to 3 ppm. The temporary adjustment will last through Oct. 14, 2008, according to a press release from the EPA.

According to the release, this means that testing instruments are essentially being given a margin of error of 3 ppm above the 15 ppm cap on sulfur limits. The EPA said it extended the limit to "ensure that fuel actually meeting the 15 ppm cap is not falsely rejected" as the switchover begins at the refining level in June.

The adjustment will also provide laboratories additional time to adjust their testing technology and develop more accurate measuring techniques.
Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this article.