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January 29, 2014

Vigo Schools resupplied with winter-blend diesel

TERRE HAUTE — A shortage of winter-blended diesel fuel had Vigo County School Corp. officials concerned last week, but they say a potential problem has been averted.

“We’re comfortable with the position we’re in,” said Franklin Fennell, VCSC director of facility/transportation services.

The blended fuel, used in the winter, keeps diesel fuel from gelling. The blend is 70 percent No. 2 diesel and 30 percent No. 1 diesel, a lighter version that prevents gelling.

Continued sub-zero temperatures and higher demand led to the shortage.

“It’s the first time I’ve been concerned about getting product we need,” Fennell said. “We wanted the blended fuel and it was drying up in the market.”

If the district had run out of blended fuel and had to use regular diesel fuel, “with the conditions last week, our buses would not have operated,” Fennell said. The blended fuel is used in winter only.

Jim Owen, president of Spence Banks Oil Co., a fuel company, said cold weather and high demand for the blended fuel led to supply issues. “We were having an issue with that during the cold snap because everyone wanted” the blended fuel.

A company where it obtains the blended fuel was running out last week “so we were forced to go further out to different terminals to find it,” Owen said. Since then, “we have caught up with demand and we do have access again.”

While Spence Banks had to do some scrambling, “We were fortunate to have some oil companies that could spare their allocation,” Owen said.

He described it as a learning curve. “It’s been 20-plus years since something like this happened,” he said. “I think we’ll be okay if it’s not super cold again.”

Fennell said the school district also obtained some fuel from another company, which didn’t have the blend but did have diesel with an additive that helps prevent jelling.

“We’ve never had a lot of success with the additive,” Fennell said. “We tried to keep it in the newer buses.”

With the recent cold snap, the district has had a “handful of jelling issues,” Fennell said.

When temperatures go below zero degrees, that’s when fuel is a “big, big concern,” Fennell said. If fuel jells, it must be heated. That’s time consuming to resolve.

Clay Community Schools, which also uses the blended fuel in winter, was aware of problems, but a supplier “got us what we needed,” said Mike Howard, the district’s director of extended services.

The district also uses a fuel additive when winter weather gets down to single-digit temperatures, he said.

The district typically has minor issues with jelling, he said. When it does happen, mechanics use hair dryers or heat guns to heat up fuel lines until the fuel flows.

 Drivers who take buses home plug in block heaters that are attached to motors; those prevent fuel from jelling, he said.

So far, “we’ve had pretty good luck,” Howard said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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