Tuesday 25 February 2014, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji – SPC alerted the Cook Islands government to the fact that a shipment of imported diesel fuel had high sulphur content that could have caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to diesel engines.
Officials of the Government of Cook Islands sought assistance from SPC’s Petroleum Advisory Service to check that the different suppliers of the diesel fuel imported into their country complied with their national fuel specifications.
After investigating the matter, the SPC Petroleum Advisory Service advised the Cook Islands government that some of the imported diesel fuel had a sulphur content that was more than 100 times higher than the maximum accepted level of 50 parts per million (ppm).
On the strength of SPC’s advice, the Cook Islands government took measures to ensure that the offending fuel was suspended from sale to the domestic transport sector. The company involved was obliged to advise their customers to stop using their fuel until a new, low sulphur shipment arrived.
If this matter had gone undetected it is likely that vehicle owners who used the high sulphur diesel fuel would have experienced engine problems and incurred significant financial cost to repair their vehicles, as well as the inconvenience of having their vehicles off the road while repairs were carried out. It is estimated that the avoided costs for owners was in the order of hundreds of dollars per vehicle, with a total cost in the order of tens of thousands of dollars.
In recent years, regional fuel quality has been progressively improving as PICT governments adopt more stringent fuel standards to reflect the cleaner fuels that have become available in the region and in response to the fact that engine manufacturers now build motors that require those cleaner fuels.
The specification for the maximum allowed level of sulphur for automotive grade diesel fuel has been steadily decreasing over the past decade throughout the Pacific. For example, in Australia, the accepted maximum was 5000 ppm until January 2003, when it was reduced to 500 ppm. It was then further reduced to 50 ppm from January 2006 and ultimately to 10 ppm from January 2009. Similar changes have been happening in all PICTs.
These days, the use of high sulphur diesel fuel is generally restricted to some industrial and marine diesel applications and electrical power generation.
The SPC Petroleum Advisory Service, within the Energy Programme of the SPC Economic Development Division, provides advice and training to SPC member PICTs on a wide range of petroleum-related issues, including fuel pricing; supply negotiations; price regulation and monitoring; supply security; fuel quality and specifications; energy policies, legislation and regulations; and health, safety, and the environment; as well as the development and deployment of alternative fuels such as biofuels from indigenous raw materials.