Houston hit by widespread bunker contamination

The widespread problem is likely to be the result of an upstream production or refinery issue, said VPS The widespread problem is likely to be the result of an upstream production or refinery issue, said VPS

A contamination that has caused fuel system and engine problems on several vessels taking on bunkers in Houston has been identified by Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS).

The issue, which has affected bunkers provided by several suppliers in the Texas port, has caused sticking fuel plungers as well as fuel pump seizures and failures on several vessels. VPS said that at least 30 vessels under its analysis programme alone have been affected.

Standard tests under the ISO 8217 specification governing bunker quality did not identify the problem. Using a proprietary test over the past four weeks, VPS discovered that phenolic compounds were present in every sample from an affected vessel.

The compound appearing most often was 4-Cumyl-Phenol, which has many industrial uses including the manufacture of epoxy resins and as an emulsifier in pesticides. Both rely on the adhesive nature of the compound.

VPS noted: “Historical cross-checking has highlighted numerous cases dating back to 2007 where VPS have identified fuels containing phenolic compounds which have caused damage to fuel pumps and injectors, like those witnessed in this recent contamination problem.”

VPS noted that the problem is likely to be related to upstream production or refining given its impact on several suppliers. The presence of the contaminant is in violation of the ISO 8217 standard, which states in clause five that ‘fuel should not include any added substance or chemical waste which jeopardises the safety or adversely affects the performance of the machinery; or is harmful to personnel; or contributes overall to additional air pollution’.

According to oil analyst Platts, the off-spec bunker issue in Houston has led to local shortages over recent months and presented opportunities for fuel oil cargoes from Europe and the Middle East.

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