An official with Southeast Louisiana’s largest producer of ethanol-free gasoline in Chalmette said media reports stating the facility is ceasing production of conventional gas are untrue, but a May 6 email obtained by LouisianaSportsman.com indicates conventional gas will no longer be available to refinery distributors effective June 4.
On Tuesday afternoon, Patrick Trahan with Chalmette Refining, whose operating partner is Exxon Mobil, said the refinery never intended to stop production of ethanol-free gas popular in outboard motors, home generators and lawn equipment on May 15 as had been reported online.
“That’s incorrect,” Trahan said. “It was never our plan to cease production of conventional gas.”
But after that interview, LouisianaSportsman.com obtained an email sent by Chalmette Refining to Placid Refining Company in Port Allen that indicates otherwise.
The email, which was forwarded by Amber Delapasse to Placid’s customers, alerts them of a planned outage at Chalmette Refining, and states that the Chalmette Refining terminal will be out of “all gas” from May 14 to June 4 before operations resume — without conventional gasoline in its lineup.
“Once the terminal is up and running, on June 4, only E10 and diesel will be available. Conventional gas will no longer be available,” the Placid email concludes.
Delapasse said she received the notice from Chalmette Refining, from which Placid currently receives ethanol-free gasoline for distribution. However, she could not confirm that the memo meant that the facility would no longer produce conventional gas.
“All I know is that the product will no longer be available for us to sell, and that this is a notice we received from Exxon,” she said. “I have no idea if they’re no longer producing it and selling it to no one.
“I don’t think it’s related just to Placid as their customer, but I honestly don’t know the answer to that.”
Trahan did not reply to repeated requests for comment after LouisianaSportsman.com obtained the email from Placid Refining.
Retired petrochemical chemist Alton “Pete” Landry, a self-described ethanol critic in LaPlace who operates a website detailing the dangers of ethanol, said he thinks the company is flip-flopping due to public outcry.
“That email pretty much says they’re no longer going to produce it at all, which is what (Trahan) led me to believe to begin with,” said Landry, who worked in the industry for 32 years. “I think they backtracked when we started putting all the pressure on them.”
Through the readership of his website, Landry said he first received notification last week about the facility possibly stopping production of conventional gas around May 15, after which he contacted Trahan by phone and also wrote a letter to the Chalmette Refining's plant manager.
“I told him it would be devastating, and that we weren’t going to take this lying down,” Landry said.
Over the weekend, Landry encouraged his readers to deluge the refinery’s community hotline number (504-211-1101). When Landry spoke to Trahan again Monday afternoon, Trahan read a prepared statement from the plant manager.
“Basically what (the prepared Chalmette Refining statement) said was that after the construction on their rack is complete, they will still offer some conventional gas for commercial sales,” Landry said. “That’s when I got into a deliberation with (Trahan) as to what the hell that means, and he wouldn’t tell me.”
Currently, Landry said distributors go directly to Chalmette Refining and load their trucks with conventional gas.
But he said a new distribution method will have to be devised if only diesel and E10 will be available on the Chalmette Refining racks.
“(Trahan) told me it will be available only commercially, but they won’t talk about that because of potential antitrust issues involved if he went into detail,” Landry said. “But from my experience, they’re probably going to try and form a relationship or contract with some terminal as close as they can find one that has tankage and a truck rack where they can deliver their non-ethanol gasoline that they will make available to that facility.
“Then the distributors will have to enter into a relationship with that same terminal in order to pick up the conventional gasoline … to deliver it to the gas stations. That may take up to six months to a year to develop.”
In Tuesday interview, Trahan said conventional fuel would still be produced at the facility, but would not say if the refinery was planning on producing less than it previously did.
“My statement is very simple,” Trahan said.”We will continue manufacturing conventional-grade gasoline which will be sold into the commercial market.”
Landry said that if ethanol-free gas is shipped into Southeast Louisiana from other refineries, it could be up to 20 cents per gallon higher until the regional distribution network is resolved.
“It’s already happening. One of my readers in Plaquemines Parish told me two of the stations he buys ethanol-free (gas) from have bags over the pumps and say they can’t get it anymore," Landry said. “Stations that were selling conventional gas will have to convert over to corn (ethanol) gas. So we’re going to lose a lot of stations in Southeast Louisiana, particularly where it’s most critical to the fishing industry — from the River Parishes all the way down to St. Bernard and Plaquemines.
“It’s going to be a big, big hit. It’s going to be devastating.”
Landry said areas like Lake Charles, Lafayette and Baton Rouge probably won't be affected because of two other refineries in the state that produce ethanol-free gas.
Click here to learn why ethanol-free gasoline is essential for outboard motors.