When standard fuels are not used vehicle engines are damaged
- There has been no report on the quality of fuel in the country since 30 May 2003
- There is no independent institute to test the quality of fuel in Sri Lanka; hence issues have arisen regarding the quality of fuel
- Filling stations add kerosene oil to petrol and mix Octane 92 with 95
- If the CPS investigation unit performs its tasks properly these activities could be prevented
- Petrol and diesel are not yet declared as essential items
The price of fuel was increased to reduce usage, but a new problem has emerged. Drivers claim that fuel available these days burns faster and the maximum speeds of vehicles have decreased and vehicles are subject to defects. Several drivers said they suspect several vehicles went up in flames in different areas due to poor quality fuel. “We are not sure whether the Government is trying to hold a fireworks display by importing fuel of inferior quality the same way gas cylinders were made to blat,” they added.
Whether the petrol and diesel available in the country are of poor quality has been a controversial topic at present. A month ago, Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association President Gemunu Wijerathna, adding fuel to this controversy, said through social media that buses cannot run on diesel and they breakdown on the road. “Considering what bus owners told me I suspect whether kerosene oil has been mixed with diesel. Diesel pumps in many buses had to be repaired. Many other buses had to be removed from service. Those buses have become subject to defects,” he added.
"I collected fuel samples after receiving complaints from bus owners. All of them state that this situation has arisen because of substandard fuel"
- Gemunu Wijerathna, Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association President
Wijerathna also said that bus owners had been experiencing this situation since last November and there are problems regarding the quality of diesel and petrol. Due to the economic crisis endangering Sri Lanka petrol and diesel are directly imported in place of crude oil. “I collected fuel samples after receiving complaints from bus owners. All of them state that this situation has arisen because of substandard fuel,” he added.
“Some buses were running on kerosene oil and only the new buses faced this situation. It is impossible to run the same number of kilometres which we used to with one litre. The fuel is burning faster. That is not limited to buses running on diesel. Even other vehicles running on petrol have been affected. I suspect that this situation has arisen because of imported petrol and diesel. I informed the President, Minister of Energy, Minister of Environment, Inspector General of Police and other responsible parties in writing requesting to investigate this issue.
These affected buses have been used after repairs, but have broken down again after diesel was pumped to these vehicles. Gemunu Wijerathna said that substandard diesel may have led to that situation. “Even before this, vehicles used to break down because of low quality fuel and the authorities should tell everyone whether the same situation has occurred. There has been no report on the quality of fuel in the country since 30 May 2003. That report contains the amount of sulfur in diesel and the quality of petrol. Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) issues a report after testing the imported fuel. The same institute which imports oil also conducts tests and issues a report on the fuel confirming it meets the standard. There is no independent institute to test the quality of fuel in Sri Lanka; hence issues have arisen regarding the quality of fuel.
“Euro 4 diesel and petrol are used around the world. Brand new vehicles imported to the country are also manufactured to suit Euro 4 fuel. However both 92 and 95 Octane petrol and normal and auto diesel are still imported to Sri Lanka. The vehicles which should use Euro 4 fuel use those fuel types and their conditions deteriorated as a result”, Wijerathna said.
Not only buses even the engines of vehicles running on petrol had deteriorated after using 95 Octane. The experience of Asanga Bandara, who is a racing driver, offers a solid example. He and his friend have pumped 95 Octane petrol to their vehicles from a filling station in Kottawa while they were training for a racing event in Katukurunda. “After using that petrol both engines of our cars were damaged in the same manner. I have a garage and we fix the whole engine prior to racing. I have raced in my car for three years and my friend for five years. After pumping petrol from the Kottawa filling station two pistons of my car and three pistons of my friend’s car were damaged. There weren’t other issues in those vehicles. If this had happened to one vehicle it would have been because of a defect in the vehicle. But both vehicles were damaged and that may be due to a problem in Octane 95. The fuel is either substandard or has been mixed. The authorities should look into that. People become helpless when their vehicles get damaged after spending a fortune on petrol,” he affirmed.
"After pumping petrol from the Kottawa filling station two pistons of my car and three pistons of my friend’s car were damaged. There weren’t other issues in those vehicles. If this had happened to one vehicle it would have been because of a defect in the vehicle"
- Asanga Bandara, Racing Driver
Daily Mirror investigations revealed that some filling stations were responsible for decreasing the quality of fuel. These filling stations add kerosene oil to Octane 92 petrol or mix Octane 95 with Octane 92. Some add Ethanol and kerosene oil to normal diesel. Super diesel is mixed with normal diesel. These types of mixed fuels directly affect engines. Drivers said that vehicle breakdowns and damages to engines were reported from different places where poor quality fuel was used. Critics point out that it is the duty of the authorities to keep customers informed regarding this matter.
We also learned about another fraudulent activity carried out by filling stations. These filling stations unload fuel stocks arriving in bowsers to different fuel tanks. “An owner of a filling station in Matara asked me to unload normal diesel to a tank meant to contain auto diesel and he promised to give me 15,000 rupees,” said a bowser driver. “Octane 92 is unloaded to Octane 95 tanks and kerosene oil to Octane 92 tanks. We are paid separately for doing that,” the browser driver added.
Samagi United Trade Union Force Convener Ananda Palitha said that the CPC has an investigation unit and employs investigating officers, but they had failed to find out what was taking place at these filling stations. “They do not look into these matters. They have all the facilities. These illegal activities take place as filling stations are not investigated properly. The CPC has failed to halt such activities. Sudden raids teams should conduct raids and take samples from tanks. But there are no such investigations. Even during investigations the officers would take samples provided by filling stations. How will they unearth the truth like that? If raids are conducted there is a book to be signed by investigating officers. I am sure they have never signed that book because they never conduct raids. If there were proper investigations, the filling stations would not mix fuel or decrease quality. Vehicles break down because of lack of investigations,” said Palitha.
CPS tests and distributes fuel owned by IOC and CPC. The investigation unit of CPS has not operated after that and has turned a blind eye to these illegal activities.
"These illegal activities take place as filling stations are not investigated properly. The CPC has failed to halt such activities. Sudden raids teams should conduct raids and take samples from tanks. But there are no such investigations"
- Ananda Palitha Samagi, United Trade Union Force Convener
“The quality of fuel is tested in CPS laboratories after stocks are unloaded from ships. Labs confirm whether the fuel stocks meet the standard. I can assure that petrol and diesel imported recently meet the standards. Consumers need not worry about its quality. But I learned that once fuel is transported in bowsers it is either mixed or unloaded secretly and some people have been doing that for a long time. Filling stations add kerosene oil to petrol and mix Octane 92 with 95. Since kerosene oil is mixed with petrol colour was added to the former to stop this questionable act. But mixing another fuel with petrol continues to happen; hence the quality of the original fuel remaining questionable. If the CPS investigation unit performs its tasks properly these activities could be prevented,” said Palitha.
Speaking regarding Gemunu Wijerathna’s letter, Police Spokesman SSP Attorney Nihal Thalduwa said that the letter had been directed to relevant units for future investigations.
A spokesperson of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) said that the authority does not have legal powers to conduct raids regarding the sale of low quality fuel. “We tried to contact IOC to know about their measures taken with regards to selling low quality fuel, but it was futile as the contact number was connected to a fax number.” he added.
CPC Chairman W. W. D. Sumith Wijesinghe said that the quality of petrol and diesel had not been degraded. “Test reports have confirmed that the fuel meets the standards. Those tests are conducted in a manner in which they are accepted internationally and the quality of fuel is not reduced. 18% of Octane 92 and 95 are produced in the country and the rest is imported. Those stocks are tested prior to shipping and after arriving. They are also tested daily in their stores.
“We have not received any complaints regarding filling stations mixing fuels. If we receive any we will look into them. Raid officers of CPC and the Ministry inspect filling stations in groups and hand over reports,” Wijesinghe added.
"Test reports have confirmed that the fuel meets the standards. Those tests are conducted in a manner in which they are accepted internationally and the quality of fuel is not reduced. 18% of Octane 92 and 95 are produced in the country and the rest is imported"
- W. W. D. Sumith, Wijesinghe CPC Chairman
Minister denies allegations
Attempts made to contact the Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila proved futile. At the event organised to make aware of the Statement of Rights and Obligations of Consumers of Petroleum Products and the procedure present to solve complaints and disputes formulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Energy, Minister Gammanpila has denied the allegations made by a President of the Lanka Bus Owners’ Association on breakdowns of buses. This is due to low quality diesel imported as a result of the foreign exchange crisis. “Diesel used in private buses are used for SLTB buses, trains, government vehicles, powerplants and generators and no issue has been reported with this regard. This situation has arisen as 25% of buses use kerosene oil instead of diesel. Using kerosene oil for a diesel engine or mixing both cannot prevent engines from deteriorating,” the minister said.
A CAA spokesperson said that legal actions can be taken under the Consumer Affairs Authority Act No 9 of 2003 for misleading consumers. “Petrol and diesel are not yet declared as essential items. If they are made essential items the CAA would have the power to regulate fuel price and to check the quality. Fuel is included in the list of items under the CAA but is not regulated.”, he added.
Using fuel which does not meet the standards cannot prevent engines from deteriorating. Vehicle engines have a compression ratio and fuel should be burnt accordingly. That also decides the Octane percentage of fuel. This leads to the maximum capacity in vehicles. Not using the recommended Octane percentage for engines can create inefficient combustion and environmental pollution. Inefficient combustion can damage the engines. When Octane 92 is used for a vehicle to which Octane 95 is recommended, the amount of Heptane in the previously used gasoline increases due to the temperature required for internal combustion of the engine.
"Diesel used in private buses are used for SLTB buses, trains, government vehicles, powerplants and generators and no issue has been reported with this regard. This situation has arisen as 25% of buses use kerosene oil instead of diesel"
- Udaya Gammanpila, Minister of Energy
This leads to a situation where the engine is unable to release the power guaranteed at the manufacturing stage; hence misfiring of the engine. The power received by the crankshaft becomes irregular. As combustion is extinguished the automobile does not develop the rhythm required. When recommended fuels are not used for a continuous period the crankshaft of the engine wears away. The distance that can be run with one litre of petrol decreases.
The fuel efficiency of the vehicle decreases. Modern automobiles are operated by electronic control systems. When standard fuels are not used for such vehicles, engine misfires can be identified. The electronic system of the vehicle identifies the irregularity of fuel combustion and changes the ignition point signaling the need to maintain an efficient combustion. That can reduce the damage to engines, but with long-term use of engines can lead to damage, automobile experts warned.
It is the responsibility of the authorities to prevent anyone from selling fuel of inferior quality.
Drivers of vehicles, running on inferior petrol, have complained that the fuel used is giving them a low millage