Can I hoard gasoline?
June 29, 2005 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Is there a relatively safe way for me, a typical consumer, to hoard gasoline?

With prices increasing, and no end in sight, I'm thinking it would be really great if I could buy several hundred gallons of gas at the current price ($2.25/g, locally) for use when we break the $4/g barrier, for instance. Alternative fuels are unavailable for both my car and my wife's, so we're stuck with regular old petrol. This article says there's no "completely safe" way to store gasoline, but is there a "mostly safe" way that's not covered? Furthermore, could I legally sell this gas for somewhere between my purchase price and the then-current retail price when the time comes?
posted by aaronetc to Travel & Transportation (46 answers total)
posted by geoff. at 2:08 PM on June 29, 2005

You'd be better off trying to indirectly profit from your belief that gasoline will soon cost $4 per gallon. It doesn't matter to your bottom how how you take advantage of the spread. Say, by investing in alternative energy companies or something like that. Or just trade oil price derivatives.
posted by loquax at 2:08 PM on June 29, 2005

Chevron's got some tips on longer-term storage. Regarding the legality and wisdom of this course of action, I have no useful opinion.
posted by Floydd at 2:14 PM on June 29, 2005

Consider trading unleaded gasoline futures. That way, someone else pays the storage and security costs. Assuming gas shortages drive up the price, you'll be well-funded when you need to buy gas for your own car. Of course, the opposite might happen, as well.
posted by Rothko at 2:17 PM on June 29, 2005

Why not just sell your old cars and buy a fuel-efficient hybrid? Or invest in public transportation or other forms of transit?
posted by hamster at 2:35 PM on June 29, 2005

Gasoline vapors are explosive. So if you fill up your 700 gallon tank, you're cool until you drain 350 gallons out, then you have a 350-gallon-volume space full of a really awful explosion waiting to happen. When it does happen, it will also scatter 350 gallons of gasoline around, which will rather promptly be on fire.

Smells a lot like victory to me.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:50 PM on June 29, 2005

Where do you have room for several hundred gallons and what would you store it in? You're talking about 1600lb (8lb*200) in 27 cubic feet (200/7.481g in a cu foot). I don't think you'd find airtight storage with that kind of strength to be worth the 200 * $2 profit/savings.

on preview, ikkyu2 has a good point. You'd have to either vent that well and accept the loss of volume to evaporation or push nitrogen or the like in there to prevent vaporization. Another expenditure.
posted by phearlez at 3:01 PM on June 29, 2005

The relatively safe way for you to store that much gasoline is the same way gas stations do. It will also cost you as much to install and maintain, and require you to have the same permits and, probably, insurance.

Or, as geoff says, "no".

posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:13 PM on June 29, 2005

Along with what Kirth said, its my understanding that underground gas tanks are designed to leak. Otherwise the vapor pressure would burst them. Or something like that.

I think this explains why gas stations are often digging up their tanks and replacing them. That and Location, Location, Location.

If I'm wrong on the vapor pressure thing, I am eager to find out what's actually going on.
posted by therealadam at 3:33 PM on June 29, 2005

You'd have to either vent that well and accept the loss of volume to evaporation or push nitrogen or the like in there to prevent vaporization.

Why? Lots of people, including me, store gasoline in small non-ventilated containers for various purposes, and I for one have never really worried about them spontaneously exploding. Is the vapour pressure that much higher in a larger tank or something?

To judge from that Findlaw article, I think the danger may be somewhat overstated. All the problems it talks about involve people doing amazingly stupid things, like storing and using gas in a garage with no ventilation, or pouring the stuff on a campfire.
posted by sfenders at 3:36 PM on June 29, 2005

My roommate says "hoarding gasoline is a federal crime," but I can't find any information indicating that on the web (with some basic Google searches). Also you say "petrol" which leads me to believe you live somewhere in the current or former British empire - laws may be different there.
posted by autojack at 3:44 PM on June 29, 2005

I dunno autojack I think he's american, unless the British empire just switched to the dollar.
posted by pwally at 3:52 PM on June 29, 2005

If I'm wrong on the vapor pressure thing, I am eager to find out what's actually going on.

I don't know what's going on, but I feel reasonably sure that it's not risk of the tank rupturing due to vapor pressure. I don't know off-hand what the vapor pressure of gasoline is at ordinary termperatures, but it's necessarily less than one atmosphere--given that gasoline is not boiling at ordinary temperatures. Not really that much for tanks to contain.

Is the vapour pressure that much higher in a larger tank or something?

Vapor pressure is independent of the volume of the tank. Now, given a fixed vapor pressure, a larger tank will have more evaporated gasoline than a smaller tank--so that if it does explode, the explosion will be that much larger.

or push nitrogen or the like in there to prevent vaporization.

Adding nitrogen won't prevent vaporization. What it will do is displace the oxygen, so that instead of an explosive gasoline/oxygen mixture you have an inert gasoline/nitrogen mixture. But the gasoline will still evaporate just as much under nitrogen as it would under ordinary air. (To a first-order approximation, the vapor pressure of a substance is independent of other gasesous substances which share the same space. The oft-quoted explanation that "warm air holds more water vapor than cold air" isn't really correct; it would be more accurate to say that a given volume of empty space can hold more warm water vapor than cold water vapor. The air doesn't really enter into it. Unless you get to very highly-pressurized near-liquid conditions, which is not what we're talking about here.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:59 PM on June 29, 2005

autojack - Considering he refrences that he's currently paying around 2$ a gallon and the brits are paying at least three times that I'd say he's probably an American.
posted by cyphill at 4:12 PM on June 29, 2005

aaronetc lives in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
We all say "petrol" here, to avoid confusion with that stuff we get from brats and beer.

The Chevron link really says it all, I think.
posted by Floydd at 4:19 PM on June 29, 2005

Farmers in remote parts of the U.S. used to keep underground tanks, with pumps. I suspect that it doesn't happen so much now, and I'd bet that they have to get a permit to keep large quantities of a hazardous and toxic substance like gasoline around.

Gas station tanks aren't designed to leak, but after numerous cases of water supply contamination by leaky gas station tanks, the government mandated that tanks get dug up and replaced at fixed intervals. Underground plumes of gasoline typically ruins a water supply for a long time.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:19 PM on June 29, 2005

There is no safe way to store large quantities of volatile liquid in a residential setting that would be worthwhile - if the price of fuel were to double from $2 per gallon to $4 per gallon, you would save $1,000 by buying 500 gallons, but storing that much fuel at home is a very very very bad idea. In order to make it safe, you would have to spend a lot more than that.

Also, petrol has a shelf life and you would find that any savings would be reduced by the increasing inefficiency of the fuel as it ages.

In short, no. Buy a bike.
posted by dg at 4:35 PM on June 29, 2005

i wonder if it's possible to buy a gas card for a certain number of gallons at a given service station to hedge your bet against price increases? Seems like something businesses would want to do so maybe this exists?
posted by jacobsee at 4:37 PM on June 29, 2005

There was lots of discussion on this pre-Y2K. Those in the know agreed with geoff because of the additives in the petrol -- apparently, over time, they change, as dg noted. Easy enough to verify, I suppose -- do a test with a small amount. (Actually, I keep a small bottle of petrol under the sink with my other cleaning fluids. It's years-old and doesn't look any different -- I had the notion those additives would precipitate, over time.)
posted by Rash at 4:38 PM on June 29, 2005

Most farms that I have visited had several 55 gallon drums full of fuel with a pump on top to fill tractors and other devices. It seems that you could just go to a fuel distributer and buy several drums already filled with gas.
posted by mbell at 4:38 PM on June 29, 2005

Buy a bike.

posted by fixedgear at 4:59 PM on June 29, 2005

Well it isn't financially worthwhile to store petrol if you're just worried about the price going to $4/gallon. You can, with a bit of leverage, be fully hedged using quite a bit less money and effort like Rothko suggested.

...unless something really crazy happens and it becomes difficult to buy, and price controls and rations are imposed. Notice that Findlaw article is from 1979. The bicycle would be a better backup plan for almost everyone, certainly for the "typical consumer".

But I think mbell has it. Acquiring and storing moderate quantities of petrol is relatively safe and easy.
posted by sfenders at 5:04 PM on June 29, 2005

This is a bad idea. There must be other pieces of the sky to insure yourself against.
posted by yerfatma at 5:04 PM on June 29, 2005

It doesn't matter to your bottom how how you take advantage of the spread.

I just wanted to marvel at that for a bit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:18 PM on June 29, 2005

I think Rothko's option is best for you.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 5:31 PM on June 29, 2005

ROU_X, presumably that first "how" (of two) should be "line"?

Thanks geoff. for one of the more amusing AskMe answers I've ever seen.

There was an apropos Steve Martin routine, which I am failing to find on the web, something like "Two months ago, cardboard was thirty cents a ton. Bought two tons. Now it's forty cents a ton. Thinkin' it might be time to unload."
posted by Aknaton at 5:32 PM on June 29, 2005

Acquiring and storing moderate quantities of petrol is relatively safe and easy.
If moderate quantities involves buying fuel in 200 litre drums, it is certainly not safe, but I guess it depends on how much you are prepared to risk to save a few bucks - storing anything more than about 20 litres will most likely void any insurance you have. As for being easy, any reputable fuel distributor will not like the idea of supplying you with bulk fuel unless you are in a rural area and they will be unlikely to deliver it for you to a residential address - how are you going to get it home?

This is a bad idea.
posted by dg at 5:37 PM on June 29, 2005

You could buy a Diesel car and hoard away, the majority of agricultural vehicles run on diesel - this the tanks which are mentioned above. Diesel can be stored in a plastic tanks above ground.

Then rattle and smoke your way around the neighbourhood.
posted by clarkie666 at 5:45 PM on June 29, 2005

unless you are in a rural area

Oh yeah. I forget that most people aren't. Storing 60-gallon drums of gasoline in your city apartment is even more ridiculous. Yes, bad idea. But still pretty safe and easy, by my standards.
posted by sfenders at 6:17 PM on June 29, 2005

It doesn't matter to your bottom how how you take advantage of the spread.

I wish I meant it, but alas, Aknaton is correct.
posted by loquax at 6:18 PM on June 29, 2005

I have no expertise whatsoever in this area, but it sounds to me like most of the people commenting don't either. If it was as dangerous as you are all suggesting we would have exploding gas stations on a regular basis (and cars too, of course... like du man, most of you car-adicts have large amounts of stored gasoline right outside your bedroom window, sheesh). Metafilter has been watching too many action movies...

Could somebody who knows comment on the differences in storage requirements for gasoline vs. diesel vs. furnace oil?

Everybody realizes that furnace oil tanks are a common feature in many residential neighborhoods, right? They don't require any special maintenance, and they don't generally cause any harm to anybody! (well... no harm is a relative thing, but they certainly don't explode, they don't negate house insurance, they don't break building codes, etc. etc.) My entirely inadequate understanding of chemistry tells me that the only substantial difference would be flash point, which might require gasoline storage to be buried.

As to the wisdom of storage of gasoline... It seems to be a very bad idea economically. The tank can't be cheap to buy, and if it has to be buried it would be even more expensive to install - even if you use child labour and ignore the need to have permits.

So ya, Buy a bike!
posted by Chuckles at 6:48 PM on June 29, 2005

Response by poster: Got a bike, got a decent public transportation system that I can use for free. But, my wife has to drive back and forth to Milwaukee twice a week, and there are some errands that don't make sense to walk/bike/bus to. I suspect we use less gasoline than the average household (certainly than the average non-child-having household), and one of the reasons this scheme seemed worth asking about is that several hundred gallons would probably last us quite a while -- my back on envelope estimate is that we use 800 gal/year.

Anyway, the question was prompted more by idle wonder than serious planning; thanks to everybody for the info.
posted by aaronetc at 7:01 PM on June 29, 2005

*scratches aaronetc's name off the list of places to hit when the shit goes down*
posted by Floydd at 7:25 PM on June 29, 2005

You'd be better off trying to indirectly profit from your belief that gasoline will soon cost $4 per gallon.

The stocks of drilling and engineering firms are one way to play this, according to market maniac Jim Cramer. Higher oil prices will give companies incentive to find more oil -- you can spend a lot more money getting the oil if you know you can sell it for $70 a barrel than you can if the market price is $35. This means new drilling platforms, which will have to be constructed, and I was surprised to discover that this is done not by companies like ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco but by less familiar names like Fluor, Haliburton, Jacobs, McDermott, and Shaw Group. He also likes Schlumburger, Grey Wolf, TransOcean, Pioneer, and Encana for exploration and production. Of the "big name oils" he likes only ConocoPhilips and Marathon (he thinks Marathon is likely to be an acquisition target, since both Chevron and China's CNOOC want Unocal, and Marathon fits a profile similar to Unocal). He advises staying away from the oil transportation stocks, though, even though they are trading at very low P/Es, as apparently there's a glut of tanker capacity.

Worth thinking about, maybe. Just depends on whether you think oil will go further above $60 sooner or later.
posted by kindall at 8:11 PM on June 29, 2005

These guys have a 285 gallon tank for $530.

285*$2+$530 = $1100
285*4 = $1140

Not worth it if you have to buy a tank. You could make a tank cheaper if you can weld but the steel will still cost quite a bit.

This (pdf) Nebraska state page has some regulations on tanks and appropriate materials. The document specifically covers "farms or remote areas." I'm betting you can't install a large tank in suburbia.
posted by 6550 at 8:12 PM on June 29, 2005

6550: That link on the Chevron page stated that 60 gallon drums are Federally mandated as being the only lawful way to store gasoline > 5gal quantities. So that might be a very bad idea.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:50 PM on June 29, 2005

Thanks odinsdream!

In most areas, it's 9.8 pounds per square inch. In the summer, it's 7.8 pounds per square inch. The different vapor pressures are because of emissions standards. Vapor pressure is often regulated by adding butane to the fuel.

Wow, it really is close to boiling at that rate. Isopropyl alcohol has a vapour pressure of about .1psi (depending on temperature of course) and I think of that stuff as evaporating very quickly!
posted by Chuckles at 9:10 PM on June 29, 2005

Isopropyl alcohols vapour pressure is 1 psi, not 0.1, oops!
posted by Chuckles at 9:18 PM on June 29, 2005

Also, home and contents insurance always seems to have a big clause saying "If your place burns down, and we can show that you stored flamable materials, we don't owe you a cent". (So if you're renting, that gets translated on the renters contract to "You may not store flamable materials" :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:07 PM on June 29, 2005

Switching to diesel isn't really that attractive an option. Diesel gives better fuel economy, but at present demand is high, growing in Europe and China (and the US) and the price is at a premium to gasoline on a liquid volume basis. If the price gets to be about 120% of gasoline, the economic advantage disappears. In the winter, when gasoil is burned, this may only get worse. Diesel is pretty clean these days - as clean as gasoline, or getting there, depending on the market. It puts out more CO2 per gallon, but that's where the fuel economy advantage comes from. I'd guess you get about the same CO2 emission per mile traveled.

If your gasoline is made with cracked stocks, and most US gasoline is, it won't store indefinitely. Additives can only stop it from gumming up to a point. It may not look bad or different, but it could wreak havoc on your engine cylinders.

If you're really concerned, I'd agree with the futures option. And the bike option. The surest way to get past the forecast crunch this winter is for everyone to go a little easier on the fuel, especially in the US, where consumption is high and considered a birthright. We've gone slack over the little things around the margins that can make a difference. If the US could reduce oil demand by 5%, it would take a lot of pressure off the price.

I'm not sure how much demand was reduced back in the 1970s when there was a concerted effort to conserve. You know - set thermostat to 67 in winter, etc. Wear an extra layer. Double up on car trips. I'm sure the US could cut demand significantly without rationing, etc. And I won't even go near SUVs and CAFE standards.

I'm American, but I live in the UK and $7.50 a gallon makes you take notice. Of course, a lot of that is tax, so we're relatively insulated from increases in the underlying price. That is, we're relatively unaware of small moves. $4 a gallon would be a relief. It's just a matter of perspective.
posted by sagwalla at 1:57 AM on June 30, 2005

Odins, disel and home furnace oil are one and the same. The only difference is that disel has a dye added to it. That way, if Mr. longhaul trucker gets pulled over and they suspect he's been dodging taxes by using fuel oil in his truck, they just need to check the tanks: Fuel oil is clearish yellow color, disel has red dye in it.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:04 AM on June 30, 2005

I grew up on a farm with two 250 gallon above ground tanks, one for gas, one for diesel. Both had hand crank pumps. As far as I know, they are still there. The local fuel company would stop by and fill them every once and a while. I think they have to be a certain distance from the house (100-150 feet). Out west, they mount tanks on stilts so that gravity delivers the fuel. If you are on the central coast of california, I saw one of these tanks (on stilts) at a yard sale last weekend and it didn't sell. I personally hoard gas in the gastanks of my '55 and '68 Pontiacs. I go months without driving them and commute by motorcycle. I figure that at 55 mpg I can siphon gas out of their tanks for months (in case of earthquake disruption, not price).
posted by 445supermag at 8:08 AM on June 30, 2005

Lots of people, including me, store gasoline in small non-ventilated containers for various purposes, and I for one have never really worried about them spontaneously exploding.

Accent on the "small" there - the vapor issues people here have brought up were specifically in reference to when that 200+ gallon tank gets towards empty. 1/2 a cubic foot of gasoline vapor is notably different from 10 cubic feet of vapor. And when that 1/2 a foot is available for the gas it means there's not an additional 100 gallons of gasoline to continue burning after the fw00m.

If you're inclined to injure yourself and want a demonstration, get an empty gallon milk jug and put 3 or 4 drops of gasoline in it. Close the lid and spend a few minutes repeatedly shaking and turning it around before you open it and strike a match. That's 1/7th of a cubic foot.
posted by phearlez at 8:25 AM on June 30, 2005

Buy a bike, and lobby for a high speed rail line linking Milwaukee and Madison.
posted by drezdn at 8:30 AM on June 30, 2005

In most areas, it's 9.8 pounds per square inch...

Wow, it really is close to boiling at that rate.

guess it makes sense we call it "gas" then, after all...
posted by mdn at 8:57 AM on June 30, 2005

Response by poster: If my wife weren't carting a few hundred pounds of merchandise with her on each trip, regional rail would be great -- for that matter, the Badger Bus would be great.
posted by aaronetc at 12:51 PM on June 30, 2005

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