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In sign of times, Lawrence gas station owner pulls back a bit on alternative fuels; reports show summer gas prices likely to be higher

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I had a reader ask me a question, and this one I can actually repeat in a family-oriented newspaper: Did Lawrence’s Zarco fueling stations give up on selling E-15 gasoline, the ethanol-based fuel that was supposed to put a dent in Big Oil's stranglehold on our wallets?

The answer is no, it did not. But it is a reasonable question because you may have noticed that the Zarco American Fuels station at 1500 E. 23rd St. no longer lists the E-15 product on its sign. That location has stopped selling the E-15 gasoline. But its sister station at Ninth and Iowa streets continues to sell the product. E-15 gasoline is a bit different from what you normally get at the pump because it has 15 percent ethanol. Most other gas brands have ethanol totals at 10 percent or less. The Zarco decision to start offering an E-15 variety was kind of a big deal because Lawrence-based Zarco became the first station in the country to start selling it in 2012. Big Oil did not like that decision, and Zarco leader Scott Zaremba actually ended a 28-year relationship with Phillips 66 to continue selling the product.

But at the 23rd Street store, Zaremba removed the product a couple of months ago and went a different direction. He’s now selling a super premium brand of fuel that has no ethanol in it. Boaters, lawn mower users and other owners of small engines often like fuel free of ethanol because the corn-based ethanol can cause some complications in certain types of small engines.

In some other ways, though, the change is a sign of the times. Oil is cheaper now than it was in 2012 when Zaremba was making the E-15 push. He expects that will be the case for the foreseeable future, which means pressure to create demand for more alternative fuels is waning.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any big advancements in new fuels for quite awhile,” Zaremba said.

That doesn’t mean some of the alternative fuel products —think E-85 ethanol for flex fuel vehicles or compressed natural gas for specially fitted vehicles — will go away. Zaremba thinks the infrastructure will remain in place to deliver those fuels, and they’ll be waiting in the wings if the oil markets take a dramatic turn upward. But Zaremba doesn’t see the markets moving that way anytime soon, as drilling technology has opened up new sources of American oil.

“We have huge domestic crude oil production that we didn’t use to have,” Zaremba said. “South of a nuclear war, we are going to be stable for transportation energy needs for decades to come.”

• The signs you may have noticed at the two Zarco stations in town are ones advertising high-tech car washes coming soon to both the 23rd Street and Iowa Street locations. But those signs have been up for quite awhile, and construction work hasn’t yet started on the tunnel car washes. For a time, an excavator was even on site to presumably begin tearing down the former Sandbar sub sandwich shop near Ninth and Iowa to make way for the 150-foot car wash there. But then it didn’t happen.

Zaremba, though, tells me that the car washes still will happen.

“I had the plans all set once, and then I decided I needed to look at them a little closer,” Zaremba said. “I have to be comfortable with the equipment layout.”

The tunnel car wash industry has turned competitive in Lawrence. Shortly after Zaremba announced he was going to build a tunnel car wash at his 23rd Street store, an out out-of-state company struck a deal to buy vacant ground next to QuikTrip — and just down the block from Zarco — to build a large tunnel car wash. That location is now open.

• While we are talking about gasoline, we might as well talk about one of Lawrence’s favorite subjects: gas prices. We are starting to get into prime driving season, and the latest report gives you reason to worry that filling up the family cruiser won’t be as cheap this summer.

The auto club AAA of Kansas released its latest report detailing fuel prices for a host of Kansas communities. It showed that while prices had started to drop recently, they were still significantly ahead of where they were a year ago. And to the chagrin of many local motorists, it found that Lawrence prices were in a familiar place — right near the top.

Here’s a look at prices across the state and how they compared with the same period a year ago:

— Hays: $2.31, up from $1.98 a year ago

— Lawrence: $2.28, up from $2.02 a year ago

— Garden City: $2.28, up from $2 a year ago

— Kansas City, Kan.: $2.27, up from $2 a year ago

— Topeka: $2.26, up from $1.96 a year ago.

— Wichita: $2.21, up from $2.02 a year ago

— Emporia: $2.20, up from $2.02 a year ago

— Salina: $2.19, up from $1.90 a year ago

— Pittsburg: $2.15, up from $1.88 a year ago

— Manhattan: $2.13, up from $1.98 a year ago

— Kansas average: $2.22, up from $1.99 a year ago

— National average: $2.39, up from $2.21 a year ago.

Of course, in the time it took you to read that list, gasoline prices may have changed a couple of times. They are volatile. But the U.S. Energy Information Administration does put out a forecast. Its latest forecast for the April through September summer driving season predicts nationally that gasoline prices will be about 10 percent higher than they were last year.

Comments

Clara Westphal 7 months, 1 week ago

A mechanic told me not to use ethanol in my car because it would make the engine run hot.

Armen Kurdian 7 months, 1 week ago

Big and huge subsidized fuel...there's somewhere you can cut federal spending. Don't need it. Vehicle fleets that run on natural gas is a good thing, especially when they all return to a central location or depot.

Clark Coan 7 months, 1 week ago

I stopped buying gas with ethanol because my car got fewer miles per gallon. Corn-generated ethanol is also bad for the environment. Hey, the owners of Zarco once promised the EPA that they would put solar panels up but they never did. There is that wind generator on the roof. Across the street at The Merc there will be solar panels on the roof and carport which will produce 29% of the store's electricity. That's pretty significant given the freezers and refrigerators.

Franz Bruyere 7 months, 1 week ago

I've only been in Lawrence a little over 2 years, but the one thing I definitely have noted?

Every time someone sneezes gas prices jump .12-.15 cents per gallon, even when there's not a holiday right around the corner.

Why do the station owners here feel the need to gouge consumers???

Mike Riner 7 months, 1 week ago

Simply because they can. No other reason.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 7 months, 1 week ago

All any of us can figure is they can get it from the students. So many residents work out of town and can buy gas elsewhere. Of course, it's even more depressing to me. I grew up in the '60's. I remember the good old days of gas wars. There isn't much competition anymore, even though the free market people think big oil is "free market". They really believe in crony capitalism.

Stacy Napier 7 months, 1 week ago

Sign of the times. The government has spent millions subsidizing the ethanol industry. At the cost of the tax payers and consumers of beef and corn products. All for bunk science.

No it won't be there later when we need it because it will be 20 year old technology and infrastructure. It will all need to be replaced.

Stop giving tax breaks, grants and other public money to private companies that should stand on their own. It the idea was really that great it wouldn't have needed government to get it started. The investors would have come out of the woodwork.

Your welcome Zaremba.

Louis Kannen 7 months, 1 week ago

By virtually any current and accurate estimate, irrespective of OPEC's miniscule and tenuous cutbacks, our world is literally awash in crude oil and its distilates, both on land and in off-shore tanker storage. Market-based pricing volatility is really nothing more than Big Oil and its historic 10w$40 Stockholder avarice, plain and simple.

Michael Kort 7 months, 1 week ago

Louis is right !

The big oil producers and refiners always have an excuse that the media will TRUMPet .

AND THE NEXT LIE IS.................? ? ?

Michael Kort 7 months, 1 week ago

Ethanol in gasoline attracts moisture from gas tanks that are mostly empty or 1/4 full ( and have allot of air carrying moisture in them ) that can condense and stay seperate or mix into the ethanol that can come back out of the ethanol durring something called phase shift ( which I don't understand because I am not a chemist ) ..

Since gasoline floats on water that isn't absorbed into the ethanol, this can lead to gas line freezeing with ice from water during the winter and poorer performance at other times .

Some "add a bottle to a tank full of gas type" gas tank water removers that prevent poor performance, gas line winter water freeze up or water trapped in ethanol that can suddenly opt out of the ethanol mix, turning back into free water, causing sputtering or freeze ups, can be purchased almost anywhere that auto products are sold .

I won't pimp you a brand but additives generally claim to trap water in suspension and run it out harmlessly thru the engine as you drive .

Some claim to also clean your fuel injectors and keep rust out of your fuel system, which makes sense, as water causes metals to rust .

They also sell gasoline stabilizers that are supposed to keep fresh E 10 good for up to 1 Yr. for your lawnmower, generator, boat ( take your paddles ) or snowblower, etc that works with both gasoline or gasoline / oil mix .....but I wouldn't give you 2 cents for most of them because cleaning out the carburetor idle jet ( if it is plugged up the motor will briefly hunt going up and down in speeds and then refuse to start or refuse to stay running, if you get it to do anything ) on a small motor carburetor, under cold weather outside for the gas generator or the mixed with oil / gas snow blower, is just a pain in the cold weather.....whatever ! ! !

There is a reason why ethanol is not added to airplane engine fuel......just think about that one ? !

5000 feet up and the motor desides to stop and won't start back up.......what is an inconvenience with the lawnmower, snow blower or generator becomes a life and death issue at 5000 feet up .

Stacy Napier 7 months, 1 week ago

Yes everyone should know. Ethanol, good for drinking, junk for internal combustion engines. Get rid of it.

Richard Heckler 7 months, 1 week ago

Fracking is a dangerous polluting source of oil extraction. Lawrence,Kansas experienced an earthquake as a result of a Fracking enterprise in Oklahoma.

Cruise control in the city limits can improve gas mileage considerably driving the speed limits or slower. And this practice can prevent speeding tickets.

Bicycles are among the absolute best on gas mileage no doubt about it as is walking. However research has revealed to me that bicycling is easier on the joints (ankles and such) and definitely good cardio vascular exercise.

Now wouldn't be just fantastic if an elliptical traveling device were on the market. Joints,ankles,knees and such would be in heaven on the way to Free State Brewery or the grocery store.

Michael Kort 7 months ago

Allot of "oil and natural gas boom producers" are now in financial trouble because of the world glut of oil, natural gas and the fact that many of them borrowed money to go drilling on what has turned out to be poor current prices for oil and natural gas with rising interest rates on the money they must borrow to just stay in business because prices are so low .

On a national level, countries like Russia are loosing out big time on the falling price of oil and natural gas and newer sources production world wide taking big a bite out of their sales.....ditto for Venezuela and countries that they subsidized like Cuba .

Once Iran, Russia's ally starts to sell oil again, they to will compete with Russia for the oil and Natural Gas sales market .

Much like oil, Natural Gas can be shipped in tankers ( after it is liquified at 240 deg. bellow 0 and sized, by liquification, down to 1/600 of its' normal space needed to exist ) to anywhere in the world .

Unfortunately, this country is joining in on shipping liqified natural gas around the world via long term unregulated contracts and I wonder how long it will be before that becomes an excuse to raise winter time heating bills via supply, demand, infrastructure limitations or some complete ruse .

The US in the 50s,...... was a net exporter of oil...........until the 70s rolled around .

Yea, Dorothy, 25 cent per gallon for premium gasoline back in the 60s seemed high back then,....... but what did we know ?

I know that history repeats itself.... only next time it will be natural gas,.......again, which right now is relatively cheap because this nation hasn't exported itself into a have not nation once again, ......yet .

Did we, as a nation, fail to learn something here ?

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