WASHINGTON -- Gasoline with up to 15 percent ethanol probably won't be sold at the pump for at least another year because of health, safety, cost and environmental concerns, a government watchdog said.
Nozzles and other equipment that dispense the fuel may leak, posing safety and performance problems, said the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm.
Underground storage tanks used by fuel stations also may leak when holding the so-called E-15, GAO report said. The findings are based on federally sponsored research into potential E-15 use at fuel stations.
The report makes clear that the EPA's recent decisions to allow the sale of E-15 rather than just E-10, or gasoline with up to 10 percent ethanol, does not mean that the higher ethanol blend will be offered right away.
The EPA determined the higher ethanol blend is safe for use in vehicles dating to the 2001 model year.
Some fuel stations may have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade equipment that stores and dispenses E-15, the report said.
"We identified several challenges to selling intermediate ethanol blends at the retail level," it said.
Fuel-testing requirements to meet health and safety regulations may take a year or more to complete, the July 8 report said.
The EPA, in granting a request last fall from ethanol producers to increase ethanol concentrations, did not say when it expected fuel manufacturers to apply for E-15 use.
No manufacturer or importer has completed a registration application for E-15, an EPA spokeswoman said today.
Starting last fall, the EPA allowed higher ethanol blends in an attempt to help reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"There will always be uncertainty concerning the compatibility of legacy equipment with these fuel blends," EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus said in a May letter to GAO.
She added: "EPA will continue to work with other federal agencies, industry and other stakeholders to assist tank owners to safely transition to new fuels. We anticipate that additional, targeted research may be necessary to facilitate that transition."
Automakers unsuccessfully urged EPA to wait until more research was completed on how the higher ethanol blend might affect engines and fuel systems.
"It is not in the longer-term interest of the government, vehicle manufacturers, fuel distributors or the ethanol industry itself to find out after the fact that there are equipment or performance problems," said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include Toyota and the Detroit 3.
In December, U.S. carmakers asked a federal appeals court to require the EPA to reconsider its decision allowing E-15 in cars made since 2007.