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Florida Officials Warn of Fuel Contamination as Idalia Approaches

Jul 14, 2023


The contamination, which officials said resulted from the accidental mixing of diesel and gasoline, comes as Gulf Coast residents face potential evacuation orders.

By Rebecca Carballo

Floridians face “potentially widespread” fuel contamination along the state’s Gulf Coast that could damage vehicles as Hurricane Idalia approaches and residents potentially face evacuation orders, state officials said a day after the governor declared a state of emergency for the storm.

Fuel purchased after 10 a.m. on Saturday at stations at the Port of Tampa supplied by Citgo has a strong chance of being contaminated, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said on Sunday.

The contamination happened through the accidental mixing of diesel and gasoline, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said at a news conference on Sunday.

“Basically it was just human error,” he said. “They put diesel in tanks that were supposed to be regular gas.”

The state’s Agriculture Department listed about 30 gas stations that could be affected, while warning that gasoline contaminated with diesel could cause engine damage or affect a car’s ability to operate.

In many cases, drivers may be able to go only a few miles before the engine shuts down, which could create a potentially dangerous situation for those trying to evacuate.

As Idalia is expected to strengthen, officials have warned that evacuation notices may be coming. The Florida Division of Emergency Management told residents to keep their gas tanks at least halfway full in case emergency evacuation orders were issued.

Mr. DeSantis said the contamination could “complicate” things if there is a need to evacuate but added that the state has started an investigation into what happened.

“You’re going to have people potentially just stuck on the side of the road,” he said on Sunday. “I mean, if you fill up your tank with diesel and you start driving it, it’s not going to end well.”

Stations affected by the contamination have been asked to stop selling gas until the contaminated fuel is replaced and the tanks are cleaned.

The state Agriculture Department did not immediately respond to questions about how many stations have completed these steps.

A Port of Tampa Bay spokeswoman, Lisa Wolf-Chason, said the port was aware of the contamination at the Citgo fuel terminal but added that the terminal was not affiliated with the port and that the company’s operations were not under the port’s authority or oversight.

“The port has been in contact with our five partner fuel terminal operators and have been assured they are prepared to deliver fuel and support consumers as Tropical Storm Idalia approaches and moves through our region,” she said.

A Citgo representative said that the company discovered the contaminated product on Saturday and has been coordinating efforts to remove it from retail locations that got it.

Both gasoline and diesel come from crude oil, but are chemically different, according to the National Motorists Association, and when the two are mixed it can harm the engine.

The organization advises drivers not to start their engine and have the tank flushed by a mechanic.

Kevin Guthrie, executive director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said on Sunday that the agency was working to ensure the contamination is quickly remedied.

State officials were coordinating “with everyone from petroleum retailers to the ports themselves to ensure that the disruption will not be widespread or prolonged,” Mr. Guthrie said, “and the residents can have seamless access to fuel.”

Rebecca Carballo is a reporter based in New York. More about Rebecca Carballo


Hurricane Idalia