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Face up to fuel fraud: Marking branded fuels

What does a driver expect when buying fuel at a branded gas station?

It may seem obvious, but the customer wants to drive away knowing the car will perform as it should.

Purchasing the petrol or diesel is based on trust: that the fuel filling the tank is only that – and nothing else.

But if the fuel is adulterated, this can start a chain of events – reducing vehicle performance, damaging its engine, harming a fuel company’s reputation, bringing a claim from the customer and potential loss of sales revenue.

Fuel fraud is bad but not only for the driver and oil company: adulterated fuel means worse emissions for the environment and reduced tax revenues for Governments, both of which affect everyone.

Facing up to fuel fraud with fuel marking

Oil companies already facing up to fuel fraud have recognised the need to take action. And among the methods they’re using is marking fuels sold at their branded gas stations around the world.

However, more companies across our industry need to help tackle this problem.

So why use fuel marking and why mark branded road fuels?

By helping to eliminate illegal petroleum suppliers, it protects the reputation of oil companies, their products and their profits while simultanenously protecting the environment from the harmful effects of adulterated fuels.

Fuel marking provides proof that a petroleum product is authentic and will perform as it should, while allowing companies to challenge false claims for vehicle damage.

Marking legitimate road fuels

A strategy of marking branded – and therefore higher value – fuel makes sense from both a technical and reputation perspective:

Protecting such fuel from adulteration through a marker programme demands that the fuel, when tested, should be 100% legitimate.

Any adulterant added to the branded fuel will dilute the marker, while attempts by fraudsters to remove the marker will expose the fuel as fraudulent as only fuel with 100% marker is legitimate.

For example, in the Philippines there is now a move to mark all legally-imported, tax-paid fuel to combat the smuggling and wide range of adulterants affecting the market and ensuring the country collects the right tax revenues. Previously, fuel fraud cost the Philippine Government up to $770m in lost tax revenues, affected fuel quality and damaged driver experience.

Fuel marking in action

A European-owned energy company is one organisation facing up to fuel fraud through a three-year fuel marking programme with John Hogg.

Based on previous cases of fleet vehicles experiencing fuel performance issues, the company instigated a programme to mark both its premium gasoline and diesel to identify any instances of adulterated fuel.

Crucially, once the company suspected a problem, it investigated and took action.

Leadership in tackling fuel fraud

Introducing fuel marking programmes is about demonstrating leadership, both within your organisation and the industry; using technology and innovation to support and protect business growth.

However, taking this step can be challenging for companies with less experience, capability, staff or infrastructure for testing.

Bespoke fuel marking programmes adopt a comprehensive approach that includes understanding the problem, designing a solution, dosing, testing, reporting and enforcement.

Solution providers have devised methods to minimise the impact testing has on operational efficiency (e.g. testing direct read markers generates no waste) and have developed new tools that allow oil companies to monitor the geographic distribution of fraud over time.

Whether there’s a potential fuel fraud issue that’s either costing money or harming brand reputation, more and more companies are recognising these are problems that need addressing.

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