A recent press release from Two Harbors on Catalina Island said, “Two Harbors, located at the Isthmus of Catalina Island, has just learned that unleaded fuel with excessive levels (approximately 40 percent) of ethanol was sold to its customers during the period from August 30th, 8 a.m. to September 3rd, 10 a.m.”

They urged boaters who may have fueled up on the island during that time to empty their tanks and replace the fuel.

“The fuel mixture does not pose a health or safety risk to people, but could affect the performance of boats or vehicles and/or potentially damage vehicle or boat engines,” says Ann Luchau, Two Harbors vice president and chief administrative officer. “We can assist you in verifying your purchase and inform you of the steps that can be taken to have the fuel removed from your tanks and replaced without charge.”

Beyond this mishap, the fact is that ethanol (ethyl alcohol) has been a thorn in the side of boaters for quite a few years now. In 2004, MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether), a chemical compound that was used as a gasoline additive, was banned, based on environmental concerns, and replaced with ethanol.

This all seemed well and good until it was discovered that ethanol has a nasty habit of wreaking havoc with various parts within a boat’s fuel system. According to noted boating advocate and writer Alan Sorum, the solvent undermines the effectiveness and operation of certain sealants in the system and will eat right through fiberglass tanks.

“Boats built prior to 1984 should have their fiberglass fuel tanks and lines replaced with modern equivalents before ever using ethanol,” advised Sorum in an open letter to boaters regarding the plight. “This will immediately eliminate almost certain failure of these older fuel tanks and components.”

But Sorum’s words come too late for many boaters who have already suffered the effects of ethanol’s quiet and covert wrath. Like a termite, ethanol eats through important materials and in doing so, leaves hazardous particles in its wake that can clog fuel injector nozzles and carburetors, and in more severe cases fuel tanks begin to leak, causing lives to be in danger.

For these reasons, a class action lawsuit on behalf of California was filed back in April against a number of large oil companies. Big West, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, Tesoro, Tower Energy, PetroDiamond and Valero were all named in the suit brought by boaters who have experienced loss through use of the additive.

The suit asserts that these companies should have warned consumers in the marine industry that ethanol has damaging effects in certain containments.

“The price of gas is bad enough, but selling gasoline that dissolves gas tanks is a new low, even for the oil companies,” asserted Brian Kabateck — managing partner of Kabateck Brown Kellner, the law firm that filed the federal class action suit — in a recent press release.

“The oil companies know this fuel is corrosive, but they’re keeping consumers in the dark to pump up their profits,” he alleged. “The cost to the consumer is thousands of dollars in repairs.”

As might be expected, the oil companies involved don’t agree with Kabateck or his clients.

Shell president John Hofmeister told the Los Angeles Times, “Any boat owner or any boat seller or any boat maintenance shop that didn’t know about this impending change and the potential consequences simply wasn’t listening or reading.”

Past the legal ramifications of the controversial additive, local boaters should ask themselves if they visited Catalina Island a few weeks ago and if they fueled up. If so, tanks should be drained and a thorough check of the fuel system should be made.

“Two Harbors regrets this incident and plans to work closely with its customers to remedy the situation,” says Luchau. “Those concerned are urged to call Two Harbors representatives LauraÝMcElroy at (310) 510-4219 or Ann Luchau at (310) 510-4204.”