With over 100 years of experience in the fuel industry, we believe there is no question or problem that Portland cannot answer or help you solve. We want to hear your questions and issues with regards fuel buying, fuel quality, fuel consumption, petrol forecourts, grades of fuel, refining etc, etc, etc. The list really is endless and we would like you the fuel user to test us so we can help you!

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Read our forum questions below:

July 19, 2012 What is Base Oil?

Base Oil is one of the most ubiquitous oil products in the world and can be found in literally thousands of products, many of which would be viewed as completely unrelated to the oil sector.

Firstly from a production perspective, Base Oil is one of the fractions that comes out of the Crude Distillation Unit (other refined fractions include Gasoline, Middle Distillates, Fuel Oils). It is heavier than other fractions and has a higher boiling point. This means it sinks to the bottom of the chamber and is drawn off later than the lighter products (ie, the fractions mentioned above).

The main use of Base Oil is in the manufacture of lubricants and every single lubricating oil in the world (with the exception of chemically made synthetic oils) has Base Oil as its main ingredient. So whether it is engine oils, agricultural lubes, hydraulic oils, industrial waxes or manufacturing greases, they all are made from Base Oil.

Base Oil also has two key differences to other refined products. Firstly, unlike the other fractions, it is not combusted (ignited) but is simply used as a component in the manufacture of other products. This makes it environmentally benign when compared to other crude oil products. Secondly, Base Oil is non-toxic and therefore has uses way beyond the industrial / oil sector. So ladies, next time you apply the mascara, relax in the knowledge that you are slapping Base Oil onto your face. Same with lipstick. Kids, enjoy that ice-cream or chewing gum because the thin film that covers both products (to maintain texture) comes from Base Oil. Surgeons, you’d have a lot of dead patients if it wasn’t for the base oil mixture that rapidly seals internal incisions, thus ensuring minimal blood loss and disease spread. And finally pigs, you’d have very sore backs if it wasn’t for the Base Oil that is smeared all over you to prevent sun-burn…

This month’s question came from Kyle in Taunton

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May 15, 2012 Is there a good time of the year to buy my heating oil?

Take it from us Alan, if there were good and bad times to buy oil, we would be profiting from that and not updating this website! The truth is that second guessing the oil markets is impossible – proved time and time again by “experts” who constantly get their forecasts wrong (think Goldman Sachs and others predicting in 2008 that oil would go up to $200 per barrel – it was at $40 by December 2008).

In theory, as jet fuel prices rise in the spring and summer, heating oil prices will follow and also go up (heating oil is the same product as Jet Fuel). However, if in the same period crude oil prices go down, then heating oil prices will also drop, irrespective of what happens with jet fuel. Plus, these macro (worldwide) trends do not address “micro” issues that affect heating oil prices such as local demand, delivery size, type of truck used, delivery time-windows, distance driven and a whole host of other very specific localised issues.

Perhaps the only golden rule for the purchase of heating oil is to avoid buying it in December and January. Premiums on heating oil tend to be highest at this time of the year and demand is so great, that delays in delivery can occur, particularly as Christmas approaches. There is also the issue of weather, which can make deliveries difficult, so purchasing in plenty of time before the winter (October or November) is a very sensible measure. The trade association representing the heating oil industry is the FPS and their website has lots of good advice for homeowners buying heating oil.

Alan in Oxfordshire

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April 11, 2012 I've just got back from the continent and noticed that diesel is much cheaper than in the UK. Also it was much cheaper than the petrol for sale there, whereas in the UK, diesel is more expensive. Is the diesel different to the UK? Is that why it is cheaper?

No Monica, the diesel in the UK and the EU are identical, so don’t worry if you are thinking you have been filling your product with an inferior product. The difference in price between the UK and Europe comes from Government tax (duty). Unlike other European countries, Britain charges exactly the same duty (57.95 pence per litre) on both petrol and diesel, whereas European countries charge much less duty on diesel (the amounts vary from country to country, but is lower than petrol). The lower duty on diesel is largely to support the European haulage industry, so it is a significant bug-bear for the UK haulage community that no such help is offered to our truckers.

In terms of the difference between petrol and diesel prices, this again comes down to duty. The base (Rotterdam) price for diesel is actually more expensive than petrol across Europe, but once the European countries add the higher duty onto petrol, the higher price manifests itself. In the UK where petrol and diesel duty rates are the same, the higher base price for diesel becomes the main factor, meaning it is more expensive.

Monica from Rochdale got in touch with this question

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March 7, 2012 When tankers make deliveries to petrol stations, are they carrying both petrol and diesel or do they have to make separate deliveries in order to keep the 2 grades apart?

Tankers that are designated for petrol station deliveries actually have multiple compartments that allow different portions of petrol and diesel to be delivered. Take a look at the top of a tanker and you will see a set of evenly spaced numbers that designate each compartment. Most tankers have 6 compartments (so you will see 1-6), that are split by steel “baffles” to keep the petrol and diesel apart. In order to ensure that the tankers weight is evenly balanced, the No 1 compartment (at the front) is typically about 5,000 litres capacity. As the compartments move to the middle, the volumes increase to 7,500 litres and then revert back to 5,000 litres at the back of the tanker.

This flexibility allows any combination of fuel delivery, depending on the demand at the forecourt. So for example, if the forecourt needed 25,000 litres of diesel / 15,000 litres of petrol or 10,000 litres of diesel / 30,000 litres of petrol or indeed any combination of volume, they can all be accommodated on one tanker and with one delivery. It is important to remember that there are weight limits on tankers, so that depending on the volumes carried, not all compartments will necessarily be full. The petrol carrying capacity of a tanker is circa 42,000 litres, whilst diesel (because it is heavier) is 36,000 litres.

Finally, there are some tankers that only ever carry one grade of fuel and therefore do not require separate compartments. In this case, the tanker must always be filled to maximum capacity to ensure that weights are balanced and quite literally, the product isnt sloshing around as it goes around corners. A good example of a single compartment tanker would be for jet fuel deliveries to airports.

This month’s question is from Eddie in the Algarve (very nice too)

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February 6, 2012 Hi there. I take home heating oil to heat my house and I have noticed that the invoice refers to 28s Burning Oil. What does this mean?

Thanks for the question Fergus. “28s Burning Oil” is the old / traditional name for home heating oil. It is actually exactly the same grade of fuel as aviation turbine fuel (Jet Fuel), ie, the stuff that goes into aeroplanes! In fact, the only difference between what jumbo jets use and what goes into your boiler at home, is that the latter has a pale yellow dye, to identify it as domestic / non-transportation use only.

The “28s” (28 seconds) term refers to the fantastically archaic test that was historically used to measure the viscosity of fuel products. Viscosity is essentially the pouring characteristics of liquid fuel – “pourability” would be a better term, but we dont think its a word! Anyhow, using a Redwood Viscometer, the fuel is poured through a narrow hole (less than 3mm in diameter). The time it takes 50ml to pour through the hole is the “second” measurement. So Kerosene is a 28 second fluid, whereas the slightly heavier Gasoil (Red Diesel) is sometimes called “35 second oil”, because it takes 7 seconds longer than Kerosene to flow through the same hole.

That such tests were ever invented boggles the mind, but we assume people just had more time in those days…

This question comes from Fergus in Ballymena, NI

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January 18, 2012 How is the pre-tax diesel pence per litre price calculated?

Wotcha John, roll out the barrel, how’s ya father, Shaaaaat uppp and the only way is Essex. There – we’ve got all our Southend stereotypes out of the way in one sentence. How’s the Westcliff Casino BTW? Many happy memories…

This is a good question on how diesel is priced and a subject that probably causes more confusion amongst the general public than any other.

If we go from the top downwards and take the current forecourt price for diesel which is circa £1.40 per litre (or in pence per litre = 140ppl). From that, we have to deduct VAT, which is circa 20ppl. Then another Government tax has to be removed which is called duty (currently at 58ppl). This leaves us around 62ppl for diesel exclusive of tax. As the forecourt retailer will be looking for a gross profit of about 5ppl, this takes us down to circa 57ppl and this price is the European Wholesale Price. So shocking fact No 1, is that Government tax on diesel is one and a half times the actual value of the product!

The action now moves over to Antwerp – Rotterdam – Amsterdam (sometimes incorrectly abbreviated to “the Rotterdam Market”), where cargoes of diesel are traded daily. A cargo trade is defined as a sale from a refiner (or storage terminal) to a trader’s ship and the minimum volume for a cargo sale is typically 15ml (ie, 15,000,000 litres). Every day these cargo trades are recorded and published in US $. That figure is converted to pence per litre using the day’s exchange rate and that figure is the European Wholesale Price.

John from Southend asked this question

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