Forum

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!

Feel free to send us a question. We will publish it on this page along with the best answer we can give. Please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous and we will publish the question without your name.

Read our forum questions below:

July 6, 2021 Why is supermarket fuel generally cheaper than other forecourt brands?

Thanks for this question Natalie– it’s one that we often get asked.

The first idea we’d like to scotch is that supermarkets sell their fuel at a loss, which is a common misconception. In realty, it rarely happens – if ever. People might perceive that the supermarkets have buying advantage over other retailers of fuel (because of their size), but in reality, they buy at best, half a penny better than the standard wholesale market price. Where they do have an advantage however is on overheads and how that filters through to the unit rate sold at the pumps. So if you take a medium sized petrol station, with an annual throughput of 3m litres, as a minimum you are going to require 5 employed staff (Manager, cashiers, cleaners, maintenance etc, etc). 5 staff at an average UK salary of £25K gives a total overhead cost of £125,000. Divide that by the volume, and you have an overhead pence per litre (ppl) rate of 4.17ppl. This has to be added to the cost of the fuel sold.
A Supermarket filling station on the other hand, probably has no less than 3 dedicated workers, as much of the maintenance, service and management are integrated into the overall store operations. Even more significant is the average throughput of a typical supermarket site, which is circa 10m litres per annum. Take £75K (3 employees) and divide that by 10m litres and you have an overhead cost of 0.75ppl – basically 3.5ppl cheaper than an independent forecourt. Add in the likely buying advantage of 0.50ppl and you have fuel that can retail at 4ppl cheaper than an independent petrol station (and still make a decent turn on selling 10m litres per annum).

This question comes from Natalie, a Portland Pricing customer.

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May 4, 2021 What is E10 and how does it differ to Petrol?

The answer to this one is relatively simple Matthew; E10 is petrol with a 10% bio content.

Most European countries have a requirement to blend neat mineral oils (petrol and diesel) with a bio component, in order to reduce CO2 emissions. In the case of petrol, the bio component is ethanol, so the grade of fuel is called E(thanol) 10.

Neat (100%) petrol and E10 petrol are almost identical in terms of ignition and flammability characteristics, plus the use of E10 is allowed under engine warranties. However, E10 is what’s called hygroscopic, which means it has the capacity to hold water in suspension. Water in fuel is never a good idea, so it does mean that the storage of E10 in fuel tanks requires extensive tank maintenance and housekeeping to keep water out.

Unlike E10 petrol, you will not see B10 diesels, because engine manufacturers only allow 7% bio content (ie, B7) in diesel. Diesel bio can come from many things (Used Cooking Oil, Palm Oil, Tallow), as opposed to petrol bio, which is almost always ethanol based.

This question came from Matthew in Lincoln who was enquiring about sustainable fuel options in May 2021.

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March 23, 2021 In a post-pandemic world, what will worry oil companies more; Peak Supply (ie, that oil supplies will run out through lack of supply) or Peak Demand (ie, that demand for oil is peaking and will decline going forward)?

Great question Marie. I think if we’d been asked that question 10 years ago, we would have almost certainly said Peak Supply. Demand was rapidly rising and other than shale plays, there wasn’t too much conventional oil activity that looked like it could keep up with demand.

However, a lot has changed in 10 years (no sh1t Sherlock!) and that change has become turbo-charged in the last 12 months. Yes, once we start to see economic recovery on the back of the vaccine roll-out, we should see demand for oil products recovering strongly. But at the same time, the public’s perception of oil (and fossil fuels in general) has changed irrevocably. In short, consumers now want their mobility, power and heat from anything but oil and gas.

The inevitable result is that oil companies will be seriously concerned with the idea that their core product is in permanent decline. Oil has become an unpleasant necessity, rather than a reflection of positive economic growth. With that in mind, we suspect that most oil majors are now 100% focussed on the problems of “Peak Demand” and within the next 5 years we expect them to have pivoted massively away from drawing oil out of the ground, in favour of renewable and sustainable energies.

After a long gap, we received this question from Marie in Hampshire.

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February 13, 2020 Good report as usual, but I do have a contra to your comment about “the rapid decline of conventional (non-shale) oil exploration projects”. According to this year’s Petroleum Review, ‘2019 saw some 12.2bn barrels of oil discovered – the highest volume since 2015’. So who is right on this one? Or is it a case of less projects but a higher success rate?

Thanks Arthur and probably yes, there is a case to say that current exploration projects are far more end-result focussed today, than they were 10 years ago. The spectre of lower prices and increased public / environmental pressure on oil producers, tends to mean that all projects have to be 100% worthwhile and as a result, there are few “speculative” exploration plays anywhere in the world.

That being said, we think the use of the word “discovery” might be misleading here, as the discovery of oil is not the same as actual exploration. So for example, lots of oil has been discovered in the Arctic, but it seems unlikely in the current climate, that this will ever see the light of day.

In addition to this, 2019 figures were affected by 2 massive new fields in Guyana (Exxon-Mobil) and the Norwegian Sector of the North Sea (Statoil-Equinor). These 2 projects skew the overall picture, but more importantly they are the legacy of exploration projects started many years ago. The issue the report is making is the lack of new projects today, will reduce production rates in the future.

We got this question in early February from Arthur in Bristol and it concerned our Oil Market Report for January 2020.

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February 2, 2020 I saw your advert for the Graduate Trainee job on the Careers site. How do you apply?

You send in your CV with a covering letter Owen. But on the basis it says that on the advert, I probably wouldn’t bother.

We got this question in February 2020 from Owen in Sheffield.

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September 13, 2019 Oil is dead. What are you guys gonna do when we’re all on renewable energy? I’d say you’re fnucked.

Thanks Loki – we’re making the assumption you are not the original Viking God (or his Marvel alter-ego). If you are, then you’ll probably be able to answer this one better than us.

Onto your question. As we have said in various Oil Market Reports (https://stabilityfromvolatility.co.uk/market-reports/), the indisputable fact remains that even if oil is in long-term decline, then its use will continue for many years – because it is so integral to all modern economies. On that basis and on the basis that even if the oil market was to halve in size, it would continue to be the biggest industry in the world, then we wouldn’t expect Portland to be “fnucked” just yet.

Much more interestingly though is the opportunity that decarbonisation presents to independent players like Portland. For the first time in probably 70 years, the oil majors and corporate financial interests do not have the whip-hand in this area. Of course, the big players have the funds to push environmental solutions on a grander scale than anything Portland can do. But their position is compromised by the fact that they have vested interests in continuing in the supply of oil (ie, old school energy). Furthermore, at present there exists no clear preferred environmental energy solution for the planet. The likes of Portland have no interest in oil per se – we simply buy energy and sell it on. And as for evaluating and deciding on which low carbon energy will be the fuel of the future, well we can come to that decision just as easily as any major corporation.

All of which makes the current juncture of the oil and energy industry so fascinating – certainly the most interesting time to be in the industry, after so many years of simply doing the same thing, time and time again.

We haven’t had a question on the fuel forum for a while, so we were pleased to receive this rather candid question from “Loki” in Shropshire.

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