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Since 1 January 2020, the use of shale oil in blended very low sulphur fuel oils (VLSFO) has been on the rise, with significant levels of Estonian shale oil – which can cause issues such as onboard filter clogging – having recently been seen in bunkers supplied at ARA ports, according to Douglas Raitt, Global FOBAS Manager, Lloyd’s Register.

Raitt made the observations during an online webinar today hosted by Integr8 Fuels.

Using shale oil as a marine fuel component can cause ship engine problems, such as filter sludging, and although the cause of the widespread Houston fuel contamination issues in 2018 has not, to date, been identified, some industry commentators at the time suggested the use of Estonian shale oil in bunkers supplied in the region could have been a contributory factor to the engine problems experienced by some vessels.

Chris Turner, Manager – Bunker Quality and Claims with Integr8 Fuels, who also took part in today’s discussion, said that he had not seen any claims coming through in relation to the presence of chemical contaminants – such as phenols and fatty acids.

However, this may because fuels have not been subject to extensive lab testing, he said.

Raitt agreed, noting that if a fuel is found to have an off-spec Total Sediment Potential (TSP) but this is not followed up with forensic testing, then the presence of potential contaminants would not be detected.

Asked whether there had been any change in bunker fuel characteristics since fuel prices plummeted following the COVID-19-induced collapse in oil demand and global economic mayhem, Raitt said that more vacuum gasoil had found its way into the marine fuel supply chain, as demand for gasoline for road transport had also fallen away.

However, as gasoline demand from other transportation sectors is beginning to show some signs of recovery, Raitt said the amount of VGO in bunkers is beginning to reduce.

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