Saturday, March 1, 2014

Stockpiling Gasoline

After a disaster, there are several reasons it might be impossible for one to drive any practical distance on public roads and highways. An earthquake might have collapsed too many bridges and overpasses, for example, or a mass evacuation might clog the roads with traffic jams too dense to navigate. I am prepared to shelter in place if need be. Having said that, there are disaster scenarios where hitting the road in an automobile would be the smart thing to do. I'm pondering what sorts of things might serve as trigger events for me to activate my bug-out plan; it's possible an alert and prepared family might stay ahead of a wave of mass evacuees (as this family did during the Hurricane Katrina disaster). Whether bugging out early in a disaster scenario, or relying on generators later, a reliable supply of gasoline is essential.

My current bug-out vehicle has a fuel tank of 16 gallons and an operating range of about 320 miles. My primary bug-out location is 500 miles away. Chances are, I won't just happen to have a full tank of gas when disaster strikes. Not only that, but depending on the nature of the disaster, I might have to do quite a bit of extra driving--detouring around choke points, backtracking to an alternate route, avoiding major population centers, etc. For planning purposes, I'm going to assume I have 1/4 tank of gas and will end up driving 1,000 miles. This means I'd need 46 gallons of gasoline to be safe.

Under normal circumstances, this is no problem. I simply top off my tank before leaving town, and stop to refuel from roadside gas stations every 300 miles or so until I reach my destination. Why not? If circumstances allow, that's just what I'll do. But what if there's no electric power and gas stations aren't pumping gas? What if I'm late to the party and there are long lines at the gas stations, which are being rapidly depleting of supplies? What if law and order break down, and gas stations aren't safe? The answer--at least in some scenarios--is to stockpile gasoline.

If you thought the solution for me would be simply to think ahead and store 46 gallons of gas in the garage, you're in for an education.

First, it is generally not legal to store gasoline in containers with a capacity of more than 5 gallons. Your typical no-spill gas can holds 5 gallons of gasoline, and must be approved for your state. Gasoline can eat through many plastics, so an approved gas can is not cheap.

Second, it is generally not legal to store more than 25 gallons of gasoline, period. If you want to store more than 25 gallons, you'll need a special cabinet, and you may need a special permit. Even storing less than 25 gallons in your garage means in case of a house fire you'll probably watch your home burn to the ground, simply because the gasoline complicates things for firefighters. Since 25 gallons is well short of the 46 I'd want to plan on, I'm throwing a siphon hose in my vehicle and bringing more cash and supplies to trade.

To avoid the common dangers associated with storing flammable liquids, you'll want to store your gas in a ventilated structure not attached to your home. The gas should not be near heat sources such as space heaters or direct sunlight. It should not be stored within 50 feet of ignition sources such as pilot lights. Put your gas containers on wooden shelves or pallets or sheets of wood rather than the bare ground or concrete. If you want to get technical about all this, check out what OSHA has to say on the matter.

Moving on: It turns out gasoline is not stable, and is already degrading when you pump it. The rate at which gas breaks down may be overstated at times; your fuel is good for a minimum of one month, but could still get the job done 6 months later, or even longer. You might cross your fingers and hope for the best, but I recommend the use of a fuel stabilizer such as STA-BIL, combined with a system for rotating five 5-gallon containers of gas every 10 months. Every other month:
  • Pour your stalest 5-gallon container of gas into your vehicle 
  • Refill your gas container that same day, when you top off your fuel tank 
  • Back home, add stabilizer to your newly-filled container, and put it at the end of the line. 
There now! I'm all ready, with 25 gallons of potent gasoline (and a plan to get more) ready for bugging out, right? Right??? Wrong.

I live in an apartment. I can neither store gasoline at home, nor in my public storage unit. Fortunately, I've been cultivating a mutual-aid group, and one of my new friends is willing to let me store preps at his place.

One final thought: This article has focused on storing gasoline to fuel a vehicle for bugging out. There are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to use the gas for powering a generator:
  • Don't leave gas in the generator; if it breaks down in the engine, it could cause damage. 
  • But don't just let your generator sit there, either. Once a month, put a small amount of gasoline in the generator, start her up, and let her run until dry. 
  • Have an empty 1-gallon container or a length of siphon hose handy for filling the generator--5 gallon containers are hard to handle. Remember when you were learning how to put a 5-gallon water bottle on its dispenser? Now imagine doing something like that, with gasoline. 
Safe travels!

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