Long-Term Fuel Storage: Where and How To Store Fuel for Emergencies?

M.D. Creekmore Power

By R. V. Zeigler

In any survival situation, some type of fuel is necessary be it liquid, vapor, or solid. Fuel will be used for heat, light, transportation, and cooking. Each fuel has its good and bad points. You do not know when you will need this fuel so the effects of long-term storage are a primary consideration.

Solid Fuel:

The most common solid fuel is firewood. Different woods give different amounts of heat for the same amount of space. I have used softwoods like cottonwood, which give off little heat, burn fast, and leave a lot of ash. They also have a pungent smoke that could travel a good distance and alert others to your presence.

I have also used hedge (Osage Orange) which is an extremely hard wood, burns slowly and leaves little ash. Its smoke has fewer odors as well. The tradeoff? Dry, standing cottonwood is plentiful and easy to find. A dry hedge is more difficult to find in many parts of the country, and is extremely difficult to cut, especially with hand tools.

Sparks will come off of this wood when cutting with a chainsaw.

Cottonwood will deteriorate faster than hedge too. No matter what wood you have in your part of the “woods”, cut it to length, split it to a usable size, make sure it is tightly stacked, and cover it for a year before use. If not, you will create much more smoke than necessary, it will not give you the maximum amount of heat, and if it is used in a stove or fireplace, it will cause creosote buildup that can lead to a chimney fire.

Chimney fires are not something you want to have to deal with, ever. There are many other kinds of woods between cottonwood and hedge. Find out what is available in your area, and talk to some of the “old-timers” that have used them. Find out which have the most heat for the least work. In a survival situation, the most bang for your labor buck is what you are after.

There are other solid fuels such as charcoal, and “faux” fireplace logs, and some chemical fuels. Use each in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer. I am personally a bit skittish about cooking directly over the flame of some commercially-produced products such as the fireplace logs.

I am not really sure of what chemicals were used in the manufacturing process and would rather be safe than sorry. As with all fire, be careful of heat impinging on other surfaces in the area, and be careful that you are not using fire in an enclosed space.

It can lower the oxygen content to a fatal level, such as leaving a fire going while you sleep. NEVER leave a fire unattended under any circumstances.

Liquid Fuels:

Liquid fuels are for the most part hydrocarbon-based such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuel. There are also alcohol and Sterno type of chemical fuels.

Alcohol can be stored for a considerable time as long as it remains sealed. Once alcohol is unsealed it absorbs a small amount of water from the air. The more water the less effective the fuel becomes.

Alcohol is a good liquid fuel for small, fast cooking fires, but be warned, you cannot see the flames of an alcohol fire. They are there, but a sleeve or part of your body could be exposed with no warning. Keep alcohol fires small and well supervised.

Sterno type fuels are used for small cooking fires like alcohol. There are accessories for them that make them more useful and they are easily transportable. Do not use them in tightly enclosed spaces and follow all directions.

Gasoline, as used for internal combustion engines, is not the best choice for long-term storage. It has a short shelf life (less than a year) and can harm an engine once it becomes old. Gasoline is also very volatile and has explosive vapors.

Follow all gasoline handling safety instructions to the letter. An uncomfortable burn in normal times can become a fatal burn in a survival situation. Storage of gasoline is also something to be very cautious about. Venting vapors can build up in enclosed spaces, so well ventilated areas, and approved containers, are the only place to store gasoline.

Kerosene is a bit more stable than gasoline and only has flammable vapors. It can be stored a bit longer and is much more “user-friendly”. It is generally used for heat and light which makes it more likely to be used in living spaces. It does produce carbon monoxide when burned and should be used in spaces where there is ventilation.

Nothing with an open flame should be used in an enclosed area at any time. Why take the time and trouble to prepare and then die because you slept with an increasing carbon monoxide level? Doesn’t make a lot of sense does it? When our ancestors used “coal oil lamps” they lived in very drafty houses. For the most part, we don’t. What worked for them might very well kill us. Be safe!

Diesel fuel, or as is most likely encountered today Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel Fuel (ULSD), is not our granddads’ diesel fuel. The “old days” diesel fuel was good for a number of years and was quite easily stored. Not so much today. ULSD is an extremely fragile fuel that is only good for about 6 months without additives or extreme measures of storage.

If you have a supply of diesel fuel for a generator (the most common reason for long-term storage) either have it tested or have it “recycled” by your vendor, if possible.

There are additives available that will extend the life and there is a technique called “nitrogen blanketing” which, in theory, can extend the life of the fuel indefinitely. Blanketing requires the injection of external nitrogen gas into the storage tank as the fuel in the tank increases and decreases by either use or temperature change. The idea is to replace any empty space in the tank with nitrogen instead of atmospheric air which has water and oxygen.

Oxygen and water are the two most detrimental elements to ULSD. These are what cause fungus to grow in the tank and clog filters and injectors in the diesel engine. Diesel fuel is made to be used and used quickly. Long-term storage is a small percentage of fuel use, and not really taken into consideration by the industry.

It is up to you, the end-user, to do whatever you can to preserve your fuel supply. Bio-Diesel, which is a mixture of hydrocarbon diesel fuel and organic oil, is meant to be used almost immediately as the organics and hydrocarbons will separate over time. They cannot be re-combined by the end-user. Unless you are going to use it soon, do not get Bio-Diesel for long-term storage.

Vapor Fuels:

This is somewhat of a misnomer as most of these are derived from a liquid such as propane and butane. I am not going to delve into natural gas as storage of this fuel by the average citizen is not easily accomplished nor is it readily available in a portable and storable form in most areas.

Propane is possibly the best long-term storage fuel for the average person. It does not deteriorate over time and is relatively safe. There are also many appliances that will work on it such as stoves, refrigerators, water heaters, and lights.

Propane can be stored in large and small quantities (as allowed by law) and can be transported easily in small to medium-sized quantities. Extreme amounts can be stored in certain locations, but these large tanks are rather hard to hide and virtually impossible to move once installed. Propane can lose its vapor characteristic when exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Be cognizant of this in colder climates.

Check with your propane supplier as to the size, and number, of tanks you can personally store in your area. Propane is a very clean fuel for generators and vehicles. While it does not have the energy output of diesel fuel, it has few of the drawbacks.

A propane-fired engine is just like a gasoline-fired engine as far as the way it works, not so with diesel. Most people can, with study, or mentoring, do minor repair and maintenance on a propane or gasoline engine. Diesel engines take specialized training and tools the general handyman is unlikely to have. Like any fuel, it can be dangerous so follow all safety precautions to the letter.

Safety First and foremost FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER. The safety instructions on fuel-fired appliances are from years of experience and not always from the legal departments of the manufacturers.

Even if you have experience with any of the above-mentioned items not everyone in your party may have the same familiarity. If you set a good example, they will follow.

Remember, a survival situation many times becomes one long learning, and teaching, event. There will be enough things to worry about along the way, pulling a stupid stunt with a flammable item should not be one of them.

Preparing means getting ready BEFORE an event, otherwise, we would call it Postparing!

Practice, practice, practice. Cutting and splitting wood before the balloon goes up will be good exercise, and teach you some of the little things that can save you time, or body parts, now.

It will also introduce you to the labor/benefit ratio in a way that you will remember. Spending a lot of time getting wood that is going to burn as fast as you cut it is counter-productive. Burning wood is a science and art all by itself.

Read what you can, and buy a book or two on the subject. Try some of the different fuels for cooking to see what works best in your climate and what does not. Better to find out now that the chemical fuel cans you bought will not boil water, except for small amounts, in your area.

It is also better to find out now that your appliances and engines will work for extended times. Learn what you need to regarding maintenance on everything you expect to use.

Practice this maintenance and stock up on the items you will need for maintenance. Filters, oil, hoses, belts, and fuses will be difficult or impossible to get should things go all the way south. Know how to sharpen an axe, hatchet, saw, and knife and have the items needed to do this.

A dull axe will tilt your labor/benefit ratio too far towards the labor side. I expect to use these items a whole lot more than my firearms should that day come.

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