Fuel in Albania, history of an unpunished and widespread crime

The most important fuel distribution companies in the country appear to be trading, for the overwhelming part, gasoil mixed with mazut or kerosene, while the product refining is not done fully.

The quality of Albanian oil is very poor when compared to that of the neighboring countries. This statement is not an urban legend; Investigative Journalism Lab managed to prove it through laboratory tests.

An investigation extended through several months clearly proves that the diesel oil, sold at fuel stations across Albania and supplies about 430,000 vehicles, is for the most part, beyond normal quality standards.

Lab compared the diesel oil sold at Albanian fuel stations to that sold in neighboring countries, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece.

Lab took a total of eight samples, five of which in Tirana, Elbasan, Shkodra and the border areas of Albania and three others in fuel stations in the neighboring countries. We took the samples in Tirana at two stations located in the Tirana e Re area. One of the samples was obtained near Bradashesh, Elbasan, one sample in Shkodra and the fifth near the border crossing point of Kapshtica.

All five samples in Albania were obtained from randomly selected fuel stations, with the goal an analysis of the product of the most important companies operating in the fuel distribution market in the country.

We took the fuel samples in the distribution stations of the companies Eko Al, Alpet, Gega Oil, Gulf and Kastrati.

In Montengro, Macedonia and Greece, we took the samples in border crossing points, run by important fuel distributors in these countries, namely Kalamper Oil, MakPetrol and Elin Oil.

Lab had the samples tested in the scientific laboratory of NAIAS in Piraeus, Greece, and then had these analyzed by an engineer with experience in the hydrocarbon field who used an evaluation scale of 0 to 5 (stars), whereby 0 was the lowest quality found and 5 was the highest. We gave the experts the elements to be interpreted without sharing the names of companies or the countries the samples came from.

(Click here for full laboratory test results)

All eight samples were tested on the basis of six parameters: kinematic viscosity at 40˚C, the flash point, the sulfur content, cetane index, density and distillation at different temperatures.

The tests showed that of the five fuel samples obtained in Albania, one of them appeared to have a quality level of 4, one at 2, another at 1, and two samples appeared to have a quality level of 0.

The hydrocarbon engineer evaluated the oil samples obtained in Montenegro and Macedonia at 5 and the sample obtained in Greece at 4.

Although Albania has been lacking independent investigations or private institutes and laboratories to analyze oil quality, hundreds of thousands of citizens feel every day the consequences of its poor quality in their vehicles and millions of others feel its effects in the air pollution.

The “luckiest” are those citizens who live nearby the border crossing points and do not hesitate to go to the neighboring countries to get fuel.

Ardit, a young taxi driver from Shkodra, told Lab that after bitter experiences with fuel on sale at his city’s fuel stations, together with some other colleagues, they obtained fuel supply in Ulcinj, about 40 km from the border.

“We go to Ulcinj because the fuel is cheaper and of better quality. The difference is clear when you put in local oil and when you use Montenegrin oil. The poor quality of diesel fuel ruined my own “Benz” car. My car is now stuck at home because its engine is broken. They mix the oil with mazut,” – he says.

K.L., a waiter at a bar in the Kapshtica border crossing point did not hesitate to share with Lab that every Albanian who had the possibility to cross into the border crossing with Greece did not hesitate to get fuel on the other side for his car.

“The diesel on the Greek side is cheaper and of better quality. We fill up our cars there. Even Albanian customs employees fill up their cars there,” he told us.

On the other hand, fuel stations near the city of Struga, Macedonia, have turned into a favorite destination for Albanian drivers of the Pogradec or Korca area, who never miss an opportunity to fill up their cars with fuel there or sometimes cross the border for that purpose alone.

Albanian Fuel Doesn’t Pass the Test

The test results of the eight samples obtained by PSE were analyzed by an experienced hydrocarbon engineer who found four of the five Albanian fuel samples very problematic with regard to their composition.

In his opinion, two of the diesel samples obtained in Albania were unusable.

“Two are the possibilities for this sample: either we have to do with paraffinic gasoil or with kerosene…” – says the interpretation of one of the samples, which had low viscosity, high density, under-norm cetane index and a high distillation start.

For another oil sample from Albania, the engineer considered that the laboratory test results showed it contained high levels of oily product or mazut.

“It contains two parts as if divided with a knife, it has no refining consistency. It is not seen as a reliable product to be used. Usually, this kind of product is consumed quickly, does not lubricate the engine well and does not produce good power,” he argues.

The expert evaluated one of the fuel samples taken in country with one quality star, a very poor gasoil.

“This sample appears improved compared to the first two, but it stands between a well-refined diesel and another refined in an anonymous refinery,” the engineer explained.

On the other hand, one of the samples managed to get two quality stars, although the product refining was problematic.

“This diesel fuel has additions of about 3.5% of fluoride products which mostly may be unrefined although there is a large mass of correctly refined product,” the interpretation notes.

On the other hand, one of the Albanian fuel samples managed to get four quality stars out of five.

“This gasoil seems to be coming from a serious refinery, which has done its utmost to be at 50% of sulfur. It has a homogenous density-viscosity-fraction connection,” the expert considered.

With regard to the fuel sample obtained on the Greek side of the border, the engineer deems that the good viscosity-density-distillation interconnection makes it of good quality and deserving four stars.

The fuel sample obtained in Montenegro appears to have all the correct parameters, with high density and viscosity providing an added value with regard to combustion and preservation of the car engine, receiving five stars.

The same evaluation is provided also for the fuel sample obtained in Macedonia, which is considered as fully in accordance with ISO standards and a fully refined product.

Gasoil Out of Standards is Only Penalized by Fines

About 536,000 road transport vehicles circulate in Albania’s roads on a daily basis, with 80% of them using diesel. An average of 2.2 million tons of diesel fuel and its byproducts are “burned” on an annual basis in the country’s roads.

The poor diesel quality is not an unknown problem for Albanian institutions either, which are forced by law to analyze its quality for the good of public interest.

Lab managed to obtain from the State Technical and Industrial Inspectorate (STII) documents that showed flagrant violations by some of the hydrocarbon operators in the country.

Based on inspections conducted during the period September-November 2016, deviations from diesel standards appear much higher. Namely, high norms of sulfur in diesel fuel were found in Elbasan, Fier and Shkodra.

Of the permissible 10mg/kg sulfur content, this parameter went beyond 210mg/kg in Elbasan, 295mg/kg in Fier, and the highest was in Shkodra with 301 mg/kg sulfur (about 30 times more than the permissible norm).

In fact, the latter sulfur norm was caught in one of the country’s largest shareholding companies that distributes oil in the country. Violations with sulfur do not end here.

In July 2016, the highest sulfur norm was found in a fuel station in Berat, at 2330 mg/kg compared to the permissible 10 mg/kg. This is about 200 times more than the norm.

Sulfur is not just a chemical element in the Mendeleyev table! According to the World Health Organization, sulfur has direct effects on health.

“Sulfur dioxide has affects the respiratory system and lung functions causing even cancer. Its large quantities lead to increased cases of chronic bronchitis and increase mortality among persons with cardiac illnesses. When the sulfur dioxide mixes with water, it forms sulfuric dioxide, the main component of acid rain,” a 2016 WHO report states.

Meanwhile, the comparison of data from STII and the Ministry of Energy shows a discrepancy of facts. The reports of both institutions show that fines do not match one another; nor do the figures of violations. Meanwhile, STII is obliged to make public sanctions on fuel stations that do not respect standards but the institution’s website does not contain updated data earlier than January 2017.

However, for the first quarter of 2017 alone, STII appears to have collected over 15 million Lekë from fines imposed on 44 companies that trade fuel. For all encountered violations, STII does not go beyond fines on operators.

This institution stressed that the law on its functioning views violations only as administrative offenses and do not represent criminal offenses.

As private laboratory tests and even state ones find that gasoil sold in Albania demonstrates numerous violations and have a direct impact on the health and wealth of citizens, it is incomprehensible why they are not considered a criminal offense.

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