Biodiesel: How Green is it?

The Long View

Photo taken half a mile From Hacker Creek Spill

Channel 3 News recently reported about the Hacker Creek diesel spill in the Salmon Creek Watershed. It mistakenly named the fuel used to power the illegal marijuana grow as biodiesel. A commenter on Heraldo’s site wondered about how biodiesel would affect the environment.

For discussion here, there are three main types of diesel

• Diesel sold in the gas station for cars.
• Off road diesel. Red diesel, so called because it is dyed to allow law enforcement to tell that it is not sold for use on roads,. It isn’t charged taxes.
• Biodiesel is usually the most expensive of all and made from soybean oil and waste food oils such as might have been used to fry foods. There are blends that combine biodiesel with regular car diesel in differing amounts. In fact most biodiesel is a blend.

The contractor on the spill, Jim Crook, said that the fuel in Hacker Creek was red dye Diesel. After the diesel had been on the creek for awhile, it began to break down and the dye dissipated leaving only an oily sheen in the water. However, it was not biodiesel.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle makes it clear that if the spill had been biodiesel the effects would have been only marginally better.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, a trade group, biodiesel is nontoxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments, but scientists say that position understates its potential environmental impact.
“They’re really considered nontoxic, as you would expect,” said Bruce Hollebone, a researcher with Environment Canada in Ottawa, and one of the world’s leading experts on the environmental impact of vegetable oil and glycerin spills.
“You can eat the stuff, after all,” Hollebone said. “But as with most organic materials, oil and glycerin deplete the oxygen content of water very quickly and that will suffocate fish and other organisms. And for birds, a vegetable oil spill is just as deadly as a crude oil spill.”

Biodiesel substantially reduces air emissions but, in a spill, the damage can result in incredible environmental damage. Biodiesel Magazine reports today that while spills are relatively uncommon in the industry, there is not much tracking of biodiesel spills in particular from other diesel spills. So far, there apparently haven’t been any big biodiesel disasters.



  • Biodiesel isn’t supergreen, or what ever hippie term you want to use for it. In fact, it gives off higher amounts of some kinds of pollution. I have used biodiesel in one of my units, and it does smell better, but it also attracts animals and bugs like anti-freeze. Would I drink it? No. Is it safe to drink? I wouldn’t drink it, it’s also pretty “sticky” and crap like that.

    Most of the biodiesel around here is B99 to B20. Which means 1% to 80% diesel (to keep it from gelling)

    But FYI, there are more types of diesel #1 and #2. We use mostly #2 both on-road and red dyed, #1 gels at a lower temp so you will see it used in colder areas, which can also be red dyed as well. They also make biodiesel from tallow from animals, which does have a higher gelling point than soy diesel.

    Still, it isn’t a good thing to dump anything in a waterway, even if it is safe. I wouldn’t dump 1700 pounds of sugar in the waterway and expect nothing to happen.

  • Thanks, I’m just starting to learn about diesel. I, and I think other people, can use help.

  • Hi Kym,

    I just read (with great fascination) most of the Hacker Creek Spill thread on your and Stephen’s blogs. Wow!

    Your wonderful photos jogged my memory and dislodged a warning I think I should pass along. Many years ago, as kids, my friend Brian and I used to run around in this area of Salmon Creek. When we ventured up Goat Rock, we were run off by the infamous John Benbow, a previous owner of the ranch land that used to encompass much of that area. He explained that a rare falcon uses the rock as a nesting site and will not do so if disturbed during the nesting season, which seemed to the warmer, dryer six months of the year.

    Mr. Benbow is not widely known for his environmental concern; in fact, it’s safe to say the opposite is true. Who is to say what he was really up to out there? Nevertheless, I caution anyone against climbing the rock without investigating this further. Perhaps Kyle or someone with a similar background can clarify this.

  • Chris, on the post “Tidbits from Hacker Cr.,” Janice talks about the falcon nest there, too. Hopefully, the bird is safe, still.

  • Great information. Can I use this for my blog?


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