Reader question: “What is the best way to store fuel, gasoline or kerosene?  I was thinking of burring a 55 gallon drum with the top at ground level, with a hand pump for access.  Do you paint the drum with tar?  What do you suggest on both issues?”

(This article was originally posted during 2012, but I’ve updated it for your reading pleasure and further comment)

Gasoline is difficult to store for a long time. It will go stale. Gasoline has a high vapor pressure (which means it evaporates quickly) and will also begin to go stale in a number of weeks (especially ‘months’) if not chemically treated.

Stored gasoline really should be treated with a fuel stabilizer additive:
Sta-bil Fuel Stabilizer

Best Gasoline Fuel Stabilizer:
PRI Fuel Stabilizer- For Gasoline 32oz

Common-sense precautions

– Keep gasoline out of children’s sight and reach.
– Never store gasoline in glass containers
– Never store gasoline in those non-reusable plastic containers (e.g milk jugs).
– Store gasoline in purpose designed ‘gas cans’.
– Never use gasoline inside the home or as a cleaning agent.
– Do not smoke when handling gasoline!!
– Never use gasoline in place of kerosene.
– Only fill portable gasoline containers outdoors.
– Store outside in ventilated shed, etc..
– Don’t use to start a camp fire – too explosive!

If considering a buried tank, set it below the frost line where temperatures are stable at 55° F or so, which will inhibit evaporation. If buried fuel tanks offend your sense of environmental responsibility, then consider above ground storage. Research the laws in your region on this subject.

55-gallon steel drums can be useful for above-ground storage, vertical with a hand pump or horizontally mounted on a rack with a spigot valve. An advantage to this method is that it’s somewhat portable (compared to underground storage).

Store in a shaded place because sunlight will speed up the oxidation process of the fuel and temperature swings will cause condensation to form at the bottom (keep a valve at the bottom to periodically drain for this purpose).

Keeping the tank near full will reduce chances of condensation. You could use a fuel filter at the output valve to separate the water from fuel if this is a concern.

Although you should consult your local regulations regarding underground (and above ground) fuel storage, ‘if’ one were to decide to bury a 55-gallon steel drum, know that all steel tanks will eventually leak in this condition. If you must store fuel underground, you should use purpose-built underground storage tanks for fuels. Otherwise, be sure to at least coat the tank exterior with many coats of rust inhibitor and/or coat with a thick coat of heavy roofing tar which will help significantly.

Note: “Poly” drums (the type for water storage) are made of high density plastic, and should not be used to store fuel. Over time the fuel will react with the plastic and gradually deteriorate the drum interior.

Today, the recommended UST (Underground Storage Tanks) for fuel are made of double-wall fiberglass reinforced plastic.

Regarding EPA regulations:
The following USTs do NOT need to meet federal requirements for USTs:

  • Farm and residential tanks of 1,100 gallons or less capacity holding motor fuel used for noncommercial purposes;
  • Tanks storing heating oil used on the premises where it is stored;
  • Tanks on or above the floor of underground areas, such as basements or tunnels;
  • Septic tanks and systems for collecting storm water and wastewater;
  • Flow-through process tanks;
  • Tanks of 110 gallons or less capacity; and
  • Emergency spill and overfill tanks.

To directly answer the question of what is the best way to store fuel…

Ordinary gas cans in a shaded outdoor area (or in a ventilated shed or out-building for example).

If you’re talking about quantities like 55-gallon drums, the safest way is underground provided that you are using approved UST’s. I would seriously look at what is available for fiberglass reinforced tanks, although this will cost more than an ordinary steel drum. I do like the notion of portability if stored above ground. Depending on your property, it may be simple enough to discretely hide it.

Be very aware that unlike years ago, today’s fuels are refined such that they will not last long in storage, due to EPA regulations. So you will need to rotate what you have and use fuel stabilizers.

Note: Kerosene is one of the easiest fuels to store, and is more versatile than most people think. It does not evaporate as readily as gasoline and will remain stable in storage with no special treatment. Many pre-1950 farm tractor engines were designed to run on kerosene, and diesels will run on kerosene if necessary.

Related: Gasoline Siphon Pump – 3 Excellent Choices
Related: Safe Storage of Gas & Combustible Fuels