Black gold, Texas tea, bubbling crude — whatever you call it, used motor oil is generating revenue for Hall County recycling centers. But with the price of oil reaching all-time market highs, officials said they are having to keep an eye on the increasingly precious resource to fend off unpermitted haulers trying to steal it.
Rick Foote, natural resources coordinator for the county, said given oil prices today, "that dirty old stuff they take out of your car" is more valuable than it used to be.
"It used to be that used oil was this yucky thing no one wanted to have anything to do with, let alone try to recycle it. But apparently people are stealing it now, and selling it on the market. It’s pretty marketable now," Foote said.
"I talked to the driver who was here last at our recycling center on Chestnut Street ... and come to find out people are actually stealing motor oil because it’s so valuable now."
Although county workers reportedly have seen such thefts, Foote said he hasn’t caught anybody stealing oil from a county facility, but he has confronted suspicious people tampering with the used oil supplies.
About 14 years ago, Hall County was the first county in Georgia to implement a countywide used oil recycling program. Now the county accepts used lawn mower, tractor and car oil that residents bring into the county’s 14 recycling centers.
Foote said residents can bring their used oil to any county recycling center as long as the used fuel is not transported in Clorox containers.
At each site, cooking and motor oil is stored in 300-gallon or larger tanks that a private state-permitted hauler, Universal Refining of Peachtree City, empties as needed. The hauler has paid the county 30 cents per gallon of used oil since early 2007.
In 1994, the county was paid only 2.7 cents per gallon of used oil.
So far this year, used oil sales have generated almost $1,900 in revenue for the county. Last year, the county made more than $9,700 from selling more than 32,000 gallons of used oil.
Foote said not only does recycling oil benefit the county financially, it also benefits the county environmentally.
Prior to a countywide oil recycling program, Hall County residents did not have many options in which to properly dispose of their motor oil. "Do-it-yourselfers," or people who change their own car oil rather than taking it to a service station, had few choices but to throw the oil away into a trash can or dispose of it outdoors, which can lead to water contamination.
According to the American Petroleum Institute, just one gallon of used oil can contaminate 1 million gallons of water. And two gallons of recycled used oil can generate enough electricity to run the average household for almost 24 hours.
Oil service stations have even jumped into the used oil recycling game. Some even give car owners the option of filling their car with used oil, which the API said results in the same performance for vehicles as new oil.
Brad Howarth, assistant manager of Speedee Oil Change and Tune Up on Hillcrest Drive, said most stations have dropped the oil disposal fee typically tacked on to oil change charges.
"We don’t charge for it anymore because it used to cost the company to haul it off, but it doesn’t anymore," Howarth said. "In the past 10 years or so, they started paying us for used oil."