The specifications for gas oil for use in agricultural machinery are set out under the Fuel Quality Directive 98/70/EC. The Directive requires that, from 1 January 2011, gas oil marketed for use in non-road mobile machinery, including farm machinery, must contain no more than 10 milligrams of sulphur per kilogram of fuel (commonly referred to as parts per million or ppm). This compares to the previous sulphur content limit of 1,000 ppm. High sulphur gas oil can still be used for certain other purposes, such as home heating or for marine use, though it should be noted that low sulphur gas oil is equally suitable for these applications.
The new 10 ppm fuel standard was developed in order to reduce emissions of nitrous oxides and particulate matter, exposure to which is known to be harmful to human health. All EU Member States were required to introduce and implement this new fuel standard. There is no derogation to allow any Member State to continue to supply high sulphur gas oil for use in agricultural machinery.
Directive 98/70/EC was transposed into national legislation by the European Communities Act, 1972 (Environmental Specifications for Petrol, Diesel Fuels and Gas Oils for use by non-road mobile machinery, including inland waterway vessels, agricultural and forestry tractors, and recreational craft) Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 155 of 2011). Under these Regulations, only 10ppm sulphur gas oil may be supplied for use in agricultural machinery. It is an offence to supply high sulphur gas oil for this purpose. A person guilty of an offence under these Regulations is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of up to €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months, or both.
Engines in all new farm machinery placed on sale in the EU after 1 January 2011 are fitted with new abatement technology to meet stricter emission standards and have been designed to operate using low sulphur 10ppm gas oil. These newer engines will be damaged if exposed to high levels of sulphur, even if it is only for a brief period. Manufacturers have stated that this damage will not be covered under warranty. As such, regardless of legislative obligations, the continued use of high sulphur gas oil in agricultural machinery is not advisable.