Ron Roth, owner of Gepetto’s restaurant, dumps used rice bran oil into a container, which he stores inside before it’s picked up. Roth says he stopped using oil recycling containers outside his restaurant because they were getting stolen. - Jim Craven

Biodiesel prompts biothievery

Long the scourge of the restaurant business, old fryer oil is now valuable, which has created a new problem: People will steal it.

The oil is used to make biodiesel, which is suddenly a hot commodity. Reports from the New York Times, The Associated Press and National Public Radio have noted that the theft rate of grease has increased along with gas prices.

Local businesses have taken precautions to protect their fryer oil, which once was something they paid to have removed.

"I remember those years of paying for removal," said Elks Club Chef Joshua Parliament. "Southern Oregon Tallow was the first to start paying for the oil, even though it was just nickels."

Parliament said he had issues at other restaurants where oil was stolen, but Rogue Biofuel, a new company that handles the oil has "pretty foolproof containers."

"Rogue is a good company, and I'd rather see them take the oil away," Parliament said. "They do the refining properly."

Ron Roth of Geppetto's restaurant has lots of experience dealing with old restaurant oil and its theft. He is doing what many in Ashland are — giving the oil to a local who produces the fuel.

Roth keeps the old oil in the original jugs it came in, and it is removed biweekly.

"When we started giving the oil to the biodiesel people we stored it in drums in the alley," Roth said. "It started disappearing, so we started keeping it inside about a year ago. Since we've been keeping it inside, it doesn't get stolen anymore."

Rogue Biofuel of Central Point has many Ashland accounts, and Vice President Gabriel Rowland said biodiesel has "a huge global market," and deals with the theft issue daily.

"We know a lot about that," Rowland said. "Some of our accounts are a long way away and to show up to an empty bin costs the company money." Rowland said in Eastern Oregon, restaurants still pay to have oil removed, but that's not the case in most of the state.

Earlier this month, the company opened a 3,000-gallon gas station on Highway 99 in Ashland, which sells the biodiesel it produces. He said a major issue is the quality of biodiesel produced by those who are stealing the oil.

"A lot of this fuel is creating a bad name for biodiesel," Rowland said, "and it is difficult for us to overcome."

Parliament has seen bad biodiesel in action.

"Good biodiesel is actually a refined product," Parliament said. "The guy going down the highway with black smoke coming out of his exhaust and a 'powered by biodiesel' sticker is just polluting."

At the Standing Stone Brewery on Oak Street, Chef Eric Bell keeps his oil tucked away in an enclosed area, and believes if it didn't get removed on a regular basis, it too would get stolen.

"It doesn't happen much here because there are arrangements," Bell said. "In Salt Lake City, many times some hip people would show up at your door and ask for it, but many times it would just get stolen."

Bell hopes eventually to use the oil himself to power the equipment needed to run his dream farm, which would produce food for the brewery. He's had experience making biodiesel and said one aspect of it is unmistakable.

"The exhaust smells like French fries," he said.

F.B. Drake III is a freelance writer living in Ashland.

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