Plunging oil prices mean lean times for the owners of greasy spoons no longer able to cash in on their excess fats, The Post has learned.
When a barrel of crude oil was going for $100 or more, restaurants earned as much as 50 cents a gallon for dirty fryer oil used to produce such treats as french fries and chicken nuggets.
Recyclers happily bought used soy, peanut and canola oils for processing into biofuels.
But the fat times are disappearing as crude oil hovers around $54 a barrel.
The city’s biggest biodiesel collector of discarded oil says he can no longer afford to pay most of the restaurants that are his suppliers.
“It’s the reality of the market. It’s not like we’re trying to be greedy,” said Brent Baker, founder of Tri-State Biodiesel.
Demand for grease — used to power cars and heat homes — is now so low that the firm pays only about 15 percent of the 5,000 restaurants that provide the stuff, Baker said.
That’s a big drop from the 90 percent the company paid six years ago, when oil prices were sky-high.
“Now, with petroleum prices dropping, it’s very difficult for us to offer restaurants money for oil . . . We’ve had to really tighten our operations and downsize our work force,” Baker explained.
“The biodiesel industry needs a subsidy — like petroleum.”
‘WITH PETROLEUM PRICES DROPPING. . . WE’VE HAD TO REALLY TIGHTEN OUR OPERATIONS AND DOWNSIZE OUR WORK FORCE.
– Brent Baker, Tri-State Biodiesel founder
The company pays only the top-producing restaurants, based on “the volume of cooking oil we can collect at one stop,” he said.
At other locations, it picks up the grease for free.
The firm began to suffer badly “around midyear,” according to Baker.
Times weren’t always so tough.
Two brothers in their 70s were sentenced on Dec. 4 to six months of home confinement and two years’ probation for stealing and conspiring to sell thousands of gallons of cooking grease in previous years.
In New York, cooking oil even powered a commercial flight from Kennedy Airport to Amsterdam in 2013.
Tri-State Biodiesel, which is based in The Bronx, collects cooking oil from New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut. The company wouldn’t disclose recycling figures.
But officials at a competitor, Grease Lightning, said in 2012, it recycled more than 7 million gallons of used oil.
“Lower petroleum prices is just bad for the biodiesel market,” Baker said.
Additional reporting by Chris Perez