Octane Allegations

Anonymous charges hard to investigate, Wis. officials say

MILWAUKEE -- Drivers who pump what is listed as premium gasoline into their vehicles are not always getting high-octane fuel, claimed the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

According to the Associated Press, the paper reported that some gas station owners intentionally order too much regular unlead gasoline, and when the trucks arrive to deliver it, there is not enough room in the station's storage tanks to handle it. Station owners or employees then tell the truck drivers to dump the extra into the premium tanks, and may even offer the drivers a tip for the [image-nocss] switch, the newspaper alleged. Drivers are usually paid per delivery and rush to make as many drops as possible, the newspaper said.

People make mistakes, but it's obvious some people are scheduling mistakes, Greg Klimek, president of Klemm Tank Lines, told the paper. The opportunity is definitely there.

Gas is being mixed in the tanks improperly when it's delivered, Marty Kehrein, president of Wisconsin State Inspectors Local 333, which represents Wisconsin's petroleum inspectors, told the paper. The octane might not be what it's stated to be, and [inspectors] have been told by supervisors they can't investigate.

Officials in the state Department of Commerce, which regulates petroleum, said they did not find any octane fraud in Wisconsin last year.

Phil Albert, director of the bureau of petroleum products and tanks, said the state spent nearly $300,000 in 1995 on 14 fuel testing units, but there were major problems keeping the equipment calibrated and maintained.

The Journal Sentinel said documents show the state spent more than $200,000 over the years servicing the machines, but could not keep them consistently working.

Albert said that, in order to pursue litigation for octane fraud, the state would have to contract with a private company and possibly pay $200 to $250 per sample.

Robert Bartlett, executive vice president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of Wisconsin (PMAW) which represents about 2,500 stations in the state, said he does not believe octane fraud is common in Wisconsin. Honest owners would be complaining if their competitors were undercutting them illegally, he added. I haven't heard much about it, he told the paper. There's pretty good self-regulation. If it was widespread I would have heard more about it.

This is an issue we take very seriously, Aaron Olver, executive assistant to the Commerce Secretary, told NBC15-TV in a separate report. Looking for fraud and looking for safety issues are our top priorities with the petroleum inspection program. We've conducted 1409 tests last year and this year to date, and so far we haven't found a single case of octane fraud.

The department tries to inspect the gasoline at every station at least once a year.

The news outlet spoke with one local petroleum carrier who said gasoline fraud is a problem, but he wanted to remain anonymous, like many other accusers.

We haven't found a single example, added Olver. We follow up on all specific complaints, but there's not much we can do about anonymous allegations.

The state typically gets between 200 and 500 gasoline-related complaints a year, but only a handful about octane, said the report.

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