State shines light on gasoline quality
By SHARON HONG Copyright 2010 Houston ChronicleState officials watched as a fuel inspector pumped a sample of gasoline from a Houston Shell station into a jar, sloshed the pale yellow liquid around and declared it clean Tuesday, kicking off a program to check for contaminated fuel.
Jan. 26, 2010
The program is a result of legislation that took effect Jan. 1, expanding the Texas Department of Agriculture's regulatory authority to include testing of fuel quality. Before, there was no designated state agency authorized to protect drivers from contaminated fuel from the pump.
“This problem was brought to our attention locally over a year ago when a vendor was watering down their gas,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who sponsored the bill. “We cannot tolerate someone who will take a short cut. ... I'm excited that the state of Texas responded to a consumer need.”
In 2009 the Agriculture Department, which also regulates accuracy of readings on quantities pumped and octane levels, received 166 consumer complaints about fuel quality.
But additional complaints may have gone to other agencies.
“That's the thing. We don't know exactly how many complaints there were, because before the bill consumers didn't really know who to call,” said Debbie Hastings of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, an industry group that supported the bill. “This centralizes the oversight of this process.”
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who kicked off the testing program with the demonstration at the Shell station on Westheimer, said his office will conduct 5,000 fuel quality tests this year. The program will include routine monitoring as well as response to complaints.
The legislation authorizes the department to assess fines up to $5,000 per violation per day, and to stop sales by noncompliant vendors — which Staples suggested would be strong disincentives for those tempted to tamper.
“I'm proud that Texas demands high standards,” he said. “And we already have a high rate of compliance — 93 percent for fuel quantity and 96 percent for octane levels.”
“When Texas drivers top off their tanks, they can have the assurance that the fuel quality they're paying for is the fuel quality they get,” Staples said.
The program will be funded by fees charged fuel retailers, distributors, jobbers, suppliers and wholesalers.