Auditor General Urges General Assembly to Approve Random Octane Testing Bill Immediately

HARRISBURG – Responding to recent consumer complaints of tainted gasoline in eastern Pennsylvania, Auditor General Jack Wagner today called on the General Assembly to immediately require random testing of gasoline for quality.

Noting that Pennsylvania is one of only four states that does not test the octane rating of gasoline sold at retail outlets, Wagner said, “With gasoline prices at or near all-time highs at the start of the busy vacation season, the state must make sure that drivers are getting fuel with the proper octane rating, that’s free of water, silt or other contaminants.”

Wagner called on the General Assembly to approve House Bill 684 before it recesses for the summer. The bill would require the Department of Agriculture to begin random octane testing by July 1.

The Department of the Auditor General recommended in January that the Department of Agriculture begin octane testing. The recommendation came after Wagner issued an audit of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards, which is responsible for gas pump inspections. The audit found that 20 percent of the gas stations under state jurisdiction had at least one pump that had not been inspected for quantity distribution in more than a year, and that no pumps had been checked for octane since 1999.

Wagner said there have been at least five reported cases of tainted gasoline in eastern Pennsylvania in the past five months. According to the Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for gas-pump inspections, there were two reported incidents of tainted gas in Montgomery County in April; two in Monroe County, in February and May; and one in Northampton County in January. In addition, a Scranton television station reported in May that two of three samples of premium gasoline that it collected from three different gas stations, in Luzerne and Schuylkill counties, were found to have lower octane ratings than their posted rating of 93.

“These may be isolated cases, or signs of a wider consumer concern, but we can’t know for sure unless the state begins octane testing,” Wagner said.

Under current law, the Department of Agriculture is required to annually inspect gas pumps under its jurisdiction. However, the law does not require octane testing. Wagner said that octane levels are becoming increasingly important because more vehicles are requiring premium fuel for their engines.

“Motorists have a right to know that the octane they are paying for is the octane they are receiving,” said Ted Leonard, executive director of Pennsylvania AAA Federations, which supports testing of gasoline quality. “Moreover, bad gasoline has caused extensive vehicle damage.”

In the Montgomery County cases, one involved a report of contaminated/cloudy gas and the other claimed water in the fuel. In Northampton County, a motorist complained that fuel contaminated with metal caused $1,000 in damage to his engine. In Monroe County, a motorist reported purchasing bad gas that caused the vehicle to shake.

“The commonwealth’s failure to randomly test octane ratings raises legitimate concerns about whether Pennsylvania drivers are getting what they pay for, especially those who are purchasing fuel with higher octane ratings,” Wagner said. “The General Assembly should protect consumers by requiring the Agriculture Department to begin testing immediately.”

Wagner stated he is hoping the General Assembly passes the legislation by June 30, 2007, or prior to the summer recess.

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