ODA inspection shows few problems with motor fuel
ODA inspectors ensure motor fuel quality in Oregon.
As they pull up to the pump, motorists in Oregon are generally getting good gasoline and diesel, based on statistics for 2011. Routine inspection by the Oregon Department of Agriculture this past year, along with ODA responses to consumer complaints, indicate very few problems. That means drivers should feel assured they are getting what they pay for when purchasing motor fuel in Oregon.
"Consumers can feel confident about the quality of the motor fuel they purchase in Oregon," says Clark Cooney, deputy administrator of ODA's Measurement Standards Division, which checks motor fuel at the pump for such qualities as octane levels in gasoline and the cetane index of diesel. In addition, Oregon's renewable fuel standard requires that, with a few exceptions, gasoline contains a 10 percent ethanol blend while diesel contains a 5 percent biodiesel blend. ODA inspectors make sure those requirements are being met.
The year end report card shows Oregon's motor fuel with an "A-plus." ODA inspectors conducted 3,808 screenings of gasoline or diesel in 2011 from nearly 29,000 Oregon fuel dispensers. Using a hand-held octane meter for gasoline samples, inspectors sent a small percentage on for more testing when the initial check failed to match up with the octane level posted at the pump. Actual laboratory testing confirmed only three cases of gasoline being sold from pumps out of compliance for octane. In total, only 11 fuel samples taken by ODA inspectors failed to meet national standards and specifications. That means 99.7 percent of the screenings were in compliance. That is an improvement from five years ago, when the compliance rate stood at 99.4 percent.
"Overall, the quality of gasoline sold in the State of Oregon appears to be very, very good," says Cooney. "As far as octane goes, the statistics show that motorists buying premium, mid-grade, or regular gasoline in Oregon are getting what they are paying for. Motorists are also not likely to experience very many other problems associated with gasoline or diesel sold in Oregon."
ODA's Measurement Standards inspectors also measure the amount of water in storage tanks to make sure it does not exceed state standards. A long stick is used to probe the depths of the underground storage tank. A special paste is spread at the end of the stick, which is then lowered into the tank. If the paste turns from cream colored to pink, water is present. Any amount exceeding the standards requires the service station owner to take action. Winter rainfall often elevates the potential for water seeping into the storage tanks. If the water does exceed the limits, the fuel dispensers are removed from service until the water is removed.
Last year, ODA screened 6,218 storage tanks with 54 having excessive water- a compliance rate of 99.2 percent.
In addition, ODA received 37 motor fuel quality complaints from the general public, prompting immediate samples being drawn.
"If consumers have a concern about the quality of their gasoline or diesel fuel, I encourage them to contact our office as soon as possible," says Cooney. "The sooner we can respond to a consumer compliant, the better chance we have of actually obtaining a sample of fuel similar to the fuel purchased by the customer."
Motor fuel quality complaints can be reported to ODA's Measurement Standards Division at (503) 986-4670 or online. Meanwhile, the division's 17 field inspectors will continue the routine sampling of fuel as they visit each of Oregon's gasoline stations at least once a year.
In the winter of 2010, following the implementation of the state's renewable fuel standard for B2 biodiesel (requiring that diesel sold in Oregon contains a 2 percent biodiesel blend), ODA received nearly two dozen complaints, mostly from central and eastern Oregon, alleging problems with gelling fuel in cold weather. Since then, the biofuel mandate has increased to 5 percent biodiesel blend. Wanting to make sure proper corrections have been made in the blending of the fuel, ODA has just conducted tests on 26 diesel fuel samples. All have come back with positive results.
"Based upon decreased consumer complaints and our recent sample analysis results, it appears any gelling problems in Oregon diesel fuel have been resolved and that is welcome news," says Cooney.
With the low incidence of motor fuel quality problems in Oregon, does there still need to be an inspection program? Cooney and the inspectors believe the answer is yes and there there is deterrence value.
"We don't seem to have a problem simply because we do have a program in place," says Cooney. "We routinely look at the gas stations on an unannounced basis. The awareness of our inspection program on the part of the industry and the consumer has made a big difference. Our program benefits the fuel dealers as well by keeping problem competitors from gaining an advantage in the marketplace."
With the high price of gasoline right now- with the price per gallon edging up once again- it is even more important that someone is looking at motor fuel and ensuring its quality. Based on fuels tax information provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation, more than 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline is sold annually. With an average price estimated at $3.50 per gallon, motorists in Oregon spend roughly $5.2 billion annually on gasoline. ODA inspections are designed to ensure that every drop of that motor fuel is fit for consumers.
"We are out there looking," says Cooney. "Our inspection provides a good assurance to motorists that they are getting what they pay for at the pump, that all businesses selling motor fuel are operating on a level playing field, and that Oregon's renewable fuel standard is being met."
That's especially comforting when filling the tank- which used to cost perhaps $25, now may cost $60.
For more information, contact Clark Cooney at (503) 986-4677.
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