Auto, engine makers oppose making 85 octane gas legal in SDAt least one oil company official admitted to mislabeling 85 octane fuel as higher-grade gasoline, claiming threat of a fuel shortage forced the move. Officials are considering charges.
SIOUX FALLS (AP) — The automobile and small engine manufacturing industries are among those opposing an effort to make the sale of 85 octane gasoline legal in South Dakota, saying it could harm consumers.
Fuel refiners dispute that and many South Dakota residents already have been using the fuel — some without knowing. Fuel suppliers say a chronic threat of fuel shortages has forced them to mislabel and sell 85 octane fuel as higher-grade gasoline, according to authorities, who haven't identified the suppliers because they are considering charges. Improperly labeling fuel is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
At least one oil company official admitted to mislabeling 85 octane fuel during an April 30 meeting involving industry and state officials at the governor's office, according to media reports.
Octane is a measure of fuel performance — a higher octane level indicates better performance. Most modern vehicle engines require a minimum octane level of 87, though 85 octane has commonly been used as a fuel for higher altitudes in western South Dakota, where it performs better.
The state Department of Public Safety is writing rules to clarify the legal status of 85 octane fuel after government officials confirmed mislabeled fuel has been sold in several cities in eastern South Dakota.
Running lower-quality fuels reduces engine performance and can lead to damage, Auto Alliance spokesman Dan Gage said.
"That type of damage typically is not covered by warranty," he said. "If a consumer has that type of damage and it can be linked back to low-octane fuels, you can assume that these types of unnecessary repairs would have to be covered by the consumer. ... Most engines from our manufacturers are not designed to run on anything less than 87 octane. Consumers need to understand that."
Refiners dispute that lower-octane blends affect engine performance, even in newer cars.
"Never once have I had a customer, or a member of Congress, or a senator, or any type of government official approach me about a problem with 85 gasoline in this region," Clint Ensign, a lobbyist for Sinclair Oil, said during the April 30 meeting. "But conversely, I have had several discussions over the years about supply."
Gas station owners and fuel marketers say South Dakota's low position on the regional supply circuit contributes to a constant threat of fuel shortages.
Last November, South Dakota's congressional delegation sent a letter to Tom Taylor, Sinclair's regional manager in Denver, asking the company to ship more fuel to South Dakota from its refinery in Casper, Wyo. The letter was sent a week after Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed an executive order to help alleviate a fuel shortage by extending the number of hours that tanker-truck drivers could be on the road.
The severity of the fuel shortage threat is uncertain, however.
"There is some disagreement over whether that threat is real or imagined ... a tactic on the part of the suppliers," said Tony Venhuizen, the governer's spokesman.