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State mulls 85 octane rules

PIERRE -- Consensus seemed to gel somewhat Friday at a state rules hearing that 85 octane gasoline should be allowed to be sold to motorists in the western one-third of South Dakota in order to avoid disruptions of fuel supplies but shouldn't be legal farther east.

The dispute is largely a product of two far-spread markets on opposite sides of South Dakota being supplied by different pipelines that deliver gasoline from refineries located in different regions of the country where either 87 or 85 is the common fuel.

Witnesses explained that the Rapid City terminal receives its fuel supplies through a single pipeline carrying gasoline from refineries in the Rocky Mountain region, where 85-octane fuel is standard.

Testimony showed 81.5-octane gasoline from some of those refineries is increasingly being blended with ethanol to produce the equivalent of 85.

A spokesman for Magellan pipeline company, which has terminals at Sioux Falls and Watertown, said there's no demand for 85-octane gasoline from the businesses it supplies.

He urged that 87-octane gasoline be the minimum standard for eastern South Dakota and that 85 be illegal there.

There currently are emergency state rules in place making 85-octane gas legal throughout South Dakota. Testifiers repeatedly said however they didn't know of any eastern sales of 85 other than in Pierre and Highmore since April.

Officials from the state Department of Public Safety and a senior aide to the governor listened to more than four hours of testimony from representatives of the automobile, refining, pipeline and ethanol industries as well as from gasoline distributors and retailers.

The department will accept written testimony for 10 days and then proceed toward a decision.

An official opinion from South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley found that sales of 85-octane gasoline were illegal but state law or rules could be changed to allow the practice.

The Daugaard administration immediately put emergency rules into place for 90 days while the process of making permanent rules gets under way.

There wasn't any agreement among the various sides Friday about whether fuel pumps should carry special advisory labels about 85-octane gas.

Automobile manufacturers use 87 octane as the minimum acceptable. Their spokesmen on Friday urged that South Dakota set 87 as the lowest legal octane, but they couldn't produce any industry studies showing that 85 octane damaged engines.

An international organization known as ASTM that sets industrial standards started work last month on consideration of national U.S. octane requirements.

Businessman Gil Moyle of Rapid City urged state officials to wait for the ASTM results.

"It's really just basing it on science," Moyle said. "I say we study it and then change the rules."

The sale of 85-octane gas has been common practice in western South Dakota and the Rocky Mountain region for decades because it runs better at higher altitudes. The dividing line in South Dakota was the 102 meridian, which is about 10 miles east of Wall.