Prices vary among stations, but regulator says basics same

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 25, 2004

[3/24/04] Though prices for the same octane level of gasoline often vary from station to station, the quality of the basic product remains the same, a top state gasoline regulator said.

The additives some companies mix into the fuels they sell may account for different performance aspects for some brands of gasoline, but the basic properties of the gasoline itself are regulated for uniformity, said Bob Louys, director of the Petroleum Products Inspection Division for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

Samples are taken, unannounced, from randomly selected retail gasoline pumps across the state each week, Louys said.

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The samples are then tested in a laboratory at Mississippi State University to make sure their octane levels and other aspects, such as vapor pressure, are within regulated bounds, he added.

In 2003, the department collected 3,892 samples of about one quart each, Louys said. Each sample is taken from a different pump, but multiple samples may be taken from the same location, he said.

“All the octane has to be the same,” Louys said of the fuels at each octane level that come from different suppliers.

The Department sees a violation rate of between 2 and 3 percent, he said. Stations selling fuels found to be too far from their target octane levels are forbidden from selling that kind of fuel until they receive a new shipment that meets testing standards, he said.

The state’s fuel-standard violation rate compares favorably with comparable numbers from around the country, he said.

The division is also responsible for making sure gasoline pumps are calibrated correctly, Louys said. It tests about 75,000 pumps a year, also at unannounced, randomly selected locations. A five-gallon sample is taken from each pump and compared with the reading on the pump’s meter, he said.

One thing the department does not do is regulate gas prices themselves, Louys said. It has, nevertheless, received many calls from people wanting it to help bring down gas prices.

“People call in, but we have no jurisdiction” to regulate prices, Louys said. “We get a lot of calls on it.”