Water Found In Fuel At Some Local Gas Stations

State Changes Policies, Procedures After CALL7 Investigation

Depending on how much you drive, filling up your gas tank can cost hundreds of dollars a month. The CALL7 Investigators uncovered a problem at some Colorado gas stations that could cost you thousands more.

Put simply, it's water in the fuel.

State records analyzed by 7NEWS show that mistakes and negligence by gas stations can have you calling for a tow truck minutes after filling your tank.

"It sounded like it didn't have any gas in it. The car would just crank," said Keith Nolf, who sued the gas station for damages and won.

The water-contaminated gasoline did nearly $1,000 in damage to Nolf's car, and he was not alone. Andrew Swanson paid more than $1,200.

"I filled up and got about a mile from the station and my Jeep quit running," Swanson told CALL7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski.

Every year the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety receives complaints like that of Swanson and Nolf and sends inspectors to the suspect gas stations. In Swanson and Nolf's cases, inspectors confirmed the fuel was contaminated with water.

Inspectors found an underground tank at the Conoco station on Crown Crest in Parker taking on 10 to 12 gallons of water a day, state records show. It was the result of a faulty valve allowing water to seep into the tank, ruining the fuel. The owner of the station had refused to pay for the damage to Swanson's car.

That changed after the CALL7 Investigation.

"Your company never paid this guy for the damage you did to his vehicle," Kovaleski told owner Preet Singh.

"All I can tell you is, if there is some kind of accusation we will investigate it to the maximum and get it resolved," Singh said.

Singh has agreed to reimburse Swanson.

CALL7 Investigators also found complaints at the Lucky Gas and Food in Roggen, Colo. State tests in 2007 confirmed that there was water in the diesel tank -- twice inside of three months. It was enough water to fail the state inspection and cause $18,000 in damage to a diesel engine, records show.

"Have you fixed the problem?" Kovaleski asked the station manager. He replied, "After we had the accident we repaired everything."

Apparently not.

Less than 24 hours after Kovaleski's visit, state inspectors again found water in the diesel tank and shut down sales of diesel until the problem is fixed.

"Have any of these stations been fined for having water in their tanks?" Kovaleski asked Dick Piper, the head of the Division of Oil and Public Safety (OPS).

Piper said no and explained that stations and/or individual pumps have been shut down as a result of inspections but OPS reserves penalty fines for situations where there was intent.

Piper explained that shutting down a station and/or pump is, in his belief, equal or greater than fines since it is costing the station owner money, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in sales.

OPS inspectors have not found situations in which stations are intentionally contaminating fuel and tell 7NEWS most water contamination is a result of faulty equipment, seals or valves.

Station owners are supposed to routinely inspect tanks for water contamination and, according to OPS, most owners in Colorado comply with the regulations.

"If they're selling a contaminated product then they should be responsible for it," said Piper.

"And repay the consumer?" asked Kovaleski.

"You bet," Piper replied.

While state inspectors have confirmed diluted fuel in a handful of Colorado gas stations, they believe the problem goes largely unreported because customers don't know how or where to file complaints. And records show there are some stations at which contaminated fuel is a more frequent problem.

An example is an Everyday Store on Justin Avenue in Platteville, Colo.

"Do you know if you guys have a history with water in the gasoline here?" Kovaleski asked a station manager.

The manager said, "It occurred once."

CALL7 Investigators' analysis of state records showed that is not true. State inspectors confirmed water in the station's underground tank three times in seven months and, in one case, contractors removed 110 gallons of water from the tank.

Records also show the manager admitted to inspectors that the station had five other complaints of water in the gas.

The problem at this particular station is believed to be related to the site of the tank, which sits at a lower grade than other parts of the station. Water from rain and snow runoff filters directly to the fill pipe for the tank and seeps in.

Station owners told 7NEWS they will dig up the tank and have it reset to prevent future water contamination.

"That station cost consumers thousands and thousands of dollars and they were allowed to continue to operate," Kovaleski said to Piper.

"On the surface, it seems to me we should have been more thorough on our investigation," said Piper.

As a result of the CALL7 Investigation, OPS is looking at changing its procedure and policies regarding stations with repeat problems of water-contaminated fuel and in a statement to 7NEWS, said, "Based on a review of our internal records, and in the interests of ensuring consumer protection, we will immediately begin an examination of and potentially seeking an adjustment to our regulatory authority to ensure business owners maintain safeguards to prevent water from entering tank systems."

See a a complete list of Colorado gas stations at which the Division of Oil and Public Safety received complaints and confirmed there was water in the fuel.

7NEWS contacted the owners of the stations mentioned in this report and all said they have reimbursed any customer whose vehicle was damaged by contaminated fuel.

An important note: Water in fuel does not equal malicious intent on the part of gas station owners and typically occurs because of faulty equipment. When state inspectors find an unacceptable level of water in fuel, the station and/or pumps are typically shut down and the contaminated fuel is removed. Station owners are then told to repair whatever problems contributed to unacceptable levels of water.

If you suspect you have purchased contaminated fuel or have any other complaints, concerns or questions about any gas station in Colorado, call the Division of Oil and Public Safety at 303-866-4967.

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