Shell Dispensing Bad Gas
On November 27th, the Shell gas station at 74 Princeton Hightstown Road was reported to have dispensed bad fuel to customers, which caused many of these customers’ cars to halt and required towing. It has not been determined what exactly caused this issue, but an early analysis of the octane levels indicates that the gasoline was likely mixed with other substances, which reacted poorly with car engines. The Mercer County Office of Weights & Measures is currently conducting an investigation as to what exactly occured.
Reports of car breakdowns were first posted on Facebook, which helped community members realize that the correlation in these problems was the fuel bought from the Shell station. In fact, West Windsor mayor Hemant Marathe “first heard of the issue when somebody posted on Facebook about if anyone else is having a similar problem. Since then, I’ve talked a few victims, and there’s no definitive answer yet, but most likely diesel got mixed up with the fuel.” Marathe noted that least 25-40 cars were affected by the incident.
“Social media definitely helped, because it allowed people to realize that it wasn’t just a isolated problem with the gas. It became very apparent what the problem was,” he continued.
Once this issue became apparent, various residents notified the West Windsor Township Police, who sent some officers to the scene to investigate. Along with the officer were officials from the New Jersey Office of Weights & Measures, a department that ensures all weighting and measures devices are inspected for accuracy, such as pumps at commercial gas stations.
Based on a preliminary analysis by Weights & Measures officials, the Shell station has been temporarily shut down.
As township police Chief Robert Garofalo noted, the initial analysis of fuel samples from the shell station showed that the octane levels were abnormally low. Octane is a chemical compound found in fuels, and the octane rating of a fuel tells how much the fuel can be compressed before it spontaneously ignites. Gasoline is between 87- and 94-octane, depending on the quality, however the gasoline samples from the Shell station were in the 60s, clearly indicating that there were some impurity. “Based on the information from vehicle owners and local repair stations, it appears that diesel was mixed in, but I can’t be sure,” Garofalo said.
“Most of the cars stalled and had to be towed. Depending on how full the tank was, cars were able to drive various distances,” Marathe said.
Mark Cuomo, the owner of Mark’s Trackside Auto on 880 Alexander Road, had several customers come in with cars that weren’t running after they bought gasoline from the Shell station, and explained why these cars suddenly broke down. “The engine (for these cars) isn’t designed to run on diesel, so it’s not going to run at all. It’s a much lower octane fuel, and takes a much higher compression to make it burn.”
Chief Garofalo added. “As soon as this impure mixture gets into the engine, it can corrode the fuel line, and cause engine damage if left unchecked. But if you get to it right away, and siphon it out all and purge the system, I think you can save the engine.” Cuomo added that the engines he worked on in relation to this problem should not face any permanent damage.
Garofalo is generally confident that this was not a criminal issue. “It would be criminal if there was any intent to damage the car, but I don’t think there was any intent here. We’re pretty confident that this was an industrial-type accident. We don’t think there was any intent to defraud or damage anyone’s car.”
As of now, it seems that a diesel delivery was put into a gasoline storage tank, or that “the truck that was used for gasoline without being cleaned. However, (Shell) is currently cleaning the tanks and taking necessary precautions before they reopen,” Marathe said. The distributor of the gasoline was the Petroleum Marketing Group.
Regarding the cost of damages, Cuomo noted that the cost of engine repair would be about $250, which would include “removing the contaminated fuel and changing the fuel filter.”
For victims that wish to file a claim with Shell and their insurance company, the township police released the case number, report, along with Shell’s Consumer Affairs and claims phone number, on their Facebook, Twitter, and Nixle alert service. “We haven’t had any communication with Shell, since this is an internal matter for them, but we’re doing our part by trying to help residents get all the information they need,” Garofalo said.
“If somebody has any problems, they can certainly get in touch with the township, but so far the company has taken responsibility for the issue,” Marathe added.
Looking forward, Marathe believes that the West Windsor Township Council will not take any direct action on this issue, since it seems to have been a mistake rather than fraud. “I sincerely hope it was a one-time mistake that doesn’t have any long-term ramifications for the township,” Marathe said.
He concluded by thanking those who worked to solve this issue. “I want to thank everyone at Mark’s Trackside Auto, because they helped with towing for AAA, and realized there was a problem. I thank them, and the Valero station owner, for being proactive, and preventing an ever bigger problem from happening.”