The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs charged Thursday that a dozen oil companies--including such giants as Exxon, Gulf, Mobil, Shell and Sunoco--have misrepresented the octane ratings of gasoline sold to service stations in the New York metropolitan area.
An independent laboratory test of gasoline at the companies' distribution terminals, ordered by the Consumer Affairs Department, alleged that hundreds of thousands of drivers in the New York area may be paying for high octane while actually receiving lower octane at the pump. The result, city officials said, could be reduced efficiency and engine damage.
At a news conference with Consumer Affairs Commissioner Angelo J. Aponte, Mayor Edward I. Koch labeled unscrupulous gasoline distributors "high octane bandits." He said consumers pay "for cream when getting sour milk" when they are deceived at the pump.
The Consumer Affairs Department's investigation began last Dec. 10, with spot checks of the gasoline at 12 major terminals in the city, each of which distributes a different brand.
In each case, officials charged, laboratory analysis of the octane level of the high octane gas was lower than the company claimed.
Aponte said the decision to test gas at the distribution terminals was made after individual station owners cited for octane violations told inspectors the company distributors were to blame.
The New York State Petroleum Council, representing all of the oil companies, denied the allegations Thursday. Officials of the trade organization charged "gross error" by the Consumer Affairs Department.
Companies May Sue
"Our companies intend to defend the integrity of their products and will litigate the issue if necessary," the council said.
"We just think the city is wrong," said a spokesman for Amoco, which also was named, along with Getty, Texaco and several local brands. "Our gasoline meets our octane specifications."
"Shell believes the gasoline in question met the posted octane level," the company said. "Measuring octane is very difficult--it's not a simple test but can be quite sensitive. It's like taking your blood pressure on the same machine five times. The readings may fluctuate very slightly. But if you test it on another machine, you will have a different set of fluctuations."
New York City is seeking civil penalties of $25,000 to $50,000 from the companies because of the alleged violations.