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Israelis look to area for help in enforcing fuel regulations

March 01, 2000

By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jim Crowley flipped the glass beaker over. With no water and no sediment, the gasoline sample passed.

Then, Crowley, a weights and measures inspector with the state of West Virginia, tested the octane. The machine in the metal case in the back of his Jeep read "86.8," within the acceptable range for 87 octane gas.

West Virginia fuel inspectors met with two Israeli citizens at a Texaco station on King Street near Interstate 81 on Wednesday to teach them about the state's regulatory process.

Yoav Armoni, the managing director of Israel's Ministry of National Infrastructures Fuel Authority in Jerusalem, and Adina Lavy, the head of a fuel testing laboratory in Haifa, are taking a one-week tour of the United States to study gasoline practices here.

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They learned about the nation's strategic petroleum reserve by visiting Washington, D.C., and Texas. They stopped at a gas station in Martinsburg Wednesday and will go to another one in Maryland today.

Armoni and Levy were accompanied Wednesday by Todd Rosenthal, president of Zeltex Inc., a Hagerstown company that manufactures gasoline testing equipment.

Zeltex has sold octane meters, which use infrared light to gauge oxygen content, to several countries and to 24 states. West Virginia was one of the first.

Israel bought two and will start using them next week, Armoni said.

Rosenthal said his meters can help pinpoint fuel quality problems without using costly "knock engine" tests. In the case of a Maryland station that had the wrong octane gas at its pumps, 25 to 30 knock engine tests would have cost up to $3,000, he said. Instead, using one of his readers to study 40 samples cost "$4, maybe $5," he said.

Dennis Harrison, the program coordinator for motor fuels with West Virginia Weights and Measures, said the state was chosen as a host because it runs a respected and efficient fuel oversight program.

All fuel in West Virginia must meet American Society of Testing and Materials standards, as mandated by a 1994 state law, he said. To enforce this, state inspectors conduct spot checks, examining between 600 and 1,000 samples each year.

West Virginia's fuel regulation budget of $100,000 is on the low end, as some states spend millions, Harrison said. The state also doesn't allow gas stations to label 89 octane gas as "premium," while others do, he said.

"The benefit to the consumer is that the prevailing number of times you're buying gasoline in West Virginia, the gasoline is good," Harrison said.

Harrison said he chose the Texaco station because its owner, Roach Oil Co., which runs 13 gas stations and convenience stores in the Eastern Panhandle and Hagerstown, has some nice establishments.

Scott Roach, the retail operations vice president for Roach Oil, told Armoni that the Texaco company may be more stringent about regulations than the government. The first time a station violates quality standards, the parent company will lock up the pumps until the problem is fixed, he said.

That's not the case in Israel, Lavy and Armoni said.

"Oil companies are not taking any responsibility for the quality of the products," Armoni said.

Israeli fuel taxes represent about 60 to 70 percent of the pump price, encouraging fraud, he said.

Armoni said that in Israel, the potential for gas fraud can be so great, he'd like to inspect gas stations once a month. Currently, the government inspects stations about four times a year, which gives the owners too much time to elude oversight, he said.

The Zeltex machines will make fuel tests cheaper, so he can hire more inspectors, he said.

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