Shell Won't Sell Gas at More Than 500 Stations
Sulfur Content Could Cause Fuel Gauges to Fail
By ALAN SAYRE, AP
NEW ORLEANS (May 29) - Just before the heavy-driving
Memorial Day weekend, more
than 500 Shell and Texaco stations in the South have stopped
because of high sulfur levels that can ruin vehicle fuel
gauges and make an
empty tank appear full.
The damage done by the bad gasoline could cause some drivers
to run out of gas
unexpectedly. Also, car owners may have to replace their
fuel gauges - a repair
job that can easily cost $400 to $600.
The tainted gasoline originated at the Motiva Enterprises
refinery in Norco,
La., according to Shell Oil Co. Motiva is the refining arm
of Shell in the East
and South. Motiva supplied the gasoline to both Shell and
The refinery said it is investigating how the high sulfur
Sulfur is naturally present in crude oil; some of it is
supposed to be removed
As of Friday, 119 Shell and Texaco stations were closed in
the New Orleans
area, and 400 were not selling fuel in Florida, said Shell
The problem occurred at an especially bad time for gasoline
stations, which had
been expecting brisk sales, at high prices, ahead of the
"The pumps have been off since Wednesday,'' said Sri
Guntaka, a cashier at a
Shell station in New Orleans. "We've lost a lot of
customers, hundreds of them.
It's very bad.''
Gas tanks have a float ball that rises and falls with the
fuel level. An
electrical system reads the float ball's level and transmits
the information to
the dashboard fuel gauge. The system uses silver electrical
contacts, which can
be quickly corroded by sulfur.
The problem came to light this week after drivers began
inaccurate fuel gauge readings.
Besides the New Orleans area, problem fuel turned up in
shipments to Miami,
Tampa, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale, Shell said.
Shell is replacing the gasoline at its stations. But Bow did
not have an
estimate of when all the stations would be pumping again.
Don Redman, a spokesman for Louisiana AAA, said that before
the shutdown was
announced, he fielded several calls from the auto club's
that their gas readings were way off.
"People have been looking at their odometers because of the
high prices and
saying, 'Hey, wait a minute,''' Redman said.
Shell said it had received 1,800 queries and 825 claims from
people who said
their fuel gauges had been affected.
Mark Hebert, who lives in Luling, said he filled up at a
Shell station on
Monday, and 200 miles of driving later, the gauge on his
2002 Impala still read
"I just know it has to be between a quarter and a half full
at this point,''
said Hebert, who submitted a claim to Shell and planned to
take his car in next
week for a replacement gauge.
Guy Valvis, owner of an auto repair shop in Metairie, said
he normally handles
about two gauge replacements a year. "I've fixed three or
four here in the last
week, and I've got two in here right now,'' he said Friday.
Valvis said the repair job entails draining the fuel and
removing the gas tank.
05/28/04 22:54 EDT
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