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Why do gas stations have three different grades of gas?

Gas Stations

Terry Tamminen (Author & Environmental Policy Advisor) gives expert video advice on: Why do gas stations have three different grades of gas?; Does higher-octane gasoline make my car run more efficiently?; What are "benzene", "toluene", "ethylbenzene" and "xylene" (BTEX compounds)? and more...

Why do gas stations have three different grades of gas?

Gas stations typically have at least three different kinds of gasoline and then usually at least one kind of diesel. The three grades of gasoline are 87 octane, 89 and 91, or variations thereof. Octane ratings are sort of a perfomance standard for gasoline. It's a rating that reflects the ablility of the gasoline to help your engine resist knocking or pinging, a very traditional kind of sound that you hear when there's incomplete combustion in the engine. And the vast majority of cars produced for sale in the United States are designed to run on 82 octane gasoline or less, and yet you'll notice that the lowest octane gasoline you can buy in most stations is about 87. So having higher octane gasoline for sale is really a kind of fraud, especially when it's promoted, as it is by most oil companies, as being something that everyone can benefit from.The truth is high octane gasoline is really only designed to be used by high performance, high compression engines like a 12-cylinder Maserati. The Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies have found oil companies guilty of misrepresentation and fraud for trying to tell the public otherwise.

Does higher-octane gasoline make my car run more efficiently?

Higher-octane fuel will not make your car run more efficiently if it isn't designed for it, and it's really only the high-compression, 12-cylinder, high-performance sports cars that are designed to do it. In fact, it's really very harmful, and it's not the same thing as buying a $50 necktie when a $5 necktie would do just as well. It's not just an impact on your wallet; it's an impact on the environment. According to the American Petroleum Institute, it takes as much as three runs through the refinery to make a high-octane fuel as compared to an ordinary-octane fuel, and so you're creating more pollution each time you refine that product. Similarly, when you burn it in your car it doesn't burn completely, so you're putting more pollution into the atmosphere. The octane materials that are in the gasoline deposit in your engine make your engine run less efficiently, and as a result your car is generating more pollution.

What are "benzene", "toluene", "ethylbenzene" and "xylene" (BTEX compounds)?

BTEX compounds are benzene, toluene, xylene, and so forth and these are the volitile organic compounds, as they're called, or VOCs and these are the fumes that you can smell from gasoline, the very distinctive fumes when you're pumping gas that you can smell and they're very very toxic. They're all known to cause cancer in humans and to be extremely vigorous toxins in the human body even in small quanities. And each year we seem to do more research that finds that quantities we thought would be benign in the human body are actually toxic. And so year after year we find that the BTEX compounds are causing much more harm to our human health than we thought.

Are there safer alternatives to BTEX compounds?

While there are safer alternatives to petroleum in our transportation system, I'm not sure there's a lot of ways of reducing the volatile organic compounds, or BTEX compounds, from gasoline. The best way to do that would be to replace at least part, or all, of gasoline with organic fuels like ethanol, biodiesel, and ultimately phase out petroleum products altogether.

What is the "Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies" (OPEC)?

OPEC is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It was formed in the 1970's, and it's led by Saudi Arabia and other large, oil producing countries. It's a cartel, in other words a business monopoly, that says they're going to get together as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and determine the price of oil, how much gets produced and who gets to buy it.

What are the dangers posed by underground fuel tanks?

Underground fuel tanks, especially at gas stations, leak, and they pose great hazards to our surrounding communities and to the water supply. In California, there are several hundred thousand leaking underground fuel tanks, mostly at the retail gasoline outlets -- gas stations. And in many cases, the gasoline has leaked from the underground fuel tank into the water supply. When you pump water out of a well, you're in many cases also pumping out the gasoline that has leaked form underground fuel tanks, and has very toxic compounds in it.

What is the annual cost to US tax payers to defend our oil supply?

The United States defends its oil supply around the globe and there's no question we use the military to do it and we use tax dollars to support that military. There are widely varying estimates because we have our military in parts of the world for multiple reasons, so sometimes it is hard to parse out how much of that is to protect oil. In some cases it's very easy. In Columbia, we spend $100 million dollars a year on military support, our own military and the Columbian military, to protect one pipe line alone. There is absolutely no question that is what the military is there doing. In other cases, things like the $100 billion we are spend every year on the war in Iraq since we invaded in the year 2003, that is at least in part attributable to defending our oil supply. So, it is very hard to say exactly what the total is but it is definitely in the tens of billions of dollars every year.