HOUSTON—The Texas Department of Agriculture is investigating 16 Houston-area gas stations for allegedly mixing lower-octane gasoline with higher-octane, higher-priced gas.
The state launched its investigation after the 11 News Defenders told the agency about fuel delivery invoices we obtained—invoices from a major transport firm which delivers gas from local refineries to your neighborhood gas station.
According to many of the invoices, delivery trucks arrive with “too much regular unleaded” that “would not fit” in the station’s underground storage tanks. And so, the “left over” lower-octane fuel is “dropped” into the higher-octane, super unleaded tanks at the gas station.
So where exactly is this allegedly going on? 11 News identified a total of 16 gas stations across Harris County. For instance, at the Conoco station at 13102 Bissonnet, records show 700 gallons of regular unleaded were dropped into the super unleaded storage tank on Oct. 17, 2009. At a Phillips 66 at 8203 Fondren, 1,000 gallons of regular unleaded were poured into higher-octane tanks on Oct. 10, 2009.
The invoices also indicate repeat offenders. At a Shell station at 9875 N. Houston Rosslyn, records show 101 gallons and 760 gallons of regular unleaded dropped into its super unleaded tanks on Oct. 1 and Oct. 6, respectively.
And at a Shell station at 7745 S. Sam Houston Parkway, the delivery invoices indicate within a two-week period between Oct. 3 and Oct. 15, 500 gallons, then 416 gallons on another date, and on the last date, 900 gallons of regular unleaded were mixed in with super unleaded.
"This is just pure, out-and-out thievery,” said certified mechanic and Better Business Bureau board member Ray Moon. “Consistently having regular when your car requires super unleaded, it’s going to cause some damage.”
Nowadays, more and more cars require the high-grade gas. So what can happen under your hood?
“The super unleaded typically burns cooler in the engine,” Moon said, adding that regular unleaded burns hotter. And heat is the enemy.
“It shortens the life of your engine, the intake valve itself gets hotter, and any piece of metal that keeps getting hotter and hotter, eventually will fail,” according to Moon.
So who’s authorizing this gas mix-up? Records show Gulshan Enterprises, which provided the gas and owns some of the stations, gave the go-ahead. After no one at the company returned our repeated phone calls, we dropped by. But nobody seemed to want to answer our questions.
“I have nothing to do with that,” one man said.
“There’s nobody here. They’re not here at this time right now,” a woman added.
But shortly after that, an unidentified man made a dash down the stairs of Gulshan’s offices at 6671 Southwest Freeway.
Unidentified man: “Why are you asking me these questions?”
11 News: “Well why are you running from me?”
The cat-and-mouse game continued all afternoon.
Another man told us he was a supervisor, but didn’t want to see the invoices for himself.
11 News: “You’re pumping unleaded gas into super unleaded tanks, you’re ripping off the customer here.”
Supervisor: “Then talk to the concerned person, I’ve got nothing to do with that.”
A check of corporate filings with the Texas Secretary of State by Gulshan Enterprises found Shoukat Dhanani is listed as company president.
KHOU attempted to get comment from Dhanani several times, but as of press time we have not heard back from him.
“We want to ensure that the consumer in Texas gets what they pay for,” said Todd Staples, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, which regulates compliance at the pump.
In light of the 11 News Defenders findings, Staples’ office took swift action.
“We dispatched a team of inspectors to these stations,” he said. The inspectors analyzed the octane levels, first using hand-held testing machines, and later sending off samples to a laboratory.
“And anyone that doesn’t comply by the rules is subject to administrative penalties,” Staples said.
The Commissioner’s investigation includes the Pasadena company Texas TransEastern Inc., which delivered the fuel and wrote up the invoices in question.
But when we paid them a visit, the company’s president, J.J. Isbell, was nowhere to be found.
11 News: “When will he be back?”
Texas TransEastern employee: “Couldn’t tell ya.”
But Isbell is no stranger to the public eye. His father , Johnny Isbell, is Pasadena’s mayor, and J.J. himself served on the Pasadena City Council for four terms.
But when we tried him at the office:
Texas TransEastern employee: “He’s gone for the day.”
11 News: “How about tomorrow? Is he here tomorrow?”
Texas TransEastern employee: “I don’t know his schedule for tomorrow. I just know he was here this morning and he’s gone this afternoon.”
11 News: “Funny how nobody knows the president of the company’s schedule.”
Texas Transeastern employee: “Ha ha, that’s why he’s the president of the company.”
J.J. Isbell later declined to go on camera, but did send us a statement, which in part reads: “We take these allegations seriously and are looking into this matter. We have also implemented additional training to insure that if this occurred, we can prevent further incidents.”
As for the 16 gas stations in question, we’ve learned some are owned by Gulshan Enterprises, others are leased by individuals from Gulshan, and others are independently owned.