Secret ethanol tests find stations breach safety levels
Confidential testing by the federal environment department has found that almost one in 10 service stations is selling ethanol-laced fuel, most at levels that car makers warn can damage engines and void manufacturers' warranties.
Separate testing by the department has also found that petrol with ethanol content at the recommended maximum of 10 percent adversely affects the performance of two-stroke engines found in outboard motors and lawn mowers.
The developments come as the Federal Government faces continuing pressure to limit to 10 percent the amount of ethanol that can be added to petrol.
Environment Australia has been quietly monitoring the use of ethanol at the bowser since April. It found that 42 out 520 samples contained ethanol, and most of the positive samples had between 15 percent and 20 percent ethanol, far above the 10 per centlimit recommended by car, outboard motor and lawn mower manufacturers.
The results of the testing were revealed this week in replies to questions posed by the Opposition during Senate estimates hearings in November.
The Opposition's environment spokesman, Kelvin Thomson, criticised the Government for refusing to reveal the results until forced to through Parliament.
"The fact is the Howard Government, having done this testing, has been in a unique position to know that ethanol in excess of 10 percent was out there in the marketplace and refused to do anything about it," he said.
"The way the Government has sat on its hands over this issue is improper and inappropriate."
A spokeswoman for the Environment Minister, David Kemp, said yesterday that the preliminary results of the ethanol monitoring had been shared confidentially with state environment ministers two months ago.
Dr Kemp gave an undertaking on December 11 to make the findings public, she said. However, he had not done so before his department sent the information to the Opposition.
The spokeswoman said the sampling was continuing confidentially because the Government could not compel service stations owners to take part.
Most of the service stations selling petrol with a high ethanol content were in Sydney and Wollongong, she said.
The findings accord with a survey commissioned by the Herald in October, which found between 10 and 21 percent ethanol in petrol sold at six out of nine independent service stations sampled in Sydney's south.
Dr Kemp's spokeswoman said Environment Australia was conducting tests on the effects of ethanol on engines. Its preliminary work had revealed adverse affects on the performance of two-stroke engines.
Ethanol is touted as a clean fuel alternative that can be produced from sugar or wheat and blended with petrol in up to 10 percent concentration without the need for engine modifications.
The answers supplied by Environment Australia to the Opposition concede that there is no greenhouse benefit in running cars on unleaded petrol with 10 percent ethanol over standard unleaded fuel.
The federal cabinet has yet to decide whether it will introduce a 10 percent limit on ethanol content. It is also under pressure from the sugar and biofuel industries to introduce a mandatory minimum ethanol content in petrol, beginning at 2 percent.
You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine.'So that was nice.