Authorities release list of gas stations fined for selling low-quality fuel

Czech authorities have for the first time released a list of gas stations that were penalized last year for selling low-quality fuel. The index shows that around 50 filling stations landed fines for breaching Czech fuel standards in 2010. Experts have long been calling for the release of the data. But some of them criticized the fact that the list does make a clear enough distinction between serious violators and those who only committed minor offences.

So many Czech drivers wanted to know which gas stations they should avoid that the website of the Czech Trade Inspection crashed on Tuesday afternoon. It took several hours before the webpage was up and running again and people had a chance to go through the list of stations offering poor quality fuel.

But the actual results were not that alarming. Out of the country’s 8,000 or so gas stations, the Czech Trade Inspection, a division of the Industry and Trade Ministry, fined 49 for breaching Czech fuel-quality standards. And only a few of them sold fuel that could seriously damage vehicles.

The worst offender was the firm Falko II Czech. Six out of seven of their gas stations were fined nearly 4.5 million crowns in total. The company’s management said they were going out of business since they cannot afford to pay the fines.

The list gives the names and locations of the penalized gas stations, together with the fines and the reasons behind it. But this is stated in technical terms few lay people understand, which is also one of the main objections.

Ivan Indráček is the head of the Association of Czech Private Petrol Stations.

“What we see as negative is the fact that the list includes every gas station whose fuel did not comply with the technical parameters, disregarding the seriousness of the breach. The list should clearly differentiate between less serious problems that could not cause damage to vehicles, and those that could or were even attempted tax evasions.”

Another issue, says Mr Indráček, is the fact that the list covers fines imposed throughout the entire year 2010. The sanctioned gas stations may now be selling quality fuel, and might have even changed management or owners.

Czech fuel distributors have long been calling for the ministry to act but officials maintained it was not legally possible to do so. However, they changed their mind after consulting lawyers, and eventually decided to go ahead and release the data. Moreover, Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kocourek says his ministry is working on a new fuel act that would bind the authorities to publish such lists in the future.

Martin Kocourek, photo: CTK
“We have evaluated all related legal issues and found that they were not that great a risk. We therefore decided to provide consumers with more information so that they can be sure that they are buying quality fuel. We have also included this in an amendment to the fuel act which will make publishing of these details compulsory.”

This year, the ministry plans to increase the number of checks at gas stations by 20 percent, and promises it will publish its findings on a regular basis. The Czech Trade Inspection will also start using a mobile lab that will analyze fuel samples on the spot, allowing the authorities to take immediate action against stations selling fuel that could cause serious damage.