PORTLAND — A gas station that was charging motorists up to 61 cents a gallon over the stated price represents an extreme case of gas pumps being out of whack, but the station isn’t suspected of overcharging motorists on purpose, Maine officials said.

While performing routine tests at a station in southern Maine last month, a Department of Agriculture inspector ordered six fuel nozzles at a 12-nozzle station shut down and repaired because the pumps were giving wildly inaccurate readings.

Four of the inaccurate nozzles resulted in consumers paying 51 cents to 61 cents a gallon too much, or up to $12.20 extra for a 20-gallon fill-up, Commissioner Walt Whitcomb wrote in a weekly report to Gov. Paul LePage last month. Two of the nozzles were over-delivering gasoline, resulting in savings for consumers and a loss for the station. But the savings did not offset the overcharges, according to the report.

Whitcomb said he has heard of stations knowingly overcharging customers in other states, but he doesn’t think that’s the case in Maine.

“We don’t see a pattern,” Whitcomb said. “Our gut reaction is there isn’t a pattern of intentional deceit.”

Rep. Peter Edgecomb co-chairman of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, said it’s worth taking a close look at pump inspections if the public is being ripped off. Edgecomb, a Republican from Caribou, said he saw an inspector close down two nozzles at a Caribou station in recent weeks because they needed to be calibrated.


“With all the technology we have today, you’d think the pumps would be able to pump accurately the gas you pay for,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture oversees inspections of gas pumps, scales and other weighing and measuring devices used in commercial transactions to make sure they’re working properly.

The inspector’s findings at the station with six malfunctioning nozzles were first reported Monday by Capitol News Service. That report resulted in angry calls from the public to the department and to legislators, Whitcomb said.

At the station in question, which has not been publicly identified, the potential losses to consumers could have been “staggering” if the pumps went unchecked, Whitcomb wrote in his report. At the same time, the station could have made more than $300,000 in a year in extra profits if the problem hadn’t been identified.

The state uses national standards when testing gas pumps for accuracy. The threshold of error is roughly one-half of 1 percent, or about 3 ounces for every five gallons pumped.

Inspectors typically find some pumps under-delivering gas and others over-delivering, but usually on a small scale, because they need to be recalibrated, said Hal Prince, director of the department’s division of Quality Assurance and Regulation.

“If I believed there was intentional overcharging, I’d be talking to the attorney general’s office,” Prince said.

The findings show the need for a vigilant test system, he said. The department has hired two new weights and measures inspectors in the past year, is hiring a third and has gotten the OK to buy a new piece of equipment that tests the meters used at oil terminals.

Besides the seven inspectors now on the state payroll, 100 municipalities contract with a network of inspectors who are certified by the state, Whitcomb said.

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