Drivers urged to file claims for tainted fuel
RAF MILDENHALL, England — The Air Force soon will turn over dozens of tainted-gas-related legal claims to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
The claims — some of which already have been delivered to AAFES United Kingdom General Manager Rick Mora — are related to the silicone-tainted unleaded gasoline that a British energy company supplied to two AAFES filling stations — at Mildenhall and Alconbury — between the end of February and early March. The silicone in the gas adversely affects the oxygen sensors on some makes and models, causing the “check engine” light to engage, and can lead to engine shutdown in severe instances. Repairs can run between $300 and $1,000, said RAF Mildenhall auto hobby shop manager John Pidgeon.
“We are asking folks to hurry up and get these claims in to us so we can move the process along,” said Capt. Randall Smith, who serves with the 100th Judge Advocate General office at Mildenhall. “The sooner these are turned in, the sooner they can be processed.”
Smith said the RAF Mildenhall legal office has received 30 claims thus far while RAF Alconbury’s legal office has collected 17 claims.
Officials at the RAF Lakenheath legal office also have turned in claims to Mora, even though fuel surveys conducted by an independent testing agency found the AAFES filling station at Lakenheath was not affected by the tainted fuel. They did not keep a tally of the number of claims received. However, the Lakenheath filling station’s manager, Shelby Douglas, told Stars and Stripes last month that he had received numerous customer complaints about sluggish vehicle performance during the time period in which AAFES received the bad fuel.
Once all the claims are collected, they will be turned over to Harvest Energy, which also supplied tainted fuel to Morrison grocery store chain and ASDA, the British arm of Wal-Mart. Harvest will then lump the AAFES claims in with the scores of other claims from motorists across the United Kingdom, Smith said.
He said it’s unclear how long it will take Harvest to investigate the claims and make payments, but said the number of claims would cause a logjam at the 100th JAG office.
“It would take us months to adjudicate all these claims,” Smith said. “It really just adds a whole other level if you get the base involved.”
Harvest Energy, which supplies gasoline to filling stations on RAFs Mildenhall, Lakenheath and Alconbury, acknowledged last month that it supplied the silicone-tainted fuel responsible for vehicular mechanical difficulties across the United Kingdom in late February and early March.
Stars and Stripes tried repeatedly to reach Harvest Energy officials but did not receive a reply as of late Monday afternoon.
Silicone is used as an anti-foaming agent in diesel gasoline, but can cause severe problems to regular-gasoline engines, according to the British Trading Standards Institute, which conducted an investigation into the tainted fuel. The tainted fuel was traced to a single depot in Essex, which supplied other energy companies with the same bad gasoline.
This round of legal filings is the second time in the past two years that the Air Force has collected legal claims in relation to Harvest Energy, according to Smith. In 2005, the company accidentally filled unleaded tanks with diesel fuel.
AAFES was unable to provide Stars and Stripes with information before its Monday deadline relating to how many motorists were affected by the 2005 fuel mix-up, how many drivers filed claims and what sort of compensation was allocated for victims.