Drivers filling up at Bayfield's two Conoco stations say they have suffered thousands of dollars in damages within the last two months because of contaminated fuel at one location, and gas mistakenly pumped into a diesel tank at the other.
Residents say the problem at the pumps involves the Giant Conoco in town at U.S. Highway 160 and County Road 501, and the Alta Conoco on the east side of town heading toward Pagosa Springs.
The stations are under the Conoco name but managed by different owners.
An executive with Western Refining, owner of the Giant Conoco, says it is investigating the claims of contaminated fuel, and Alta Fuels in Alamosa, owner of Alta Conoco, is working with customers who had problems.
"So sad that you can't trust when and where you fuel up in this town," Bayfield resident Katherine Zufelt posted on social media.
At the Giant Conoco location, customers say diesel contaminated with water, dirt and sludge has wreaked havoc on engines. The resulting damage has cost as much as $10,000.
Bayfield resident Rany Zufelt, Katherine's husband, said he filled his 2016 Ford F-350 on Nov. 16 with diesel from the Giant Conoco. The next night, the truck wouldn't run.
Janelle Thunstrom, also from Bayfield, said the entire fuel system of the 2012 Ford F-250 she bought in July was fouled days after stopping for diesel at the Giant during the second week of December.
Both took their trucks to Durango Motor Co., where service technicians confirmed damage was from sullied diesel with water in it. Each paid nearly $7,000 to repair the trucks they rely on for work.
Gary Hanson, vice president of corporate communications for Western Refining, said he's received seven claims the last three weeks about the company's Bayfield location.
Hanson said Western Refining has taken three samples from the Giant Conoco's fuel tanks; none found water in the diesel.
"We're not exactly sure what the problem is there," Hanson said. "We're still trying to investigate."
If water and dirt find their way into fuel tanks, and that mixture is pumped into vehicles, injectors within the engine can clog. If the mess can't be flushed out, entire fuel systems must be replaced.
Pat McLaughlin, service manager at Morehart Murphy Auto Center, said he recently worked on a number of trucks damaged from contaminated fuel, with repairs ranging from $300 to $10,000.
"All the ones I know of have been out of Bayfield," McLaughlin said.
Hanson said no reports of contaminated fuel at any other of the "number" of stations throughout the Four Corners that get deliveries from Western Refining have been received.
He added he has received four other complaints since 2012 for the Bayfield station, which is about normal.
The situation is less dire for customers of Alta Conoco.
Jim Sammons, director of Alta Fuels in Alamosa, said a fuel delivery driver mistakenly pumped gas into a diesel tank at the station on Dec. 17, causing some vehicles' engines to cut off. When station employees discovered the mix-up the next morning, they immediately decommissioned the pumps.
"He just had a human error," Sammons said. "We've been in contact with each one of the people who were affected."
Sammons said he talked to 15 customers so far, and put each one of them in contact with Alta's insurance company to mediate any issues.
Gas pumped into diesel engines can cause the vehicle to shut down, but generally does not have long-term impacts, and it is fairly cheap to repair.
"It was a mistake, and they're handling it right," said Bayfield resident Cali Rizzi, whose truck was affected.
Representatives at Durango Motor Co. and Morehart said they've seen an uptick of vehicles coming in with damage from bad fuel, though it's difficult to estimate how widespread the problem is.