Gas stations are increasingly using radio-frequency identification (RFID) so that customers can pay without using a credit card or cash. According to National Petroleum News, these customers have either a transmitter on the car window or a tag on a key chain. The transmitter relays a radio signal--containing identification and credit-card data--to the dispenser. In the case of the tag, it is waved in front of the dispenser, where a receiver processes the personal information.
To help people who are pumping gas feel safer at night, some dispensers now being designed by Marconi and other companies will be shorter or thinner. The new versions, to be installed this summer, are harder for would-be attackers to hide behind.
Despite the care taken to keep stations safe, accidental electrical sparks can trigger fires. Over the past two years, for example, at least 100 fires occurred at stations around the country, causing one death and many serious injuries, according to Robert N. Renkes of the Petroleum Equipment Institute in Tulsa. The apparent culprit in many cases is static electricity, which customers can sometimes pick up by rubbing against a car's upholstery and which can then spark when they touch the hose nozzle or tank cap. Customers should always ground themselves by touching the car before touching the dispenser or opening their tank.
Leaks from petroleum tanks--about 400,000 in the past 10 years--are the major contaminant of groundwater in the U.S. About 380,000 of these tanks are located at service stations. Since 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency has required that these tanks be protected against corrosion and that they have hydrocarbon-sensing devices to alert owners to leaks. About 15 percent of underground storage tanks remain out of compliance, says Sammy Ng of the EPA.