The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
August 31, 2007
by Ryan Randazzo, The Arizona Republic
NOT GETTING WHAT YOU PAY FOR AT THE PUMP;
ARIZ. SHORTCHANGED BY THE HEAT; ACTIVISTS PURSUE FAIRER FILL-UPS
Each time drivers fill their fuel tanks in Arizona’s simmering summers, they likely see $1 or more evaporate.
Because gasoline expands in the heat, that’s the estimated dollar amount of energy they purchase but they never receive.
Nobody serves hotter gas than stations in the Arizona desert,
and after more than a year of discussion, debate over the issue is
beginning to boil.
The state Department of Weights and Measures is taking fuel
temperatures at gas stations and considering voluntary temperature
compensation, while consumer advocates are pushing aggressively for
When gas heats up, it takes up more space but doesn’t provide
any more energy. That means there is less energy in a tank full of
105-degree gas than the same tank filled with 70-degree gas. However,
stations charge by the volume of gas they sell, not how much energy it
"Arizona is the epicenter of hot-fuel rip-offs," said Judy
Dugan, a founder of OilWatchdog.org, which is calling for gas stations
to compensate for the temperature of gas they sell. "With the weather
Phoenix is experiencing now, every time you fill the tank, you could be
losing a dime a gallon. It’s an extra penalty for living in the desert
imposed on you by the oil companies and oil refineries."
Major oil companies and independent station operators argue
that retrofitting pumps and compensating fuel sales for temperature
won’t save consumers money and oppose moves to require such equipment
or even allow it in the marketplace.
At least 38 lawsuits have been filed nationwide against gas
stations and oil companies. Earlier this month, Sen. Claire McCaskill,
D-Mo., introduced legislation that would require new and upgraded pumps
to use temperature-compensation equipment.
But things have heated up even more in Arizona:
– The Arizona Department of Weights and Measures is taking fuel
temperatures at stations to get a 12-month average but already has
found summer temperatures of about 104 degrees. Based on that data,
Valley motorists pay about $1 more for a 15-gallon fill-up than they
would for the same amount of energy if the gas were 60 degrees, the
industry standard. That figure rises when prices hit the $3 mark they
saw earlier this summer.
– Exxon Mobil Corp. stations owned by the company, not
franchisees, in Arizona and California have begun putting warning
stickers on pumps to let people know they don’t compensate for
temperature, ostensibly a response to the lawsuits.
– A recent report for the U.S. House found Arizona has the
highest hot-fuel premium nationwide, based on temperature data
collected in 2003.
Fuel experts have known for decades that gas expands when
heated, and that trait can benefit or harm buyers and sellers when not
calculated into transactions.
The current debate flaredin 2002 when the Missouri-based
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) representing
truckers got involved.
OOIDA began investigating the mileage variances in diesel fuel when truckers suspected fraud.
The group found that temperature accounted for the different
mileage truckers were experiencing, even though diesel doesn’t expand
as much as gasoline when heated.
Their research and subsequent news coverage prompted dozens of
class-action lawsuits on behalf of independent truck drivers and
motorists, all of which are being consolidated in Kansas.
Among the 38 cases with more than 150 plaintiffs and defendants
is James Anliker, owner of Jim’s Trucking Inc. in Tolleson. He and
another Arizona motorist, Christopher Payne, filed their suit in May on
behalf of everyone who has bought fuel warmer than 60 degrees in the
state from the nine defendants,
including Exxon Mobil, Shell, Flying J and Chevron.
"The defendants have resisted all efforts to change their
deceptive marketing practices and retrofit service-station fuel pumps
with temperature-correction devices because the petroleum industry
profits from the sale of motor fuel to consumers and non-standard,
non-temperature-adjusted gallons," their complaint says.
It also criticizes the fact that stations don’t report the
temperature of fuel being sold so consumers can calculate the purchase
The complaint also alleges the companies pay taxes on the
amount of fuel they purchase at the industry standard of 60 degrees and
could collect more taxes than they remit on the fuel when it is sold
hotter and, therefore, "obtain a tax windfall at the expense of the
Hot-fuel critics see a double standard, with Canadian gas
stations compensating for temperature to prevent being left short when
chilly weather reduces the volume of gas they sell.
Not to mention the temperature calculations oil companies often use when making shipments and major sales in the U.S.
For those large transactions, the industry standard is 60
degrees. That way, companies get an even trade when exchanging 5,000
temperature-compensated gallons of fuel in California, where it is 90
degrees, for 5,000 gallons of temperature-compensated of fuel in
Minnesota, where it is 60 degrees.
Too costly, industry says:
But industry representatives say that’s not needed at pumps.
And spending $2,000 or more per pump to add
temperature-compensating equipment will only hurt consumers, said
Andrea Martincic, executive director of the Arizona Petroleum Marketers
Association, representing the 93 percent of the state’s 2,000 stations
who are independent.
"Consumers likely will see a price increase," Martincic said.
She represented her views in Chicago this week during a National
Conference on Weights and Measures meeting on the possible pitfalls of
introducing temperature compensation in the U.S.
"The advocates for this are assuming the stations will sell
fuel at the same price with the new equipment," she said. "It’s a
little misleading to say consumers are losing a dollar or whatever per
sale. A gallon is a gallon."
Temperature adjustment also could require more state
inspectors, increasing fees on stations that could be passed on to
And if temperature adjustment is simply allowed, not required, it could create unfair competition among stations, she said.
"There is a risk in rural communities or at older stations,
where potentially owners just say it’s not worth it," she said. "If we
don’t know it will help consumers, then why would you move forward with
Oil companies such as Shell Oil and Exxon Mobil also have argued
that the cost of adding the equipment to gas pumps would only hurt the
business owners who run most of their franchises.
And temperature compensation won’t mean they get more gas to
fit in their tanks or that stations will lower prices, they said in
testimony before a special committee of the U.S. House last month.
"Shell believes that making automatic temperature adjustment
permissive throughout the United States would not be a good idea," said
Hugh Cooley, Shell’s vice president and general manager for national
wholesale and joint ventures.
"First, if in any given area some stations adopted the
technology and others did not, consumers would be confused over how to
Exxon Mobil provided similar comments but would only reply via
an informal e-mail when asked by The Republic about the new stickers on
Arizona pumps. And then the company wouldn’t answer why just two states
were singled out.
"(The stickers are) simply a reminder that the dispenser sells
motor fuel by volume," spokeswoman Prem Nair wrote. "This is how fuel
has traditionally been sold at retail in the continental United
Most drivers haven’t yet heard of the issue, even those who take fuel seriously.
"I didn’t know that," 18-year-old Tim Senzee said while filling
his pickup this month at a Phoenix QuikTrip as the mercury hit 109
degrees. "And I drive for a job, and have to pay for my own gas."
Senzee can write off his delivery-service mileage on his taxes but still watches spiking prices.
"It definitely is a problem," he said. "It can be pretty annoying."
Other consumers were a bit cynical about hot-fuel regulation.
"I don’t think they’ll do it unless there is a law changed," Kay
Averkamp said as she pumped $27.86 worth of gas into her Honda Prius at
a Phoenix am/pm station. "I don’t think they’ll do it out of the
goodness of their hearts."
But truckers say they see the impact, even though major
trucking companies such as Phoenix-based Swift Transportation have
stayed out of the fray.
"When you don’t get a real gallon of fuel, that’s when it hurts
my wallet," independent driver Sam Battaglia of Louisville, Ky., said
recently after putting $170 worth of diesel into his International 9900
"You notice when you fill up, then park overnight and the gauge
reads less than full in the morning," said Battaglia, a member of the
independent-truckers group pushing for temperature compensation.
The state Department of Weights and Measures investigates about
1,000 complaints a month regarding gas pumps, but it hasn’t taken a
stance on hot fuel, spokesman Steve Meissner said.
"The oil industry says it’s too expensive," Meissner said. "So
we could say, ‘OK, how about a voluntary system where the pump is
labeled (as compensating for temperature),’ and if they have to charge
an extra nickel a gallon or so, fine, they could let the market decide
if it’s worth it."
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or (602) 444-4331.