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Hot Fuel Fix Tabled | Oil Watchdog

Hot Fuel Fix Tabled

Tue, Jan 29, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Hot Fuel Fix Tabled

    The Kansas City Star
    January 29, 2008

    by STEVE EVERLY, The Kansas City Star

    Committee halts regulatory effort to fix hot fuel

    ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The National Conference on Weights and Measures,
    under industry pressure, on Tuesday tabled a nationwide regulatory fix
    for hot fuel — pushing resolution of the issue into 2009 at least.

    The move was made by a conference committee on a measure that
    would have established the way fuel, adjusted for temperature, would be
    sold in the U.S. The item would have been voted on in July by the full
    conference if the committee had decided to go ahead.

    The vote followed a day of hearings in which oil-industry
    representatives pummeled the idea of adjusting retail fuel pumps to
    account for temperature fluctuations. State weights and measures
    officials expressed reservations about proceeding without more
    information and more of a consensus.

    "The conference is clearly split on this," said Judy Cardin, the conference’s chairwoman.

    Hot fuel occupied most of the conference’s four-day meeting, but
    the decision to table any fix was made in less than 15 minutes by the
    committee.

    Members of the committee made few comments besides stating a
    desire for more information that they hope to have by the end of the
    year. Privately, they said the issue had become so divisive that they
    saw no hope for passage in July — if ever.

    The suddenness of the decision surprised many of those
    attending who expected more public discussion by the committee. Some
    questioned if the decision had already been made.

    "It reminds me of a group of Chicago aldermen," said Judy Dugan, research director of OilWatchdog.org. "I feel pole-axed."

    The decision puts more pressure on states to develop their own
    standards for a fix for hot fuel because, as one put it, the "monkey is
    out of the bottle" regarding temperature adjustment of fuel.

    Some officials said change may come in the marketplace even without regulators embracing a new nationwide standard.

    An official from California, the nation’s largest fuel-consuming
    state, said two retailers planned to install pumps that would adjust
    for temperature fluctuation. The pumps are not considered illegal in
    California or in most states.

    "This is going to happen in California," said Robert Atkins,
    agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures in San
    Diego.

    Gasoline and diesel expand and contract in reaction to
    fluctuating temperatures. The industry, about a century ago, adopted a
    60-degree standard for a 231 cubic-inch gallon. If the fuel temperature
    is different than 60 degrees, then a gallon shrinks or expands,
    affecting the amount of energy it delivers to drivers.

    Fuel volumes are adjusted for temperature as they move through
    most of the distribution chain, including at wholesale. But retail
    pumps used in the U.S. make no adjustment as they dispense 231 cubic
    inches of fuel regardless of the temperature. This means when fuel
    temperatures are above 60 degrees, consumers receive less fuel than
    they should if the industry standard was used.

    The Kansas City Star, in a series of stories beginning in 2006,
    reported that consumers nationwide paid an estimated $2.3 billion more
    than they otherwise would have to because the year-round average fuel
    temperature was nearly five degrees higher than the nationwide
    standard.

    Fuel temperatures can vary widely among stations with no way for consumers to know.

    The weights and measures division of the Kansas Department of
    Agriculture released a study at the conference showing that in Topeka
    during a four-day period in 2007, fuel temperatures varied as much as
    20 degrees among stations.

    The focus of attention on hot fuel now moves to the California
    Energy Commission, which expects to complete a study by the end of the
    year that will examine the cost and benefits of fixing hot fuel. The
    committee that tabled the fix for hot fuel said it wanted to review the
    study when it was available.

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office said at the New
    Mexico meeting it was doing a less ambitious study that would review
    existing studies and reports on hot fuel. That study could be completed
    by late summer.

    Weights and measures officials said the opposition made it
    impossible to reach a decision because the National Conference on
    Weights and Measures prefers to reach a consensus with the businesses
    it regulates.

    An attorney representing an association of independent
    gas-station owners said adjusting fuel for temperature at retail should
    not be done.

    "The consensus you seek probably is not available," said R. Timothy Columbus, an industry attorney in Washington.

    Supporters and opponents of a hot-fuel fix appeared to agree that a consensus would never happen.

    "There is not going to be a consensus on this item until
    gasoline is not used as a propellant," said John Siebert, a project
    manager with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, based
    in Grain Valley.
    ————–
    To reach Steve Everly, call 816-234-4455 or send e-mail to severly@kcstar.com

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