4-23-08 by dugan
Edited 4/23, 5:00 p.m. to use exact temperature benchmarks, as provided by K. Floren.
Around a meeting table at the California Energy Commission today, some of us were stifling yawns. Then, in one sentence, a veteran weights and measures regulator put the "hot fuel" issue in a perfect frame: Every packaged liquid, from a gallon of kerosene to a quart of milk, is poured into its packaging with the amount adjusted to a benchmark temperature.
Kurt Floren, director of the Los Angeles County weights and measures bureau, explained: All liquids expand when heated and contract when chilled, so to guarantee the same actual amount in every quart of milk, it’s adjusted to a benchmark, 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If the milk going into the carton is 43 degrees, a tad more by volume goes in. If it’s poured at 38 degrees, a little less by volume. But you get exactly the same mass of milk in every carton, give or take a few molecules.
The same goes for a gallon of kerosene sold in a can, though the reference temperature is 60 degrees. Ditto beer and propane. About the only measured liquid sold at retail that is not adjusted for temperature is motor fuel-gasoline and diesel (unless you’re buying your milk from the cow).
What that means in summer everywhere and in warm states (California, Florida, Arizona, etc., you know where you live) year-round is that you lose up to a dime a gallon’s worth of energy on gas that’s 95 degrees going into your tank-not rare in summer. Even a nickel a gallon loss on 80-degree gasoline comes to a buck a tank. It’s meaningful when gas is getting near $4.00 a gallon. (click here for more background on hot fuel)
Even more galling, the wholesaler and the retailer in most states, including California, buy their gas adjusted for temperature. If the gas station takes a 2,000-gallon delivery and the gasoline is 80 degrees, they get a rebate on the 30 or so gallons that were lost to expansion. When it’s sold to us, without that same fair treatment, those 30 gallons are pure profit.
Over several years, wholesalers and dealers sued the oil companies and refiners, and won, to get this temperature adjustment. The only part of the chain that doesn’t get fair treatment is the driver.
Today, there’s growing awareness that hot fuel is a raw deal, because we drivers have absolutely no way to know the temperature of the gasoline we’re buying. Independent truckers, who see their tiny margin being eaten by hot fuel, have sued, too, along with some regular car drivers, on the basis that they have no way to know the actual value of what they pump in the tank, whether gasoline or diesel.
Unless gasoline marketers and their oil company suppliers start getting smart about fairness to drivers, every summer is likely to get a little hotter for the sellers of hot fuel. If a penny’s worth of milk matters, a dollar’s worth of gasoline really matters.