The Kansas City Star (Missouri)
August 25, 2007
by Steve Everly, The Kansas City Star
California group offers free stickers of displeasure on hot fuel
"Warning. Motor Fuel Rip-off Notice."
That message of displeasure is on a sticker a California group
is offering to warn motorists about "hot fuel" — the effect of
temperature fluctuation on gasoline and diesel fuel.
The Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights in Santa Monica
said it was inspired by two oil companies that recently started putting
stickers on their retail fuel pumps because the amount of energy in
each gallon can vary with the temperature.
But the foundation’s sticker is larger — it measures 4 1/2
inches by 5 1/2 inches — and includes language with a bit more bite.
The sticker, for example, describes how rising temperatures cause
gasoline to expand and deliver less energy — costing consumers "up to
10 cents per gallon" at extreme temperatures.
The sticker endorses U.S. Senate Bill 1997. The proposal
introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri would require pumps
that adjust for hot fuel so that consumers would receive a "fair
Judy Dugan, the foundation’s research director, said the group
wanted a sticker that was larger and more direct than the ones being
used by ExxonMobil Corp. or Tesoro Corp., which began pasting their
stickers on pumps earlier this summer. The foundation’s sticker is
intended to not only raise consumer awareness of hot fuel but also
point to a cure.
"It’s important to fix it," Dugan said.
Dugan said the stickers could be put where others could see
them, such as on a vehicle’s back window or the door of a house. She
emphasized that it would not be legal to paste them on retail gas
pumps, which could be construed as posting on private property without
The physics of hot fuel are fairly straightforward. Fuel
expands and contracts depending on temperature. At the longtime
industry standard of 60 degrees, the 231-cubic-inch U.S. gallon puts
out a certain amount of energy.
But fuel is often sold at much higher temperatures, which
causes the fuel to expand and the amount of energy to decline for each
gallon dispensed. Indeed, a study by the National Institute of
Standards and Technology found that the nationwide, year-round average
temperature of retail fuel was 64.7 degrees — nearly five degrees
above the standard.
At other stages in the fuel-delivery chain, the industry
routinely adjusts volume to account for temperature change using the
60-degree industry standard. But retail pumps in America make no
adjustment for changes in the volume caused by temperature, so
consumers get only 231 cubic inches per gallon regardless of
Notably, the industry has embraced selling temperature-adjusted
fuel to consumers in Canada, where cooler temperatures would otherwise
pinch profits for retailers.
But the oil industry has opposed making any changes that would permit the temperature adjustment at retail in this country.
In congressional hearings last month, executives from ExxonMobil
and Shell Oil Products US said they supported more study of the issue.
They went on to question whether consumers would see any benefit
because fuel prices could increase if such a temperature adjustment was
allowed or required.
The ExxonMobil and Tesoro stickers are being viewed as a way to
limit potential legal liability by seeking to inform consumers that
they are purchasing fuel that has not been adjusted for temperature.
ExxonMobil’s sticker, for instance, is labeled a "Motor Fuel Measurement Notice."
"This device dispenses motor fuel by volume measured in
gallons," states the ExxonMobil sticker. "It does not adjust the volume
for variations in the temperature of the fuel. The temperature of motor
fuel affects the energy content of each gallon dispensed."
In a statement, Exxon Mobil said it was posting decals at Exxon
and Mobil stations in California and Arizona to advise its customers
"of the measurement basis under which fuel is legally allowed to be
sold. … It is simply a reminder that motor fuel they are purchasing
is sold by volume."
Tesoro’s hot fuel decals, which are being installed in
California and Arizona, state, for example, that the pump "dispenses
motor fuel by volume measured in standard gallons (231 cubic inches),
as certified by the California Division of Measurement Standards,
without adjustment for possible variations due to temperature or other
factors which may affect the energy content of each standard gallon
In a statement, spokeswoman Sarah Phipps said: "Tesoro did make
a business decision to apply decals on our pumps. … However, we want
to make it clear that we are squarely aligned with the industry on
there being no merit to the hot fuels claims."
Hot fuel stickers:
Those wanting one of the free "Motor Fuel Ripoff Notice" stickers can order them at www.oilwatchdog.org/stickitbigoil or by calling 310-392-0522, ext. 326; or by dropping a note to:
1750 Ocean Park Blvd., Suite 200
Santa Monica, CA 90405
To reach Steve Everly, call 816-234-4455 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org