SPECIAL REPORT: ‘Hot fuel’ lawsuit filed in San Francisco

| 12/14/2006

Dec. 14, 2006 - The issue of "hot fuel" is now before a federal court.

On Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006, truckers and motorists from seven states filed a lawsuit seeking class action status in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charging 17 oil companies and retailers with "consumer fraud" for allegedly selling hot fuel and not compensating the buyer.

The federal lawsuit seeks the return of alleged overcharges to consumers and the installation of temperature compensation equipment on all fuel pumps.

Eleven individual consumers are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They are also contending that state laws meant to protect them are being violated by the fuel vendors and oil companies.

Although the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is not a plaintiff, the national trucker association is strongly supporting the legal action. It was the research of OOIDA Foundation Project Leader John Siebert, with the help of OOIDA members collecting data on fuel temperatures and costs, which led to an exposé via an investigative news series in the Kansas City Star by reporter Steve Everly.

Siebert said it's estimated that hot - or expanded - fuel costs consumers more than $2 billion per year.

"Hot fuel is motor fuel sold in the U.S. at a temperature above the century-old national standard of 60 degrees," Siebert wrote in his research. "At hotter temperatures, fuel expands, reducing the energy content in a gallon."

The warmer the fuel, the bigger the consumer rip-off, he said.

In a teleconference announcing the lawsuit Thursday, Dec. 14, that included Siebert, consumer advocacy group Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook charged that big oil doesn't just benefit from an inflated price at the pump.

"To add insult to injury, consumers who are sold hot fuel at already high prices are being ripped off twice," Claybrook said.

"First, they receive less fuel than they have paid for. Second, they are paying prices that are already too high. This has enabled oil companies to make record profits and has led to outrages such as the record $400 million retirement package last year for Exxon's former CEO."

Mark Rushing, an owner-operator and OOIDA member from Spearsville, LA, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He is leased to a company and splits the driving with his wife, Becky.

"We're here not only representing the American truck driver, but every American consumer and we want to get the energy in our vehicles that we thought we had been paying for," the Rushings said in a statement aired during the teleconference.

Companies named in the lawsuit include Alon USA; Ambest; Chevron USA; Circle K Corp.; Citgo Petroleum Corp.; ConocoPhilips; Flying J.; Petro Stopping Centers; Pilot Travel Centers; 7-Eleven Corp.; Shell Oil Products Co.; Tesoro Refining; Valero Marketing and Supply Co.; and Wal-Mart Stores.

- By David Tanner, staff writer

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.