Texas lawmaker proposes crackdown on 'hot fuel'

| 11/20/2006

Texas may be the land of big oil, but a member of the state House of Representatives is taking up the fight against oil companies and retailers that sell "hot fuel."

Texas Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, is taking issue with gasoline or diesel sold at pump temperatures higher than 60 degrees, a century-old agreed-upon standard for the petroleum industry.

That benchmark is supposed to ensure consumers get the proper amount of fuel energy per gallon of liquid fuel, but there's a hitch. Fuel expands and contracts, and a growing allegation is that some oil companies and retailers are shorting consumers by selling fuel above 60 degrees.?

John Siebert, a project manager for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association,? says the trucking industry has "railed about this" for several years. He explains that the warmer fuel allows more volume to be sold because consumers pay by the gallon, but the consumers are not getting the full energy value of the fuel.

Siebert has been investigating the hot fuel abuse since July 2002. After OOIDA published a press release on the investigation, The Kansas City Star picked up on the significance and began its own probe, resulting in a series of articles by Steve Everly. The first articles were published in The Star in August 2006.

The Texas legislation is the latest twist reported by The Star. A Nov. 17 article reports that Rep. Solomons wants Texas consumers to get a "fair shot."

"This is not something to sweep under the rug," Solomons told The Star. "My hope is we'll be able to pass something and be on the way to getting consumers what they think they are paying for."

OOIDA's Siebert says the proposed legislation in Texas is an important first step in correcting the problem.

"This is the first draft of legislation since the articles were published in August," Siebert told Land Line.

"This is like a miracle that in Texas, the very heart of our oil-producing nation, a lawmaker is risking his political reputation to do something for the consumer."

The legislation being proposed by Solomons in Texas will mandate retailers adjust the size of the gallon being sold if the temperature is above 60 degrees.

The Star reported that the average fuel temperature in Texas is 78 degrees.

Solomons has suggested Texas adjust its gallon size to greater than 231 cubic inches, such as Hawaii did, to adjust for the temperature difference. Hawaii's gallon is 234 cubic inches, but the fuel contains the same amount of energy as a 231-cubic-inch gallon.

Siebert said the adjustment to the fluid size of a gallon is a step in the right direction, but one other solution is more practical and that is to let the pump do it, or pass a law that says let the pump do it.

"The most logical thing to do is temperature compensate at every retail pump so that each gallon sold in the state of Texas contains equivalent Btu values," Siebert said, adding that oil companies and retailers are fighting that idea because of an estimated cost of retrofitting.

Siebert said it would only cost oil companies about five days worth of profit to retrofit the pumps. Siebert said they have to put a "temperature probe" on the pump, a simple mechanical fix.

"There are already digital controls with temperature controls on the pumps," Siebert said. "So it's not that hard. Big oil says fixing the problem would mean all new pumps and that is hogwash."

The Star reported that a lack of checks and balances on fuel temperatures costs consumers $1.7 billion each year nationwide based on August prices.

"Until we make it illegal (to dispense hot fuel), they're making out like bandits," Siebert said.

"We want to see that every consumer who buys a gallon of fuel gets the same amount of fuel dispensed, regardless of the volume of liquid."

Solomons' proposal for legislation will ensure consumers are at least getting the amount of fuel energy they are paying for, Siebert said, so that's a positive step.

Solomons told The Star he hopes that by 2008, consumers will be purchasing fuel that is adjusted to Texas temperatures.