ExxonMobil to place temperature disclaimers on fuel pumps

| Friday, July 20, 2007

Oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. is planning to place decals on some of its pumps in California and Arizona to tell consumers that the fuel is not adjusted for temperature at the retail level.

The decals on retail pumps, according to the weekly oil industry newsletter Oil Express, will declare: “This device dispenses motor fuel by volume measured in gallons. 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.”

Fuel temperatures in California average 75 degrees while fuel temperatures average 82 degrees in Arizona, according to research by the National Institute for Standards and Technology

“Hot fuel” is retail gasoline or diesel sold at temperatures exceeding a century-old standard of 60 degrees. The warmer the fuel, the more expansion occurs resulting in fuel energy being diminished.

A taxpayer group in California says oil companies like ExxonMobil and fuel retailer Tesoro Corp. are using the decals to limit their liability.

“A cheap decal is like a tobacco pack warning,” Judy Dugan, research director with the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, stated on the group’s Web site.

The consumer group has stood with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and Public Citizen on the “hot fuel” issue since the first consumer lawsuit on the topic was filed against fuel retailers in December 2006.

“(The decals) may be Teflon against lawsuits, but it offers no protection to consumers,” Dugan stated. “The cost of each decal may be less than the 50 cents a fill-up that consumers are paying for ‘ghost gas,’ the lost energy of fuel sold at high temperatures.”

John Siebert, project leader for the OOIDA Foundation, called ExxonMobil’s plan for the decals a limit against future liability because consumers would be informed – more or less – about the choices they make at the pump.

“By posting this, they are limiting their liability from this point on because they can say, ‘Well, we’ve notified the consumer and the consumer continues to buy gas, so I guess they don’t care,’ ” Siebert told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio.

Dugan said that a loss of 50 cents per tank because of hot fuel costs California consumers $450 million each year.

Executives from ExxonMobil and Shell Oil Co. are expected to testify about hot fuel at a hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern time, Wednesday, July 25. Click here for a Web broadcast of the hearing at that time, or later for archived information from the hearing.

An ExxonMobil spokesperson did not return Land Line’s calls on Friday.

ExxonMobil is not the only oil company reacting to growing pressures about the thermal expansion of fuel.

Tesoro Corp. of San Antonio, which recently acquired a $1.63 billion share of a California Shell Oil refinery, was the first fuel retailer to go public with plans for pump stickers brandishing a disclaimer.

A Tesoro spokeswoman confirmed to Land Line on July 3 that Tesoro-brand pumps would have decals to inform consumers that retail fuel is sold by volume only and does not account for temperature.

Officials from Shell Oil stated on the company Web site that they would not follow in Tesoro’s footsteps in terms of a decal.

Shell, ExxonMobil and Tesoro are all embroiled in lawsuits filed by groups of consumers who want to put an end to hot fuel.

A federal judicial panel declared June 18 that 12 of the federal lawsuits containing common language be consolidated and heard in one U.S. District Court jurisdiction in Kansas City, KS. Court dates for the proceedings have not yet been set.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

Staff Writer Reed Black also contributed to this story.

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