ExxonMobil stickers a disclaimer about fuel temperature, energy content

| Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A disclaimer warning consumers that temperature fluctuations affect the amount of energy contained in a gallon of motor fuel has turned up on select fuel pumps in California.

Fuel stations owned by ExxonMobil Corp. have begun posting stickers on their pumps that some people believe show the company is admitting what it knows about “hot fuel.”

The decals state: “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.”

“Hot fuel” is retail gasoline or diesel sold at temperatures higher than the 60-degree standard used by fuel companies at the wholesale level and any transactions above the rack. Hot fuel contains less energy by volume than fuel sold at or below 60 degrees.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a non-profit watchdog agency, sent digital images of the decals to Land Line.

Judy Dugan, president of the taxpayer foundation, said the stickers are a way for oil companies such as ExxonMobil Corp. to fend off consumer lawsuits relating to hot fuel.

“Hot fuel is a fundamental dishonesty in the way gasoline is sold, which all drivers should protest,” Dugan told Land Line. “But for truckers, it’s a real economic threat. ExxonMobil’s nearly invisible stickers are an insult, not a remedy. They’re the equivalent of a grocer telling you he has his thumb on the scale and there’s not a thing you can do about it.”

ExxonMobil Corp. officials have not returned repeated calls from Land Line in regard to the topic of hot fuel in general or the stickers specifically.

ExxonMobil Corp., the most profitable oil company in the world not controlled by a political state, was not the first fuel company to issue a disclaimer about temperature.

Tesoro Corp. of San Antonio posted similar disclaimers July 2 on its company-owned fuel pumps in California, according to the industry publication Oil Express.

A spokeswoman from Tesoro told Land Line that although the company chose to issue the disclaimer, the company does not buy into the allegations surrounding hot fuel.

Consumer groups involved in a number of lawsuits against retailers and oil companies want the companies to install automatic temperature-compensation devices on all retail pumps. So far, there are no state or federal laws or regulations requiring temperature compensation at retail.

The National Conference on Weights and Measures came close to approving model legislation for states to use to implement temperature compensation, but officials supporting the move did not have enough votes at the annual conference in July.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, has chaired two hearings about hot fuel, claiming fuel sold above 60 degrees will cost consumers an extra $1.5 billion this summer alone.

Kucinich questioned oil executives from ExxonMobil and Shell Oil Co. at a hearing July 25. The executives said they don’t believe temperature fluctuations cost consumers much at all – that summer and winter cancel each other out.

That long-time argument by fuel retailers has been refuted by statistics published by the National Institute for Standards and Technology showing the average fuel temperature in the United States was slightly higher than 66 degrees in 2005.

Owner-operator Darcy Currier of Youngstown, OH, while taking a pulp-gauge reading of diesel fuel Aug. 5 at a TravelCenters of America plaza in Kingman, AZ, measured the fuel temperature at 120 degrees – double the so-called national standard of 60 degrees.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and its research foundation, based in Grain Valley, MO, continue to investigate fuel temperatures, having been among the first to do so.

On Aug. 8, an OOIDA staff member traveled to the nearby Oak Grove Truck Stop in Oak Grove, MO. The fuel clerk produced a store receipt showing the in-ground fuel temperature for diesel fuel was 75.8 degrees.

The reason for the concern over hot fuel, OOIDA officials say, is because consumers believe they are getting the fuel energy promised in a standard gallon when they buy fuel, and anything less than that is not a true gallon. In other words, a driver cannot travel as far on expanded fuel as he/she can on fuel purchased at 60 degrees.

Visit turndownhotfuel.com for more details.

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