Newspaper’s series on hot fuel sparks discussion

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A newspaper series has prompted discussion of a fact many truckers already know too well: Hot temperatures expand fuel, so drivers receive less bang for the buck in hot weather than in cooler temps. The Kansas City Star‘s two-part investigative story, published Aug. 27-28, noted that while the federal retail standard for fuel is 60 degrees, the law does not require retailers to adjust the pump in summertime.

When fuel temperatures are higher than 60 degrees, the fuel expands, but pumps don’t account for the bigger volume, and buyers receive less fuel than they should, the newspaper reported. Americans will pay $2.3 billion more for fuel in 2006 than they would if pumps were adjusted to account for fuel expansion, the newspaper reported. In Canada, such adjustments at the pump are routine, the newspaper reported; and some big fuel buyers, including the U.S. military, negotiate temperature-adjusted fuel.

The report examined the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s database of fuel temperatures at a thousand retail stations. Averaged nationwide and year-round, fuel is sold to drivers at nearly 65 degrees. Hawaii is the only state to adjust pumps for hotter fuel; the Hawaiian gallon at the pump contains nearly 234 cubic inches of fuel, or almost 3 cubic inches more than is dispensed at U.S. pumps outside of Hawaii. The extra amount helps compensate for the state’s year-round warm temperature.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil industry, reiterated the industry’s longstanding opposition to such adjustments at the 2006 annual meeting of the National Conference of Weights and Measures in Chicago. The transition would be costly, according to API; some retailers use older mechanical equipment, which are “virtually impossible to accurately temperature compensate,” the group says. “The benefit to the consumer is negligible. Implementation costs must be considered in accessing any end benefit to the consumer.”

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched an investigation into hot fuel, the Kansas City Star reported; the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights has sent letters to U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requesting the installation of temperature-sensitive pumps. Meanwhile, Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, announced that if elected, she would push for all newly installed gas pumps to be temperature-sensing smart pumps.