Device may cool prices at pump

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Oakland Tribune (California)

A temperature-compensating device that could save California motorists an estimated $450 million a year at the pump may become available in a few months, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said Wednesday.

Watchdog groups claim drivers are losing 3 to 9 cents a gallon on fuel that is hotter than standard and hence contains less energy. North Carolina-based Gilbarco Veeder-Root makes a device that adjusts for these changes, but had decided against marketing the device in the state.

The company’s president, Martin Gafinowitz, on Wednesday agreed to make the devices available in California if certain regulatory and logistical changes are made, Boxer said in a conference call.

“If we (California) adjusted our standards to meet Canadian standards, it (the device) could be available in a few months,” said Boxer, D-Calif. She said she would recommend this to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other leaders.

The “hot fuel” issue, as it’s called, is a growing controversy. Some experts say it’s not a problem, while watchdog groups, including the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, say motorists are being gouged.

Gasoline is supposed to be sold at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but on hot days, it’s hotter. When gasoline heats up, it expands, losing about 7/10ths of a percent of BTUs for every 10 degrees in temperature, according to Dennis Johannes, director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Measurement Standards.

Hence, according to Johannes, if gas is $3 a gallon and the temperature went from 60 to 70 degrees, it would make a difference of about 2 cents a gallon. Watchdog groups peg the difference at as much as 9 cents a gallon.

Temperature-compensating devices by Gilbarco are in use in Canada, where the difference goes the other way, giving motorists the advantage. But, Boxer said, Gilbarco’s Gafinowitz told her, “Our customers (oil companies) voiced disapproval” of the idea of selling the devices in California.

Representatives of San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. and Houston-based ConocoPhillips were not available by press time.

Boxer said she would send a letter to Gafinowitz following up on their conversation as well as a letter to Schwarzenegger.

“My role is to help California consumers. I’m going to make sure our state leaders understand that California consumers could save millions of dollars,” Boxer said.

“It seems like if this is just a matter of ironing out some details with regulators, this is going to be available to the retailers in California who want to be competitive on a whole new level,” said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

He admitted that station owners generally are not going to want to switch because they are making money on the differential, but said selling “honest gallons” could make stations more attractive to customers.

The devices cost retailers about $2,000 per pump, said George Zelcs, an attorney with Chicago-based Korein Tillery, who is representing plaintiffs in hot fuel lawsuits filed on behalf of all consumers of gas in certain states, including California.
Contact Janis Mara at [email protected] or (510) 208-6468. Read her Energy Blog at

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