EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - A Eugene woman has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that major oil companies are chiseling motorists by selling overly warm fuel that delivers less energy than it should.
The premise of the lawsuit and those filed in several other states is that as gasoline and diesel fuel warm, they take up more room in tanks and deliver less energy per gallon.
The suit filed by Shonna Butler, a university fiscal analyst, says that a gallon of gasoline at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the government standard, has a volume of 231 cubic inches, but at 90 degrees, the same quantity of gasoline is nearly five cubic inches larger.
Similar suits, backed by the consumer group Public Citizen, have been filed in several states, alleging that oil companies store gasoline at temperatures above 60 degrees.
A Kansas City Star report in March said the average year-round temperature of gasoline and diesel in service station tanks is 64.7 degrees, which means consumers pay an additional $1.7 billion a year.
Last month in California, another consumer group charged that oil companies were putting pressure on a manufacturer not to sell fuel pumps that adjust the amount of fuel dispensed according to temperature.
Butler’s lawsuit names ExxonMobil, Chevron U.S.A., ConocoPhillips, BP America, Supervalu Inc. and Shell Oil. It accuses them of unlawful trade practices, unjust enrichment, breach of contract and breach of covenant of good faith. The suit, filed Friday, is styled as a class-action complaint on behalf of Oregonians who buy fuel stored at more than 60 degrees.
A petroleum industry spokesman was skeptical about the effects that variances in fuel temperature have on consumers.
“The thumbnail is, we think this is a tempest in a teapot,” said Jay McKeeman, vice president of government relations for the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, based in Sacramento. “There is no current, statistically reliable, accurate information about the temperature of fuel being…pumped at retail.”
“What’s really needed,” he told the Oregonian newspaper, “is a cost-benefit analysis on whether customers are currently being well served or adversely served by the fuel distribution system. And if temperature is part of that analysis, then so be it.”
Butler’s suit seeks to require oil companies to install temperature-correcting equipment on retail pumps and post notices that tell customers the temperature of the fuel they buy.