The Science of Summer Gas Gouging
August 14, 2007: Source – Alternet
Should Americans demand that their fuel dollars buy a season-neutral measure of energy, like our Canadian neighbors?
It might not surprise you that the people who brought you refinery shutdowns during supply crunches are resisting the use of a device that would make it so. In an era of record profits, Big Oil doesn’t want you to know how many molecules go into your tank.
As reported by Brian Beutler in Alternet:
A gallon of gasoline contains a certain number of molecules, which combust in your car’s engine to provide it with energy. If you heat up that gallon of gasoline it will expand, leaving you with a larger volume of gas than the gallon with which you started. But your new volume will contain the same number of combustible molecules and therefore will provide the same amount of energy as it did prior to the heating. That means a tank full of “hot” gas will provide a car with less energy than will the same tank full of “cool” gas, which is why you’ve probably been advised (correctly) not to buy gasoline when it’s hot outside. Simple, right?
It is if you live in Canada, at least. There, gasoline retailers install metering systems in their pumps to determine how much the fuel they sell has cooled or heated from its standardized refinery temperature, and then adjust the price accordingly. If the fuel has become warmer, it also becomes cheaper. If it has cooled, it becomes more expensive. Which is to say that Canadians — to a greater extent than Americans — pay for the energy they get out of the gasoline and not for the volume of liquid fuel they purchase.
Maybe we should be glad that summer heat literally inflates gasoline. Higher gas prices (adjusted for a mythical “driving season”), in combination with this physical phenomenon, could help some drivers reconsider fuel economy. After all, summer is when air pollution intensifies as heat keeps exhaust-produced ozone at ground level.
But wait. Beutler goes on to point out that:
The idea of correcting price for temperature has deep roots in the industry: oil companies have done so for gasoline wholesalers for nearly a century. The only ones in the North American energy chain who pay by volume rather than by energy value are U.S. consumers.
Two or three cents a tank certainly doesn’t matter to an individual consumer. But it adds up to $2 billion a year for the oil companies. If they don’t want to bother with the thingamajig that adjusts price for temperature-related expansion, don’t force them to. Simply have them pay those monies directly into a fund dedicated to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure—or better yet, redesigning the infrastructure for the kind of mass transit, bicycle, and pedestrian travel that contributes to reduced emissions and less dependence on fossil fuel.