Oil Refiners Settle “Hot Fuel” Lawsuit

Oil Refinery in Nova Scotia, from Flickr user Iguanasan, licensed via Creative Commons“Hot Fuel” sounds like the title of an awesome action movie.  I’m thinking Speed meets Under Siege, set on an oil tanker.  I’m kind of upset that the phrase is wasted on a much more boring concept.  Nevertheless, oil refineries recently heard “hot fuel” as often as they’ll ever want to after getting bitchslapped in the courtroom by science.  They’ll have to pony up $21.6 million total to resolve claims in this hot fuel suit, with the money to be divided between the 50 retailers across the country who brought charges against them.  So what is this “hot fuel” garbage, anyway?

In the summer, when temperatures rise, the volume of liquids expands while maintaining the same amount of matter.  The molecules are spread further apart, but the number of them stays constant.  Gasoline, being sold by the gallon, thereby sees an increase in volume without a similar increase in octane, essentially giving you less bang for your buck.  Oil refineries, however, decided not to account for this discrepancy in bang-per-buck, choosing instead to keep prices near-constant throughout the warm summer months.  Customers would go to gas stations and, unaware of science as the average customer is, be driven back to the gas station sooner than usual as their cars went through gas more quickly.  The lawsuits alleged that the companies ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, et al. knew about this whole hot fuel thing and willingly ignored it in the interest of making mad ducats.  It’s kind of hard to spearhead such a scientifically grueling process as oil refining and not be aware of how liquid volume works, after all.  So instead of fighting this irrefutable evidence, the oil refineries decide to settle it out.  Stay in school, kids — science pays!

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