Big Oil’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Your Gasoline Isn’t Going As Far As It Should

It’s no secret that consumers continue to get ripped off by the major oil companies. But a new investigative report from NBC news reveals another way the richest corporations on Earth have exploited consumers for their own profitable gain.

The big oil companies – and the industry groups that represent them – have worked tirelessly to conceal what, until now, has been a virtually unknown truth: The hotter gasoline is when it is pumped, the lower the vehicle’s mileage per gallon will be.

According to the NBC report, Big Oil collected an extra $1.5 billion from U.S. consumers as a result of failing to address the issue. Not to mention, gasoline prices tend to increase in the hotter summer months, intensifying the cost burden on consumers.

The technology to prevent the problem already exists: “smart” pumps that adjust the price of gasoline according to the temperature. In fact, these smart pumps are already deployed in 90% of gas stations in Canada.

If Canada – which has one of the coldest climates of any nation – recognizes the need to install the new pumps, then why hasn’t it been done in the U.S., where summers in Southern states are downright sweltering? 

Because oil-industry lobbyists have fought long and hard to make sure it doesn’t happen. Several lawsuits against the oil companies are ongoing in some of the warmer states, but the cases are still pending.

Although the NBC report highlights the issue from a consumer-protection standpoint, it fails to mention the wider environmental impact of their negligence. Fewer miles per gallon, of course, mean not only more money, but more harmful emissions.

Installing smart pumps might be a higher-cost option over the short term, but it would pay dividends over the long term not only to consumers, but to the environment.

But, of course, Big Oil isn’t too concerned about that. 

The good news is that there is something you can do. Fill up your tank in the morning, at night, or on colder days to avoid handing out extra dollars to fund dirty oil. Or, better yet, forget the gas altogether, and bike, walk, or – if you have the cash to spend – buy an electric vehicle.

 

Ocean Acidity Eating Away At Important Ecosystems

Photo credit: Toby Hudson

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase ocean acidity levels by 150% by the year 2100, which would have catastrophic effects on the planet’s ecosystems, a new report shows.

The study, conducted jointly by several United Nations (UN) sub-organizations, was prepared by scholars for the UN Climate Change Conference – to be held this June in Rio de Janeiro – in order to educate the global community about the vital need to protect the planet’s oceans from rising carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Ocean acidity levels have increased by 26% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. According to the UN report, even under a business-as-usual scenario, ocean-acidity levels would be destructive enough to dissolve calcium-carbonate phytoplankton and zooplankton species, which serve as a crucial food source in ocean ecosystems.

The impact would be most profound in colder temperate and polar regions, where carbon dioxide is more readily absorbed, wreaking further havoc on already threatened environments.

A grim picture? Perhaps. But the reality could be even worse if steps are not taken to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Nonetheless, and as cliche as it may sound, recognizing the problem is the first step in curing it. The good news is that one of the primary focuses of the climate-change conference in Rio will be to take action to mitigate and adapt to – and even reverse – ocean acidification to protect biodiversity and the planet’s ecosystems.

 

New Theory Behind Earth’s Great Extinction

Over 250 million years ago, a mass extinction annihilated nearly all of Earth’s living species. Scientists have proposed many theories for why this occurred, and until now, the most widely accepted explanation for the event had been that volcanic eruptions burned through coal beds, releasing carbon dioxide and other fatal toxins into the environment.

But researchers at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, have uncovered a potential new reason for the mass extinction: mercury.

The study, published in the academic journal Geology, notes that the mass extinction occurred during the time of greatest volcanic activity in the planet’s history. Mercury deposition rates in this period were up to 30 times higher than in today’s volcanic activity, the researchers found. Levels this high could have been catastrophic enough to wipe out life on the planet.

Normally, algae acts as a purifier of toxins.

“Typically, algae acts like a scavenger and buries the mercury in the sediment, mitigating the effect in the oceans,” says Dr. Hamed Sanei, lead author of the study. “But in this case, the load was just so huge that it could not stop the damage.”

The new research has the potential to change the way scientists view not only the Earth’s past, but also its future.

“We are adding to the levels through industrial emissions,” adds Dr. Benoit Beauchamp, another author of the study. “This is a warning for us here on Earth today.”

However, it also shows how the planet’s resiliency, as well as surviving life forms’ ability to adapt to harsh conditions.

“After the system was overloaded and most of life was destroyed, the oceans were still able to self-clean, and we were able to move on to the next phase of life,” Sanei says.

‘Clean Coal’ Industry Accidentally Admits It’s Not Clean

U.S. power plants will now be subject to stricter emissions standards, thanks to a new measure finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule imposes tougher regulations on power-plant emissions in 27 U.S. states – many of which are coal-dominated – and aims to reduce harmful emissions that travel across state lines. (Read more about the new regulations here.)

Evidently irate that the U.S. agency tasked with protecting the environment would issue a ruling to help reduce pollution, the coal industry fired back with such a ludicrous response that only a sector with a moniker as oxymoronic as “clean coal” could have invented.

In its statement, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) condemns the new emissions regulations, claiming they “will increase electricity prices and destroy U.S. jobs.” Here’s what Steve Miller, president and CEO of ACCCE, had to say:

“The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause. America’s coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations.”

Sounds like cry of desperation to me. But that’s not the most absurd aspect of ACCCE’s response. As a “clean” energy group, ACCCE says it “advocates for the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions.”

Near-zero emissions? So why the desperation? “Clean coal” could easily meet the EPA’s new standards… right?

We all know “clean coal” is the ultimate oxymoron. But this dirty industry is not only unethical in its environmental practices, but also its communication to the public, using blatant scare tactics clearly targeted toward Middle America. Miller continues:

“We urge EPA to take a realistic look at the enormous impact of all the regulations they are considering and how those regulations affect families and businesses. In a time of high unemployment, we should be pursuing sensible policies that create jobs, not eliminate jobs.”

Maybe he was forgetting that these “lost” jobs are being replaced with abundant employment opportunities in a newer, burgeoning sector called clean energy.

New Vehicle Labels Trick Stingy Consumers Into Going Green

(Image credit: fueleconomy.gov /EPA/DOE)

As consumers continue to rank economic concerns over environmental issues, the federal government has crafted an ingenious method of tricking those worried about their bottom lines into going green. 

Beginning in 2013, all vehicles – including gasoline-powered, plug-in hybrid electric and fully electric – will be labeled not only with their usual miles per gallon, but also how much consumers will save in fuel costs over five years compared to if they were to purchase an “average” vehicle, thanks to a new initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The label also states the estimated average annual cost of fuel for the vehicle, and rates the car both on greenhouse gas emissions and smog.

The emissions information will surely interest the more environmentally minded, but for those who tend to look the other way when it comes to their carbon footprint, the costs of owning a gas-guzzler could certainly be an eye-opener. As gas prices soared close to the $5-per-gallon mark in 2009, there was a marked uptick in sales of energy-efficient vehicles.

As shameful as it may be, money has proven to be the most effective motivator of consumer behavior, and I commend the government agencies for not only recognizing this truth, but using it to benefit the planet.

Of course, the system is not without its flaws. The annual costs of fueling the vehicles will invariably change along with fluctuating gas prices, thus rendering the new labels inaccurate. Moreover, each car model’s savings compared to the “average vehicle” will depend on that “average” shifting over time. For instance, a car that gets 50 miles to the gallon is now on the leading edge but may soon become “average,” affecting these calculations.

Nonetheless, the agencies have pulled off a brilliant marketing campaign – PR for emissions reduction, if you will. No, we will never convince everyone to be environmentally friendly, but saving money is something we can all agree on. Just don’t tell the climate skeptics they’re helping the Earth, too.