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Gas Lines in Phoenix (wayback machine - get ready for shortages)


The pipeline rupture. On Wednesday, July 30, 2003, a 48-year old pipeline carrying gasoline from El Paso to Phoenix ruptured on the south side of Tucson. The break in the high pressure underground line spilled 10,000 gallons of gasoline, dousing 5 homes under construction on West Grant and North Silverbell roads. To say that residents of other homes in the area surprised by the incident would be an understatement. They say they had not even known that a pipe line was in the area.

Two days later the pipeline's owners resumed shipment of gasoline at a reduced pressure. On August 8 when test results indicated that a pipe defect caused the incident, they shut the line down.  With the line shut down, Phoenix lost the source of up to 2.3 million gallons of gasoline a day.

Lines begin to form at gas stations. The diminished supply of gas was hardly noticed by Phoenix motorists until the week after the shutdown.  At first, suppliers like Costco Wholesale that obtain their inventory on the spot market ran out of gasoline and closed their pumps.  On Tuesday August 12, ARCO, which operates 77 stations in the valley, reported supply problems. As station inventories were used up, other stations began closing. By the weekend of August 16, more stations were closed than open. Stations would open upon receiving a delivery and lines curling around the block would quickly form. When the station's tanks had been drained, the pumps would be flagged as empty as the station again joined the closed majority.

On Sunday as motorist attempted to gas up for the Monday morning commute, there were reports of two hour waits at the stations that were open.  Although most motorists suffered the inconvenience stoically, some even with good humor, tempers occasionally flared.

Prices rise. As the gas lines got longer, the prices at the pump soared. As early as Tuesday August 12, prices at some stations had risen over 30 cents from the previous week's price to $1.89 per gallon of regular. On Friday, August 22, the AAA reported that the average price of self-serve regular unleaded gasoline in Phoenix was $1.98 per gallon, but to many motorists this seemed more like the low than the average price.

Personal observation indicates that the Phoenix prices peaked on Monday much higher than indicated by the end of week AAA survey.  Prices barely under $2.00 were found rarely, and then only at discount stations like Arco. Most prices appeared to be in the $2.15 to $2.20 range when the lines were most in evidence.

Phoenix motorists did not suffer their pain alone. Prices rose around 25 cents from the previous week in Southern California, and 14 cents in Las Vegas.  The rationale: gasoline from LA suppliers was being diverted to Phoenix to replace the Texas supply. On August 18, the Energy Information Administration reported the average price per gallon of regular unleaded on Monday, August 18 to be $1.887 on the West Coast, with San Francisco at $2.007 and Los Angeles at LA $1.922. The national average was $1.627, but Houstonians, where the pipeline through Tucson originates, paid only $1.494

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