The price of a gallon of gas dropped slightly this week in the East Valley.
The average price for unleaded regular in Scottsdale is $1.97, down 2 cents from a week earlier, according to AAA Arizona.
The south East Valley average pump price for unleaded regular slipped a penny to $1.95. Statewide prices remained the same as last week. Nationally, the average price increased a penny.
But the recent reprieve from the upward spiral of local gas tabs could be short-lived.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, as expected, cut crude oil production 4 percent Thursday. “We’ve known about this for a long time, but we probably won’t see any impact for a couple of days,” said Kim Pappas-Miller, spokeswoman for AAA Arizona. “It’s not that immediate.”
The OPEC cutback could squeeze the supply enough to push crude prices up to $40 a barrel, she said. Eventually that would translate into higher prices at the pump.
And the decrease in supply would come just before the weather and the vacation season heats up, increasing demand for gas and magnifying the gap between demand and supply, Pappas-Miller said. Already U.S. refineries are unable to keep up, producing 8.6 million barrels of gas a day, while U.S. motorists are using up 8.9 million barrels, she said.
The short-term outlook gets even worse for local gas guzzlers. Pricier, cleaner-burning fuel must be in Maricopa County pumps by May 1.
There may be a ray of hope on that front. Oil prices fell nearly $1.50 Thursday in the final half hour of open trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange Thursday on a report that U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the Bush administration is considering waivers of cleaner burning fuel requirements for some states, said Tony Rosado, a floor trader with Zone Energy.
Word that waivers are being considered for some states’ federal oxygenate requirements helped to ease the market’s concern.
Arizona gas prices already are well above the national average of $1.75. And East Valley pump prices top those elsewhere in the state.
John Hosbein of Prescott spent $1.71 per gallon at Costco the last time he filled up his SUV at home. He paid $1.99 a gallon Thursday in Scottsdale.
Hosbein usually motors around northern Arizona in his more fuel efficient car but takes the SUV when he ferries his wife on regular shopping trips to Scottsdale Fashion Square because the bigger car is more comfortable for long hauls.
“I’ve been amazed seeing cars moving all the time, sucking up gas something terrible,” he said. But Manny Espinoza, who rings up big gas bills commuting daily from his West Valley home to his Scottsdale job, said he doesn't have a choice.
“It puts a big dent in my pocket,” he said. “But I can’t afford to live in Scottsdale.”
Karess Frederick of Tempe, an Arizona State University student, runs errands as a personal assistant to earn money for college tuition. The escalating gas prices during the last year have blown her budget. She gathers loose change and pumps what she can afford into her Volkswagen Jetta.
“I get gas at least every day,” Frederick said. “I generally get good mileage, but it’s way too expensive to fill up all at once. If I fill up, it costs $22 or $23. Before the war in Iraq, it used to cost me $15.”
“It’s been really horrible,” she said. “These are California prices.”
Some analysts are expecting the national average for unleaded regular gas to top $2 during the peak summer drive season. Pappas-Miller said she won’t speculate about how high Arizona prices could get.
“It’s just going to get worse as the population grows,” she said. “At some point we’re going to be forced to look at more alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles.”