Why is gas cheaper in the Tucson area than in metro Phoenix?
It all comes down to the type of gasoline required to be sold in certain areas.
According to the Arizona Department of Agriculture Weights & Measure division, special gasoline formulations are required to be sold in certain areas of the state due to air quality regulations.
Enter Cleaner Burning Gasoline — or reformulated gasoline — which is gasoline blended to burn more cleanly than conventional gasoline and to reduce smog-forming and toxic pollutants in the air we breathe, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The use of special additives leads to higher gas prices in areas where CBG is required as opposed to other areas.
According to the ADA, Clean Burning Gasoline is sold in Maricopa County and Area A — which includes parts of Pinal County — year-round. It is required by the EPA under an air quality non-attainment State Implementation Plan. Area A does not include Pima County, where Tucson is.
So because Maricopa County has the CBG regulations, while Pima County does not, the former is going to have more expensive gasoline on average than the latter.
There are different CBG requirements for the summer and winter months due to meteorological and other factors. CBG is also sold during the summer in Area C — Pinal County — as required by Arizona Revised Statutes 3-3494.
Aldo Vazquez, spokesman for AAA Arizona, stated in an email that while counties do not set gas prices, they can set their own air quality restrictions and require special blended gasoline to reduce air pollution.
“However, retailers set their own prices and AAA, through OPIS, provides the county average price from receipts of gasoline sold by retailers in a given county,” Mr. Vazquez stated. “Since the gasoline has special specifications, it tends to be more expensive since additives typically have to be added to the gasoline before it is sold to consumers. That can raise the price for it compared to other counties that may not have the same specifications.”
According to AAA Arizona’s average gas price map, the national average on Feb. 28 was $2.458 per gallon of regular unleaded. In Arizona, the average is $2.762 per gallon of regular unleaded. While down 5 cents from last month’s average, that’s an increase of 34 cents from the same time a year ago.
Breaking it down by counties, Maricopa County had an average of $2.930 per gallon on Feb. 28, compared to Pima County — where Tucson is located — with an average of $2.395 per gallon.
Eastern counties also have way lower average gas prices than state average, whereas the western and central-northern counties mirror Maricopa County.
Tracking gas requirements
According to its website, the Weights and Measures Division audits fuel refineries to verify compliance with regulatory reporting requirements, analytical methodology, and procedures used to analyze fuel quality. This process helps the agency ensure the gasoline being produced at the refineries meets both regulatory and fuel quality requirements before it is shipped.
Investigators also randomly visit fuel dispensing sites for inspection to ensure compliance with all retail fuel requirements.
The department publishes fuel quality reports online. As of Feb. 28, 73 inspections had been done for fuel quality since the start of 2020. Of those, only a Scottsdale gas station was dinged for not meeting CBG requirements back on Jan. 21. However, the affected gasoline was racing fuel. The station was required to stop selling all fuels not meeting state requirements until department approval.
National pricing changes
From Feb. 24-28, the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline has decreased 2 cents to $2.45. According to the Energy Information Administration, total domestic gasoline supplies remained high despite a 2.7 million draw in stocks. And at 256.4 million barrels, domestic supply registered at 1.4 million barrels more than 2019’s level at this time, the EIA reports.
A higher stock level has helped to push pump prices lower across the country as crude oil remains cheap, AAA says. The trend is likely to continue through the end of the winter driving season. However, refinery maintenance, which is beginning now, is likely to put pressure on regional refinery utilization, supply and gas prices in early March.
Also, the increase in cases of the coronavirus around the world has contributed to crude prices decreasing significantly, AAA says. The market continues to worry that the impact of the virus will lead to a reduction in global economic growth, since crude demand is expected to decrease as a result of a slowdown in international travel and China’s crude consumption declining.
At the close of Thursday’s formal trading session on the NYMEX, the price of crude oil hit its lowest point since early January 2019.
“Gasoline prices are likely to fluctuate in the coming weeks, but not drastically, as the winter driving season nears its end and refineries undergo maintenance,” stated Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. “This is the typical trend this time of year.”
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