Phoenix Running On Empty

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Gasoline in Phoenix has been treated like liquid gold in the week-and-a-half since a rupture forced the sole pipeline to the city to shut down.

Motorists drove on fumes from gas station to gas station Sunday night, searching for one that still had fuel. The stations still open had drivers lined up for hours waiting for their chance to pump — and pay an increasingly high price for the privilege.

"I've been losing money for the last week," cab driver Dominick Santandrea said, complaining about prices in the $1.90-a-gallon range Sunday. "If this keeps up, the cab rates will go up."

The gas pipeline between Phoenix and Tucson ruptured July 30 and was shut down Aug. 8. Since then gas has been trucked up from Tucson, and AAA has been urging drivers not to panic.

"If people are panic buying, there is no need to panic. There is fuel coming into Arizona at the same amount as two weeks ago. It is just extremely slow," AAA Arizona spokeswoman Kim Pappas-Miller said.

"People are mistaking slow distribution with a fear that we are running out of gas, and that is not happening at all."

The pipeline first came under scrutiny after part of it ruptured in Tucson on July 30, causing about 12,000 gallons of gas to leak, Pappas-Miller said.

Executives from Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the Houston company that operates the pipeline, met with federal regulators Thursday in Houston, where their plan to test the line for safety and fix the rupture was approved.

But company officials say it would be one or two weeks before the pipeline is running again. The pipeline is now undergoing testing to make sure it can withstand the pressure of the gas when it is operating again.

The Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees pipeline safety, is expecting to have an investigation into the line break finished within two months, spokeswoman Heather Murphy said.

About 70 percent of the gas Phoenix uses comes from California, and the rest from Texas.

By Beth DeFalco