Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Wait in Line

Last Saturday I drove from the city of Olavarría, in Buenos Aires province, to the city of Mendoza, about 1,000 km to the northwest. The night before, my brother-in-law reminded me that there were sporadic fuel shortages throughout the country, and that I might have problems getting gasoline in some areas. I responded that I thought the shortages were in diesel fuel and, since my car uses gasoline, it shouldn't affect me. The problem, he replied, was that the tanker trucks transporting gasoline were diesel-powered, and thus unable to make deliveries.

In fact, when I went to fill up the next morning, the YPF station at Olavarría would only let me purchase 40 pesos worth of gasoline, less than half a tank's worth, so I had to finish my fillup at a nearby Esso. Just in case, I filled a 20-liter gas can to avoid any problems en route, and stopped to fill the tank at every opportunity. Some stations were out of super grade, but had both higher and lower octane fuel. At the Buenos Aires province town of General Villegas, where I took the above photo, lines were so slow that I decided to continue rather than wait.

Fuel shortages, in fact, appear to be a function of rising demand and the Argentine government's price control policies, which encourage that demand. It will be interesting to see how things play out this weekend, as many Argentines take several days' holiday for Easter.

Meanwhile, when leaving Mendoza, the first YPF station I visited before continuing to Chile limited my purchase to 30 pesos--in a city that has a major oil refinery, it would seem that transportation and delivery may not be the only problems in the Argentine petroleum sector. I managed to fill the tank at another station, and again at the Andean town of Uspallata--where individual purchases were again limited to 30 pesos. That was plenty to get me across the border to Chile, where fuel prices are almost double those in Argentina but, so far, there are no signs of shortages.

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