PHOENIX – Three hours after she started to search Monday, Judy Bergeron was finally able to find gas for her sport utility vehicle.
She first had to visit five stations, and then wait in line for about 45 minutes at the last one.
Gasoline has become a precious commodity in Phoenix (search) in the week and a half since safety concerns shut down a pipeline that delivers a third of the city's supply.
"I never knew that gas was going to seem like gold," said Bergeron, who paid around $2 a gallon to fill half her Ford Expedition's tank.
Motorists in the nation's sixth-largest city found stations with the pumps blocked off by yellow caution tape, or with lines that stretched a block or more. One gas station attendant called police because some patrons were getting upset and others were cutting in line.
Everywhere, prices hovered around $2 a gallon.
There was no way to tell how many stations were affected because as some ran out, others were getting topped off by tanker trucks. But the problems, which seemed to come to a head Sunday, were seen throughout the city.
Gary Tibbs, an electronic technician, used his day off from work to get gas. "I'm afraid it will get worse before it will get better," he said.
The pipeline between Phoenix and Tucson (search) ruptured July 30, spilling about 12,000 gallons of fuel, and the operator shut it down Aug. 8 because of concerns that there could be more problems.
There are no gasoline refineries in Arizona so all of the fuel must be delivered through pipelines operated by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners of Houston.
One pipeline, bringing gasoline from California, remains in operation. The pipeline that is shut down brings fuel from Texas by way of Tucson. Gas from that pipeline is now being trucked in.
Kinder Morgan spokesman Larry Pierce said roughly the same amount of gas is now running into Arizona pipelines.
But Attorney General Terry Goddard said many of the drivers who would normally deliver gas from nearby pipeline distribution centers to gas stations were driving two hours to Tucson to pick up gas and truck it back.
Panicky motorists may also have played a role in the shortage, said Gov. Janet Napolitano (search), who urged residents to stay calm and not hoard fuel.
"Keep cool, take a deep breath, don't top off your tank," Napolitano said.
The governor said the state was working with the gas companies to find more trucks to alleviate the distribution problem, which was confined to the Phoenix area.