Anyone attempting to fill their tank has noticed the skyrocketing price of gas in recent weeks.

“It’s really steep right now,” said Maricopa resident Candida Upton, while filling her tank at a local Circle K. “I have to break the piggy bank open to get the extra cash.”

The price of gasoline has shot up nationwide, about 20 cents higher than a month ago. Arizona, in particular, is seeing prices that are the third highest in the nation, according to AAA. Arizona’s current average price of $4.309 per gallon of regular fuel is approximately 80 cents higher than the national average and 63 cents higher than the state’s prices one month ago.

This infographic shows the average price of gas across Arizona’s counties on April 4, 2023. Arizona’s average gas price was the third highest in the nation. Image courtesy of AAA.

A ‘perfect storm’ of interconnected issues

Gas prices typically rise somewhat when the summer months arrive, said GasBuddy’s Head of Petroleum Analysis Patrick De Haan.

“This is the time of year that we’re transitioning to more expensive blends of summer gasoline. That usually plays a role in prices going up,” he said.

But Arizona’s steep spike in prices is the result of a “perfect storm” of interconnected scenarios with gas blends, increased demand and maintenance, according to De Haan.

“In Arizona, there’s been a lot of challenges with transitioning to the three different blends of gasoline required in the state in the month of March,” De Haan said, speaking about Arizona’s Cleaner Burning Gasoline formulations. “These requirements are Arizona-specific, which makes it even more challenging for refineries to produce this kind of one-off kind of fuel.”

This challenge has been exacerbated by routine refinery maintenance, some of which was delayed in 2022 because of heightened demand. Maintenance can take four to 12 weeks, depending on the severity.

“These refineries are (constantly) operating at incredible temperatures,” De Haan said. “It’s inevitable that there will be some downtime needed to replace equipment, test equipment, make sure everything’s within function.”

Gas prices rose to $4.19 per gallon at a Circle K on John Wayne Parkway and Bowlin Road on April 4, 2023. Prices in Arizona rose to some of the highest in the nation, according to estimates from AAA and GasBuddy. Monica D. Spencer/InMaricopa

De Haan also believed increased demand from Arizona’s ever-growing population played a role in gas-price increase.

“The population in Arizona continues to skyrocket over the last several years, making this a more pronounced issue every year as this kind of transition is being made,” he said. “That and the price of oil going up is kind of a perfect storm. We have seen some stations that are temporarily running low on fuel simply because they can’t keep up with insatiable demand.”

How to save a few bucks until prices eventually drop

For those unwilling to break their piggy banks, De Haan had a few suggestions to make pumping gas a little less painful. That starts with moderating gas use and filling.

“Part of the problem is that when motorists see a station running low on fuel, they generally fill up several vehicles, making the problem worse,” he said. “My advice would be to hold off as much as you can unless you have a need, such as driving (long distances). Try to avoid filling your tank up. That will temporarily reduce consumption at a time that it’s badly needed.”

De Haan also suggested looking for loyalty programs or cash prices from gas stations, as well as programs like GasBuddy that offer incentives when pumping gas.

However, Maricopa residents shouldn’t have to worry about extravagant gas prices for too much longer, De Haan said.

“The problem will eventually get better,” he said. “I don’t know that it will get better for another week or so, but it should as we approach May. It should certainly improve from where we stand today.”