Cheap Gas in Mexico Lures U.S. Motorists

With gas prices now topping $4 a gallon in much of the United States, some are taking advantage of cheap fuel across the border in Mexico. Big pickups with Texas plates are streaming across the border into Mexico to fill up with cheap gas.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

As gas prices continue to rise, there's one place that drivers can get some relief, if they happen to live close to the Mexican border. Gasoline is subsidized in Mexico and sells for about $2.55 a gallon. Two dollars and fifty-five cents, remember that? Diesel is even cheaper. While crossing the border might be a good deal for U.S. drivers, it's a bad deal for the Mexican treasury. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Juarez.

JASON BEAUBIEN: At a Pemex station in downtown Juarez, John Gann(ph) has just come across the border from Texas to fill up his F-250 pickup with diesel fuel.

Mr. JOHN GANN (U.S. Motorist): Well, I'm buying diesel fuel for half price; it's 4.65 in El Paso, in Mexico it's 2.20. I get it for 2.20 a gallon. It's just a lot cheaper, you know.

BEAUBIEN: Gann works for a trucking company in El Paso. And he says fuel prices in the States are killing them. And when he comes over, he doesn't just get a few gallons.

Mr. GANN: I carry about 180-190 gallons, so 200 in a trip, probably, you know, the maximum. So that saves me lots and lots of money. You know what I mean?

BEAUBIEN: The F-250 comes with a 100 gallon tank but he has modified it to carry 100 more. A run to Mexico can save him almost $600 in fuel costs. All along the border, U.S. motorists are zipping over to Mexico to fill their tanks. That has become a problem at some more remote crossings; some station owners have instituted rationing. The bigger problem for Mexico is that the state-run oil monopoly is selling fuel at the pumps at a loss. Despite being a major oil producer, Mexico imports roughly 40 percent of its refined gas and diesel fuel. According to energy analyst David Shields(ph), who is based in Mexico City, the nation's gasoline import bill is rising sharply as global oil prices skyrocket.

Mr. DAVID SHIELDS (Energy Analyst): So every liter of gasoline that comes into Mexico is subsidized and Mexicans are paying for this with their taxes.

BEAUBIEN: And now Mexican taxpayers are in the odd position of paying to subsidized gas and diesel fuel for their wealthier neighbors north of the border. Juarez has been hard hit recently by a war between two of Mexico's largest drug cartels. Since the beginning of the year more than 450 people have been killed in drug related violence here. Many people in El Paso say they no longer go across the border to go shopping or to Juarez's discos because it's too dangerous.

Back at the Pemex station, John Gann has heard all about that and he says coming to Juarez is a hassle for many reasons.

Mr. GANN: Believe me, it's a problem; along with waiting in lines and everything, getting back and forth. And you know, it's stressful, and it's hot. The temperature is hot as hell and, you know - but it's worth it, you know? It's really worth it to make - to make ends meet, you know?

BEAUBIEN: There are no exact figures of how many people are coming to Mexico to buy gas. But many Americans are deciding the trip is worth it.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Juarez, Mexico.

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