NORTHERN MARIANAS GAS PRICES CLIMB TO $3.45

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By Gemma Q. Cassas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 2) – Hundreds of motorists in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands rushed to Mobil gas stations yesterday to take advantage of the oil firm’s lower fuel pump prices after Shell raised its fuel prices by 8 cents.

Shell’s unleaded fuel now costs US$3.459 per gallon — more than the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ minimum wage rate of US$3.05 an hour.

As of press time yesterday, Mobil’s unleaded fuel was still selling at US$3.379 per gallon.

But Mobil gas attendants said they would also raise their gas prices.

Mobil and Shell are the only fuel suppliers in the Northern Mariana Islands.

They also supply Guam with imported fuel from Singapore but the shipment to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands costs at least 13 cents more.

Guam’s unleaded fuel is at US$3.32 per gallon compared to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ US$3.459 per gallon.

Acting Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez expressed concern regarding this disparity of fuel prices, noting that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is just 120 miles away from Guam.

"The reason we are concerned is because (they) have two different prices," he said.

A government employee said US$3.45 a gallon "is just too much."

An alien worker, who gets US$3.05 an hour, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ minimum wage since 1996, said, "I think I’m just going to buy a bike — I’d lose weight and I wouldn’t have to buy fuel."

Villagomez said whenever fuel prices are increased, the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. and the tourism industry are also affected.

Japan Airlines pulled out of Saipan in Oct. 2005, citing the high cost of aviation fuel, among other reasons.

Villagomez said there is no reason to believe that the new round of price hikes, the seventh this year, is not market driven.

But, he added, competition is needed to pull down the prices.

"If there is any concern regarding price gouging or anything like that, the Attorney General’s Office would look into it but at this point in time, I don’t think there is any," he said in an interview.

"We are now considering how we can bring better prices to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands," he added.

He said the administration intends to bring another fuel supplier to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

"If it’s lack of competition then we will create competition. If it’s lack of fuel farm capacity, then we will increase it," said Villagomez.

He said the islands’ problems with the high cost of fuel due to its remote geographic location is not new, but, he added, it is now time to change course..

"This requires a lot of effort and it’s easier said than done. There are a lot of issues —environmental, land, logistics and so forth. But those are the things that we’re looking into right now," he said.

June 2, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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