August has been a bad month at the pump in Uzbekistan.
Over the past few weeks, the country has seen two sudden and poorly explained gasoline shortages, according to local press reports and the state-run gasoline distributor.
First, on August 6, Uzmetronom, a site believed to be linked to the Uzbek security services, said some gas stations had stopped selling regular gasoline at government-set prices and begun selling only premium at a mark-up. It blamed shortages. Then, on August 20, the semi-official Podrobno.uz reported that motorists could buy only premium gasoline for 2,500 sums per liter ($1.20 at the official exchange rate), an increase of 25 percent over the price authorities set in April. Other octanes are not available in Tashkent, the site said. Presumably the shortages are also affecting other areas.
The shortages have given rise to all kinds of rumors. One holds that the government will soon increase the price of gasoline so traders with stockpiles are waiting for new prices to be announced. A second rumor is that the government will soon give up regulating gasoline prices altogether, leaving prices to the market, where they would likely rise dramatically. Another is that the government has started building up stocks of fuel for the forthcoming cotton-harvesting campaign, hence the shortages.
In response to online media reports, on August 21 the state-run Uzbekneftmahsulot petroleum refiner and distributor explained that shortages had been caused by delays in supplies. “[A]ll measures are now being taken to solve the temporary problem to satisfy fully the population’s demand for gasoline. So [people] should not yield to panic and various rumors about shortages of gasoline and [an expected] price rise,” Uzbekneftmahsulot said in a statement posted on its website.
The real cause of the increasingly regular shortages may be Uzbekistan’s falling oil output. According to the 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Uzbekistan's oil production fell by 12 percent to 3.2 million metric tons in 2012, which Uzmetronom described as an all-time low. By comparison, domestic consumption stood at 3.9 million metric tons in 2012, according to the BP Statistical Review.