By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. drivers on the southern border could cut $1.20 or more per gallon from their rising gas costs right now -- but there is a catch.
They have to be willing to brave long delays at the border and run the risks of robbery, kidnap, and drug cartel violence to reach the gas stations in Mexico.
Among those making the trip is Chad Foster, a former mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas, who made the run over the Rio Grande to Piedras Negras, in Mexico's northern Coahuila state.
"When Piedras prices are under ours, a segment of Eagle Pass residents go to Piedras Negras to fill up," said Foster, who works in real estate.
U.S. pump prices for regular unleaded gas ticked up to an average $3.82 Saturday, according to the AAA daily fuel gauge report, with prices reaching nearly $4.20 in California.
Pump prices are surging as oil rises to $109 a barrel on a stronger U.S. economy and war in Libya limits its output.
But south of the border prices at one gas station on Friday ranged from 34.4 pesos a gallon for regular to 38.8 pesos for premium -- equivalent to $2.94 to $3.31 a gallon.
Rising interest in cheap gas in Mexico -- where state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos plans to spend about $1.3 billion on subsidizing fuel this year -- has echoes of July 2008, when average prices hit a record $4.11 a gallon stateside.
Tempers frayed amid long lines and short supplies in 2008 when American drivers flocked to northern Mexico stations.
VIOLENCE, WAIT TIMES GIVE PAUSE
But this time around, soaring drug violence and growing wait times at border crossings are giving some residents of larger California and Arizona border cities pause.
Cartel mayhem last year claimed more than 12,400 lives in Mexico -- with most deaths in states flanking the U.S. border. Kidnappings and extortion have also risen, piling on hazards.
If that were not disincentive enough, the U.S. and Mexico have tightened security at crossings the length of the nearly 2,000-mile border to curb immigrant, drug, gun and cash smuggling. Crossing delays have drawn out to several hours at times, putting some drivers off.
"Gasoline is cheaper in Tijuana and the army presence makes me feel safer, but the problem is it takes so long to cross the border," said Ivan Pavon, a San Diego, California, construction worker.
"You have to ask yourself if it's worth the hassle?" Pavon said as he filled his car with gasoline in Tijuana on Friday.
In southern Arizona, Nogales businessman Jim Price said he was not planning to fill up in the namesake city in Mexico any time soon.
"The last time I went to fill up .... at the south end of Nogales, there was a big shoot out next door the next morning, so I said 'the heck with it,'" Price told Reuters.
"It's not worth it."
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Editing by Robin Emmott and David Bailey)