$100 a barrel for oil? Then what?

An oil well near Long Beach, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Take it a step farther and the thing everybody's thinking about -- but which neither Bernanke nor Paulson are talking about -- is a recession. Housing could be a cause, as we just heard, but how about something else? Say, $100-a-barrel oil?

Run the numbers through an inflation calculator and you'll see we've already been there -- 30 years ago, crude peaked at what would be $101 in today's money. In New York this afternoon, oil topped $88 a barrel before closing at $87.61.

But what happens if -- or maybe when -- it hits triple digits again? Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports.


John Dimsdale: Supposedly, oil is spiking because traders fear supply disruptions if Turkey goes into Iraq to chase Kurdish rebels. But energy economist Phillip Verleger says that's irrational.

Phillip Verleger: Oil that would come out of Kurdistan can be replaced by Saudi Arabia, and will be replaced by Saudi Arabia.

More importantly for the price of oil, Verleger says, are ongoing trends like unrelenting demand from the growing international economy, the U.S. credit crunch -- which makes it more expensive for the oil industry to build stockpiles -- and the fact that the Energy Department is diverting as much as 100,000 barrels a day into the nation's strategic reserves.

Verleger: What they're doing is taking light sweet crude out of the market -- which is like taking Chateau Aubriand, or Chateaux Margotte, taking the very best crude out of the market.

Verleger expects to see $100-a-barrel oil by the end of the year. But so far, neither consumers nor the overall economy has felt the pinch. The national average of $2.76 for a gallon of regular gasoline is actually eight cents lower than a week ago, thanks to falling seasonal demand. And Tom Wallin at the Energy Intelligence Group says there could be even more relief in sight.

Tom Wallin: From the Caspian, from Canada, there's new supplies coming into the market in response to these high price levels. I don't think we're in a situation where we're going to have gasoline lines or anything like that, unless we have some enormous geopolitical disruption.

The Energy Department warns, however, that heating oil and natural gas will be more expensive than last winter. In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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