The oil price touched yet another new high yesterday, serving as a dramatic backdrop for the second meeting of the industry's top figures in two weeks as they desperately look for a solution to a problem that is sending deep reverberations throughout the world economy.
Speaking at the World Petroleum Congress in Madrid, Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, became the latest major figure to dismiss the notion that speculators were to blame for the soaring price of oil. The price for delivery next month for Brent North Sea crude oil hit $143.91, a new all-time high.
Instead, Mr Hayward reiterated his view that fundamental issues such as a lack of investment and the rising intransigence of state-owned oil companies were behind the spike, warning that "the problems are above ground, not below it".
Meanwhile, in the latest instance of growing public anger, lorry drivers in France staged a protest yesterday.
Mr Hayward's views were echoed at the confab by Jeroen van der Veer, the head of Royal Dutch Shell. Both, however, were in danger of being drowned out amid a cacophony of competing explanations that have been offered from all sides, each tinged with their own element of self-interest.
The likes of BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil are keen to point out the increasing difficulty they have in accessing new reserves, thanks to the hardening stance of state-owned oil companies which are unconvinced that they need the help of private groups to extract the resource.
Opec, the cartel of oil-prod-ucing nations, has been the most vociferous proponent of the villainous role being played by financial speculators who are supposedly driving up the price of oil for their own financial gain.
Analysts say this is, in part at least, an effort to divert attention from its own role in the situation. A production cut last year by Opec, led by Saudi Arabia, first set the oil price on its current meteoric trajectory and a second then helped to keep it going.
Opec held a summit last week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to try to cool the price down, but its pledge to increase production by 200,000 barrels per day did nothing to appease the market.
Yesterday's price jump came after Iran threatened to block oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf if it were attacked by Israel. The febrile environment means that the slightest possibility of disruption can lead to significant price jumps.
The oil price has begun to affect distant corners of the economy. Dry cleaners have seen the cost of their petroleum-based cleaning chemicals rocket.
Plastic bags have become much more dear, while household energy providers have seen the price of wholesale gas and power soar.Reuse content