Speculators Exploit Iraq to Spike Oil and Gas Prices

Speculators Exploit Iraq to Spike Oil and Gas Prices

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday introduced legislation to make federal regulators invoke emergency powers to stop speculators from taking advantage of turmoil in Iraq to drive up oil prices and make motorists pay more for gasoline. “I am getting tired of big oil companies and Wall Street speculators using Iraq as an excuse to pump up oil and gas prices,” said Sanders, a member of the Senate energy committee. “The fact is that high gasoline prices have less to do with supply and demand and more to do with Wall Street speculators driving prices up in the energy futures market.” Wall Street has pushed up the price of crude oil by more than 5 percent since June 12, when militants attacked and took control of several Iraqi cities. In the longer term, oil prices rose 53 percent since 2009.

While developments in Iraq have had no impact on the supply of gasoline in the United States today, gas is more expensive now than it’s been in six years at the beginning of the summer driving season, according to AAA.  The increase has occurred despite the fact that the supply of gasoline is 4.3 percent higher and demand is 1 percent lower than it was five years ago, when national gas prices averaged $2.69 a gallon. 

Cosponsored by 14 senators, Sanders’ legislation would force the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the federal agency that regulates oil markets, to use to use all of its authority, including its emergency powers, to eliminate excessive oil speculation.

The bill’s original cosponsors are Sens. Carl Levin , Bill Nelson, Ben Cardin, Claire McCaskill, Al Franken, Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal, Sherrod Brown, Jeanne Shaheen, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley, Amy Klobuchar, Ed Markey and Mazie Hirono.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro is introducing a companion bill in the House.

Nationwide, the average price of a gallon of gas yesterday was $3.70-a-gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration, a buck more than five years ago. In Burlington, Vermont, where gas stations already charge some of the highest prices in the country, the average price today was $3.77 a gallon, according to gasbuddy.com. That’s only 3-cents-a-gallon more than a month ago but 21-cents more than one year ago and a 91-cent increase in five years.

There is mounting evidence linking excessive speculation on oil to the high pump prices for gasoline. Exxon Mobil, Goldman Sachs, the International Monetary Fund, the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the American Trucking Association, Delta Airlines, the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, the New England Fuel Institute, the Consumer Federation of America and others have blamed excessive oil speculation for significant increases in oil and gas prices. Goldman Sachs, perhaps the largest speculator on Wall Street, has acknowledged that excessive oil speculation costs Americans at least 56 cents a gallon at the pump.

To read the legislation, click here.