Oil Regulators In The Hotseat Again

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This story was written by CBS News Investigative producer Laura Strickler for cbsnews.com.


For a former Congressional staffer, William Lukken is getting used to being on the other side.

Today was the second time in one week that Lukken, the Acting Chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), faced angry members of Congress who want to know if he can do something to lower gas prices. Lukken's agency oversees trading of crude oil futures where speculators buy and sell futures contracts. These contracts consist of the right to buy or sell crude oil at a specific price, on a future date.

There is increasing alarm in Congress and among some oil analysts that the increasing role of speculators might be artificially bumping up the price of oil.

Yesterday experts testified on Capitol Hill that if regulations were tightened on the oil futures market, prices could drop by half in 30 days. But some lawmakers like Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas) disagree and continue to blame skyrocketing prices on a lack of supply, "We need more American-made energy, including energy from oil, coal, natural gas, and all the viable alternatives," he said.

Lukken agrees, "Our economists have looked at this to try to figure out if speculators are leading this price run-up, and they haven't." But Lukken also concedes that his agency needs more data and resources to oversee a market that has grown exponentially.

"Since the CFTC opened its doors 33 years ago, the volume on futures exchanges has grown 8,000 percent while the CFTC's staffing numbers have fallen 12 percent," he said in today's testimony.

We caught up with Lukken yesterday in the halls of Congress, click to see the video.

By: Laura Strickler
  • Laura Strickler

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