Oil, Oil, Everywhere

OIL, OIL, EVERYWHERE....The price of oil closed at $122 today. But where's it going next? According to this AP dispatch, one analyst thinks it's likely headed up to $200 while another thinks it's probably headed down to $80. Yawn. This reaction, however, grabbed my attention:
"It's not that the genie is out of the bottle — it's that 100 genies are out of the bottle," said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Normally known for optimistic forecasts of lowering oil prices, Mr. Yergin's firm now says the price could rise to $150 a barrel this year.

The world's diminished spare production capacity remains the strongest single catalyst for high prices, Mr. Yergin says. The world's safety cushion — the amount of readily available oil that could be pumped in a moment of crisis — is now around two million barrels a day, according to most estimates. That's just 2.3% of daily demand, and nearly all of the safety cushion is in one country, Saudi Arabia. Everyone else is pretty much pumping all they can, which makes the world vulnerable to political or other shocks.

Saying Daniel Yergin is an optimist is like saying Chris Matthews is annoying. Yergin basically thinks peak oil is Luddite crankery and that new technology will allow us to continue increasing production for at least the next several decades. He's the Pollyanna of the oil patch.

Now, I'm sure he'd say that his current pessimism is based not on a fundamental reevaluation of recoverable reserves, but instead on "aboveground" issues: political instability, terrorism, lack of investment, and so forth. Still, if even Daniel Yergin thinks oil prices are headed upward, it's a pretty good guess that oil prices are headed upward.