It's often said that you can't get economists to agree on anything. Well, oil economists certainly can't agree on future prices, with commentators suggesting anything from $20 to $200. Seldom has there been such a discrepancy in forecasting, though the median forecasts seem to be somewhere between $60 and $70.
Since mid-June the price per barrel of petroleum has collapsed by a staggering 37 percent. This almost perfectly mirrors -- in reverse -- the steep rise in oil prices in mid-2008, which was followed by an equally sharp contraction when the Great Recession -- the onset of the global economic and financial crisis -- struck with full fury.
This new oil price drop simply is crushing producers' currencies in foreign exchange markets. The combination of the petrodollar losing its ability to act as a store of value, combined now with exchange rate blues, may be the straw that breaks the producer "camel's back" in respect to OPEC and dollar denomination. Such a moment would seem ripe for Russia and Iran to begin a gradual challenge to Saudi's leadership of the OPEC cartel and to the dollar-denominated energy system, if enough OPEC members and other producers are prepared to rebel. Iran has been lobbying hard in this direction.
Remember "Peak Oil?" The world was running out of oil, prices would soon skyrocket, and we had better find other fuels. Well, that argument didn't work out so well for environmentalists, did it? As oil reserves and those of other carbon fuels became scarce and prices rose, the law of supply and demand kicked in. The industry invested the profits from those higher prices in new technologies, and the oil barons found even more destructive ways to extract oil and gas -- by exploiting the muck from tar sands, inventing hydro-fracking, and despoiling Third World sources. So now, oil is cheaper than it's been in years, about $66 a barrel. Regular unleaded gasoline can be had for well under $3 a gallon. One of the few things sustaining U.S. consumer purchasing power in the face of dismal wages is close to $100 billion saved in energy costs. OPEC's pricing power has been broken and the United States is about to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer.