09/22/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

TIME Blames Speculators: "We Are Slaves To This Black Gold Standard"

Is it possible that oil prices are rigged? You bet. Here's how:

Just how would you raise prices if you were an oil supplier? Controlling the supply -- as in the 1973 OPEC embargo -- has become less effective with more sources of oil worldwide. And oil suppliers clearly cannot raise prices by controlling demand in the physical oil market; ultimately, they need to sell their oil, not buy it. However, with the market inefficiencies that we expose here, oil suppliers can regain the upper hand by artificially inflating demand using a different market. To understand this mechanism, we must take a glimpse into the future -- the futures market, that is.

The price of oil reported in the news is actually the price of oil in the futures market. In this market, traders do not exchange physical barrels of oil, but instead trade contracts which obligate them to exchange oil at a quoted price at a specific date in the future, usually months in advance. Such a contract allows companies to hedge positions by locking in prices early. Airlines might buy futures contracts to reduce their exposure to rising fuel prices. Conversely, oil companies might sell futures contracts to assure a profit against future price drops. It's all about reducing risk and uncertainty. But what if oil suppliers were instead buying oil futures, compounding their own risk and reaping enormous profits from the explosion in the price of physical oil?

Read the full story here

::Related: Raymond J. Learsy's blog on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's sudden obvious realization