By Gary Strauss
If political unrest in Libya spreads to other oil-rich countries and the ensuing chaos disrupts crude oil production, gas prices could hit $5 a gallon by peak summer driving season, industry analysts say.
Oil prices soared to the highest level in more than two years as violence spread in Libya and Moammar Gadhafi’s grip weakened. Only a small amount of Libya’s oil production appeared to have been affected, though analysts fear revolts will spread to OPEC heavyweights like Iran.
Benchmark West Texas Intermediate for April delivery jumped $4.59, or 5% to $94.30 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The last time oil traded at that level was Oct. 2, 2008. The April contract traded as high as $98.48 per barrel.
“If this thing escalates and there’s a good chance that there’d be a shift in supplies, $5 gas isn’t out of the question,” says Darin Newsom, senior analyst at energy tracker DTN.
The average price of regular gasoline is expected to rise to $3.25 within a few days, says Tom Kloza, chief analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. That’s 2.5% above Tuesday’s $3.17 national average.
Spanish oil company Repsol-YPF said Tuesday that it suspended operations in Libya, which produced 34,777 barrels of oil equivalent per day last year. Other oil companies, including Italy’s Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, U.K.-based BP and Germany’s Wintershall, started pulling out employees. Meanwhile, key Libyan officials resigned and air force pilots defected amid a bloody crackdown on the protests.
Libya holds the most oil reserves in Africa and is the world’s 15th-largest crude exporter at 1.2 million barrels per day, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Any production losses out of Libya could be quickly absorbed by other countries like Saudi Arabia, which can ramp up production as much as another five million barrels per day. The main concern stalking markets is that revolts in the Middle East and North Africa will spread to OPEC heavyweights, particularly Iran, the group’s second-largest producer.
Read the entire article HERE.