At a time we're hearing talk of five dollar a gallon gasoline in the United States, International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol is saying that the level of world oil prices could threaten global economic recovery. Birol was commenting on an IEA finding that the OECD member countries--essentially the world's advanced industrial countries--saw their oil import bill increase by a third last year, from $590 billion to $790 billion. The 27 members of the European Union, which has become notably more dependent on oil imports from OPEC and the Russian sphere, found themselves paying $70 billion more in 2010 for imported petroleum.
At present, world oil prices are edging toward $100 per barrel again, and though industry leaders are calling on governments to make life easier for them, it's not likely in the wake of the Gulf Oil catastrophe that their pleas will be heeded. A scathing report on the disaster, to be issued this coming Tuesday, will declare BP, Halliburton, and Transocean to all have been about equally culpable. Because of its alleged negligence, BP is widely expected to face criminal charges.
As energy writer Michael Klare has been putting it, we've entered the age of tough oil.