The US government in recent days has largely held silent on oil policy despite the approach of this week's OPEC summit and the fact that high prices at gas stations have been making waves among US politicians.
The average price for gas in the United States is now more than 50 percent above last year's levels. At 1.60 dollars a gallon (or 42 cents a liter), it has now risen above the peak it reached during the price surge in March.
The White House at that time pushed hard, publicly, to persuade the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to help damp prices by increasing its output. OPEC decided to allow an additional 1.65 million barrels a day onto world markets.
But this time, in the lead-up to their ministerial summit set to open in Vienna on Wednesday, members of the oil cartel have left plenty of room for uncertainty regarding their intentions.
"What we're saying to OPEC in a low-key fashion is: keep an open mind about increasing production," US energy secretary Bill Richardson said recently in a television interview on the ABC network.
But Richardson, who made two highly publicized trips to OPEC member nations in March to push for increased oil output, has since taken off his traveling shoes.
On Wednesday, the White House refused to say whether it has sought to pressure producer countries for a production increase.
White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart, would only say that high crude oil prices can be "bad for consumers and producers alike."
According to Jane Brady, spokeswoman for the US Department of Energy, the White House's apparent new approach of keeping public pronouncements on oil to a "low profile probably goes back to our policy, which is to let the markets dictate prices."
Meanwhile, to the dismay of oil and gas consumers, the market has lifted crude prices to heights unseen since the Gulf War nine years ago. Late Friday in New York, the price of a barrel of oil topped 32 dollars, more than 75 percent up from its level a year ago at less than 18 dollars.
Gas prices at the pump have shot upward accordingly, boosted as well by the 12 percent decrease in US reserves over the past year and by new requirements for cleaner gas.
At more than two dollars a gallon (53 cents a liter) in and around Chicago, Illinois, gas prices have upset car drivers enough to make politicians take note - WASHINGTON (AFP)
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