Speculators knock OPEC off oil-price perch By F William Engdahl The price of crude oil today is not made according to any traditional relation of supply to demand. It is controlled by an elaborate financial market system as well as by the four major Anglo-American oil companies. As much as 60% of today's crude oil price is pure speculation driven by large trader banks and hedge funds. It has nothing to do with the convenient myths of Peak Oil. It has to do with control of oil and its price. How? First, the role of the international oil exchanges in London and New York is crucial to the game. Nymex in New York and the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) Futures in London today control global benchmark oil prices which in turn set most of the freely traded oil cargo. They do so via oil futures contracts on two grades of crude oil - West Texas Intermediate and North Sea Brent. A third rather new oil exchange, the Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME), trading Dubai crude, is more or less a daughter of Nymex, with Nymex president James Newsome sitting on the board of DME and most key personnel British or American citizens. Brent is used in spot and long-term contracts to value much of crude oil produced in global oil markets each day. The Brent price is published by a private oil industry publication, Platt's. Major oil producers including Russia and Nigeria use Brent as a benchmark for pricing the crude they produce. Brent is a key crude blend for the European market and, to some extent, for Asia. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) has historically been more of a US crude oil basket. Not only is it used as the basis for US-traded oil futures, but it is also a key benchmark for US production. The tail that wags the dog All this is well and official. But how today's oil prices are really determined is done by a process so opaque only a handful of major oil trading banks, such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley, have any idea who is buying and who is selling oil futures or derivative contracts that set physical oil prices in this strange new world of "paper oil". With the development of unregulated international derivatives trading in oil futures over the past decade or more, the way has opened for the present speculative bubble in oil prices. Since the advent of oil futures trading and the two major London and New York oil futures contracts, control of oil prices has left the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and gone to Wall Street. It is a classic case of the "tail that wags the dog". A June 2006 US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on "The Role of Market Speculation in rising oil and gas prices" noted, "... there is substantial evidence supporting the conclusion that the large amount of speculation in the current market has significantly increased prices". What the senate committee staff documented in the report was a gaping loophole in US government regulation of oil derivatives trading so huge a herd of elephants could walk through it. That seems precisely what they have been doing in ramping oil prices through the roof in recent months.