Prepare to pay more at the pump, says Alen Mattich at The Wall Street Journal. As the "seemingly endless conflict" in Iraq escalates, some investors are wondering whether we're headed toward an oil price shock and how that might hinder "what looks to be a widespread — if still very subdued — recovery from the financial crisis." While we're not in shock territory just yet, prices are climbing, and that does not bode well for many global economies. With a 3.1 million-barrel-a-day output, Iraq was the world's eighth-largest oil producer last year. Even so, "Americans might feel insulated from a possible supply crisis," since the shale boom has bolstered our own production. But considering Iraq's current troubles, the "Saudi-Iranian proxy war" raging in Syria, escalating tensions with Turkey over the future of the Kurdish region, and the ongoing conflict between Russia — the world's third-biggest oil producer — and Ukraine, it's clear that "there's plenty for investors to worry about."
In the midst of a sluggish recovery, we can't afford even the smallest upset, says Terry Keenan at the New York Post. The U.S. economy shrank by more than 1 percent in the first quarter this year, "led by a slowdown in consumer spending." Higher oil and gas prices will put an even bigger dent in consumers' wallets.
From almost any angle, the news is bad for Iraqis, says Clifford Krauss at The New York Times. "After a long history of wars and sanctions," the country was just beginning to stage an oil production comeback. "Suddenly all that progress has been put in jeopardy." And the stakes couldn't be higher, since any decline in Iraqi exports "would put pressure on China and India to increase their imports of Iranian oil." But even if oil prices remain relatively stable, "American drivers are likely to see gasoline prices go up 5 to 10 cents a gallon in the coming days." The only reason the bump is relatively modest is because no major Iraqi "export installations have been damaged yet." If Iraq's southern oil fields, which account for 90 percent of production, come under threat, things could change quickly.
But when oil prices do go up, don't blame it all on Iraq, says Rick Newman at Yahoo. A gallon of gas currently costs about $3.65 and could hit $4 over the summer. That's just business as usual, thanks to overall tight supplies, limits on U.S. refinery capacity, and "a normal surge in demand during the summer." And while domestic oil supplies may help soften the blow, we still lack the infrastructure to effectively transport shale oil from many of the new drilling regions around the country. Trains can move some of the supply, but frequent oil spills make that controversial, "and building new pipelines is politically difficult." Until those issues are adequately addressed, no amount of U.S. crude will protect us from the "pain at the pump caused by supply problems elsewhere."