The oil spill off the Louisiana coast is creating environmental disaster, worldwide headlines, and, eventually, economic fall-out for consumers. The price of oil itself will rise, but due to indirect effects from the spill. Though the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico seems vast, it is insignificant relative to total US oil imports.
Instead, the spill will probably make oil cost more and be less available in the future. Plans to opening sections of the Atlantic coast for oil drilling, politically challenging even a few months ago, seem next to impossible now, with some calling the drilling plans “dead on arrival” in the legislature.
Even before the spill, the price of oil was headed higher. Greece’s debt problems not withstanding, the global economy is recovering, especially in the developing nations. Even with tame U.S. oil demand, stronger demand by Brazil, China and India could easily push oil prices over $100 a barrel, a repeat of the scenario of 2008, when U.S. gas prices topped out at $4.
The price of oil was already creeping up before the spill happened. Some are predicting that increased demand in many fast-growing countries could raise oil prices over $100 per barrel. This could drive gas prices upwards of $4 in the US, as happening in 2008.
Another, less obvious effect is the potential interruption of shipping into the port of New Orleans (and other ports on the Mississippi). A widespread halt on shipping could easily raise prices other than energy.
Most consumers are directly concerned with gas prices. Many of those consumers have already noticed that gas prices have risen consistently since the year began. Government predictions state that prices will not repeat 2008, but will instead remain around $3. Some conditions which have pushed prices higher in the past are in place now: a stronger dollar has helped temper prices in recent weeks, but increases in demand on the horizon could quickly turn things in the other direction. Only time will tell.