然而，如今天下太平，我们看到的油价波动幅度却让昔日战争时期的上涨也相形见绌。尽管美国石油学会（American Petroleum Institute）6月份的公告显示，美国石油供应达到了30多年来的高点，但油价一天内猛涨2美元/桶（包括周二）的情形已司空见惯。
背后的原因到底何在？这已经成为不下十几个政府部门的烫手山芋，包括美国司法部（U.S. Department of Justice）、全美州际检察长协会（National Association of Attorneys General）、美国商品期货交易委员会（Commodity Futures Trading Commission）、联邦调查局（Federal Bureau of Investigation）、联邦能源监管委员会（Federal Energy Regulatory Commission）、国土安全部（Department of Homeland Security）、联邦贸易委员会（Federal Trade Commission）、财政部（Department of the Treasury）、联邦储备委员会（Federal Reserve Board）、证券交易委员会（Securities and Exchange Commission）、农业部（Department of Agriculture），当然能源部（Department of Energy）也位列其中。
华盛顿州民主党参议员玛利亚•坎特维尔在两周前的一次参议院听证会上发问，希望了解美国司法部大力宣扬的油气价格欺诈工作组（Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group）的工作进展；除了上面列出的很多联邦政府机构，该工作组还包括州一级的监管机构。美国司法部确实承诺将“监控油气市场，发现可能存在的刑事或民事犯罪行为，防止消费者权益受到非法侵害”，但它一直避而不谈具体做法。坎特维尔一直以对能源市场的强硬立场而著称，当初她还是一名资历尚浅的参议员，就已经同安然（Enron）展开了较量。她曾经指出，这一丑闻证明“恶劣的市场操纵行为的的确确存在”。
Before this decade, it was unheard of for crude oil prices to jump a few dollars a day unless the U.S. was under a trade embargo or about to go to war. And even then, the outright price of oil was hardly prohibitive (recall that for the entire month leading up to the Iraq war in March 2003, oil did not cross $38 a barrel, let alone $100).
Yet today, without a major media event in sight, we witness price swings that would put the wartime spikes of yesteryear to shame. Despite the American Petroleum Institute's pronouncement in June that oil supplies in the U.S. hit a high not seen in more than three decades, the two-buck oil price pop – including today's – is now seen as commonplace.
Why? It has become a nettlesome question for no fewer than a dozen government departments and agencies, among them the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Association of Attorneys General, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Agriculture and, of course, the Department of Energy.
While intelligent minds may differ as to why oil prices have risen as much as 630% over the past decade – speculation or fundamentals? – one fact is no longer up for debate: a shift seems to have taken place in oil-patch tectonics that's keeping prices propped up. And the cost of ignoring it does not bode well for consumers or our national security.
The rhetoric offered by Washington has been as impressive as it has been ineffectual, with a flurry of investigations, working groups and general inquiries coming up empty, even as they stretch for years into the future, racking up taxpayer dollars. Taking note, a handful of senators and even President Obama have recently ramped up the pressure.
Maria Cantwell, Democratic senator from Washington state, advanced questions during a Senate hearing two weeks ago meant to ascertain the progress of the Department of Justice's much-touted Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group, which involves many of the agencies listed above, in addition to state authorities. Pledging to "monitor oil and gas markets for potential violations of criminal or civil laws to safeguard against unlawful consumer harm," the DOJ has sought to uncover unlawful activity in the energy market, though it has shied away from explaining exactly how. Cantwell is known for her strong positions on energy market issues after tangling with Enron while still a junior senator. The scandal, she has noted, proved "that fierce market manipulation does happen."
Since it formed in April at the behest of President Obama, very little has been heard from the DOJ working group. This is disappointing, as the DOJ is one of the only arms of the federal government with the statutory power to bring suspects to justice and imprison them, as opposed to civil offenders, who are simply fined (and usually pay much less than they profited in breaking the law.) "We are encouraging an increase in communication, both formal and informal, and information-sharing among the government agencies," a DOJ spokeswoman says. "So far, there have been no particular cases of finding fraud, civil or criminal."
Information-sharing? With tactics like that, offenders better watch out.