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INSIDER: Rising prices fuel the paranoia

Date: 30 June 2008

The Insider is a fleet manager with years of invaluable experience

Just what on earth is behind the global fuel price rises? Insider can't put his finger on a single cause

Why are fuel prices shooting skyward without any particular trigger? There's no Suez, no Opec embargo and the Iraq conflict is stabilising up a point.

I read stories about bankers speculating, tanker-owners hoarding, Russians stirring and the Chinese just plain driving, but nothing that seems to point to a fundamental reason. Even the Saudis and other Opec members seem puzzled - why would we raise production when there isn't the demand, they say. And the oil companies assure us there's plenty of the black stuff left - just let us drill in the North Pole, you'll see.

It's left me feeling the dread clamp of paranoia around the heart, particularly following these fuel protests, which at the time of writing don't seem to be having much effect, whether here, France, Spain, Portugal, India, Thailand, Nepal, Korea and whoever else joins the strike list between now and this being published. The governments can't do a whole lot anyway - this is beyond their control.

So who do does have control? Is it the oil companies? The Russians (in a global crisis I can't help but think of Russia, especially after the boss of their giant state-owned energy company Gazprom gleefully predicted recently that a barrel of oil would reach $250 by next year)? The Sheiks? Is it a global ruse by Toyota to shift more hybrids? Right now, nothing seems any less implausible. And all the while the prices climb and climb. Any explanation is frightening.

The rational side of me - the one that would stubbornly half-fill the tank after waiting in a panic-buy petrol queue - says it's all going to blow over. Like it did in the 50s and 70s. But will it? Or is the guy who invested all his fleet budget in those Think battery cars a shoo-in to win fleet manager of the millennium?

Apart from making my job of predicting what's going to happen in three years' time a nightmare, I'll say what rising prices is doing and that's slowly uniting the climate change naysayers with the greenies. The former are starting to realise, at least in the weekend pub circles I move in, that retention of personal mobility is a nobler long-term goal than fighting to hang onto fossil fuels, and for that they need alternative fuels.

Of course, two weeks from now, whoever or whatever is responsible for the oil price bubble might over-inflate it and it will burst. However, that rational side to me says that it's a combination of everything above (okay, maybe not Toyota) and that we've just got to deal with it.