The New York Times reports that "record failures at oil refineries" have helped to drive up gasoline prices. These include damage from floods in Texas and Kansas and fires at several refineries, some caused by lightning strikes.
Now, no one is saying that these events were made to happen--not even the oil industry is powerful enough to direct a hurricane or a lighting strike. But do we know that repairs are actually being carried out as fast as possible? Remember what happened in California when Enron decided to drive up the price of electricity?
I have absolutely no evidence that oil companies are using refinery problems to raise prices artificially, but the Enron experience breeds cynicism, a view that is only enhanced by the nature of the energy market, which reacts to a relatively small shortage (The Times estimates that US refineries are running at approximately 95% of capacity) leads to skyrocketing prices. Will we see some revelation on front pages in 2009?