Barack Obama Wants to Get Tough on Oil Price Manipulation

Posted April 17, 2012 at 9:27am

In the latest move by the White House to show it’s doing something about gas prices, President Barack Obama will call for a $52 million package to boost oversight of oil market manipulation and for higher fines for lawbreakers.

“At a time when instability in the Middle East is contributing to rising global oil prices that impact consumers at the pump, it is critically important to give American families confidence that illegal manipulation, fraud and market rigging are not contributing to gas price increases,” the White House said today in a statement.

On a conference call with reporters today, senior administration officials said the president has already implemented several steps aimed at curbing manipulation and overseeing the markets but that the new measures would boost the confidence of the public.

The officials could not point to incidents in which manipulation has occurred — beyond a reference to Enron — but said the concern is there with rising oil prices and that it makes sense to give regulators every tool they need.

The $52 million request includes hiring more investigators and buying more computer equipment to monitor the market. Obama also wants Congress to immediately authorize an increase in fines from $1 million per violation to $10 million for every day an entity is found in violation of government policy and authorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to set margin limits for speculators. The CFTC is already in the process of limiting the size of positions speculators can hold — something that was part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform overhaul.

One official declined to say whether the measures would reduce gas prices by a particular amount, noting that oil markets are influenced by a variety of factors. But the official defended the move as part of Obama’s self-described “all-of-the-above” energy approach.

The official didn’t have an update on the Justice Department’s working group on oil market manipulation, either, referring a question on whether the group had found any evidence of manipulation to the department.