U.S. crude oil futures spiked to a two-year high with yesterday’s discovery of 11 empty chemical warheads in Baghdad, heightening tension between the United States and Iraq and further complicating the low oil supply caused by the oil strike in Venezuela.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil futures for February rose 45 cents to $33.66 a barrel yesterday, the highest closing price since November 2000. The crude oil prices have jumped more than 6 percent since Sunday.

“The strike in Venezuela and the potential disruptions in Iraq are playing very important roles in driving the oil prices,” Business Prof. Nejat Seyhun said.

The anti-government strikes in Venezuela, which caused the fifth largest oil exporter to reduce its oil output, is now in its seventh week and driving the U.S. oil inventory to a 26-year low level, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Energy Department.

The oil supply will be further depleted if there is a war in the Middle East, where most of the giant oil exporters are located, because “it might cause lots of damage to the oil fields,” Seyhun said.

As a result, the oil prices will stay above the $30 a barrel level if the “very tense and very dangerous” situation in Iraq, as described by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix yesterday, worsens to the point of war.

“With the high oil prices, companies will reduce investment and employment … it can definitely pull the economy back into the recession,” Seyhun added.

The February price of gasoline, a major crude oil product, also shot up by 33 cents to 90.76 cents a gallon yesterday.

Although the retail gasoline prices will not increase by the same percentage of crude oil prices, the extra costs on filling up are unavoidable.

The hike of gasoline prices have been displayed on the pricing board of the Shell gas station on Plymouth Road, which shows a cost of $1.539 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.

“$1.3 was the average, but now we are seeing $1.5 per gallon,” Jason Boekeloo, the gas station’s manager, said.

With the higher gas prices, Rackham graduate Adhi Tjandra, who lives on North Campus and drives to school almost everyday, said he would switch to filling his car in the gas stations in Washtenaw, where the prices are relatively lower than the gas stations near campus.

“I have noticed the gas prices went up and I don’t know what I could do if it continues to rise,” Rackham graduate Nirav Patel said.

Although the cost of driving will continue to go up, Patel said he would not stop driving completely because of the inconvenience.

Engineering senior Tamar Gontovnik said she did not think the gas prices were very high but the recent increase in prices might “encourage some people to reserve more energy.”

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