Between Japan and Libya, a Delicate Balance on Oil Prices

Prices are stable for the moment, but they could skyrocket soon

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The ongoing violence in Libya has been particularly bad for the oil market: the Middle Eastern nation is a linchpin of African oil production, and prices have been flickering up and down in response to every new development coming out of Tripoli. But today, at least, oil futures have stabilized somewhat, thanks to the post-earthquake crisis in Japan.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Japanese government is releasing oil reserves to help with the recovery of quake- and tsunami-devastated areas. The release of these reserves has had a corrective effect on oil prices, keeping them "slightly lower in Asia," according to the Journal. Oil was trading at $114 a barrel this morning in Asia. If not for Japan's influence, prices might have been much higher. (The news that U.S. airstrikes are apparently having some effect on Qaddafi has also helped keep prices low.)

But that spike will probably come sooner or later. Japan is expected to rely more on oil in the coming months and years, since the earthquake shut down a fifth of its nuclear plants. And if Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, or Yemen should devolve into the kind of chaos seen in Libya, prices could jump as high as $150 or even $200 a barrel, according to analysts at Societe Generale.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.