"Petroleum prices rose sharply between January 2012 and April 2012, at times reaching more than $109 per barrel of crude oil. Although this is still below the $140 per barrel price reached in 2008, the rising cost of energy was one factor that helped to dampen the rate of growth in the economy during the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. While the price of oil was rising, the volume of oil imports, or the amount of oil imported, decreased slightly from the comparable period in the previous year. In general, market demand for oil remains highly resistant to changes in oil prices and reflects the unique nature of the demand for oil. In addition, sustained demand for oil in the face of higher prices reflected an increase in economic activity that occurred following the worst part of the economic recession in 2009. Turmoil in the Middle East was an important factor causing petroleum prices to rise sharply in early 2011 and in 2012. Although prices for imported oil fluctuated somewhat throughout 2011, they averaged 30% higher than in 2010 and added about $100 billion to the total U.S. trade deficit in 2011. Oil futures markets in June indicated that oil prices were expected to fluctuate around the $83 per barrel recorded in June 2012, in part because oil producers agreed in mid-June to maintain the then-current production levels to stabilize market prices. The increase in energy import prices in 2011 pushed up the price of energy to consumers. In such cases, some elements of the public tend to pressure Congress to provide relief to households that are struggling to meet their current expenses. This report provides an estimate of the initial impact of the changing oil prices on the nation's merchandise trade deficit."
CRS Report for Congress, RS22204