Refining the Problem

TOBY MELVILLE / REUTERS

RUNNING ON EMPTY: Fear of a nationwide fuel blockade led to a rush on British petrol stations

The modest protests last week in Britain over rising fuel costs did not bring the country to a halt, as similar protests had in 2000. Even so, by staging their protests at oil refining plants, the handful of angry truckers who spoke out did manage to throw a spotlight on a major, if little-understood, factor behind the current international fuel crisis.

In the past, when gas prices spiked, notably in the late 1970s, the problem was caused by high crude oil prices. This month, as global gas prices took a steady upward march in the wake of Hurricane...

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