She was a pushy dame, most dames are, and she came into my office with a laundry list of bad hang-ups and angry customers. She said her name was Congress, and she needed help investigating the cause of high oil prices. Ms. Congress said her employer John Q. Public was mad that prices of petroleum had skyrocketed during the last year, jumping up nearly $70 per barrel and in turn driving up the price of gasoline and groceries. I knew the mug she was talking about. Public was a nice guy, paid his taxes on time and took care of his family. Could afford to lose a few pounds here and there and definitely had too much junk he didn't really need, but basically was all right. One thing for certain was he didn't know a lot about the oil business, only what he had heard from the mainstream media and a few documentaries made by some snake-oil salesmen who scared him away from ever voting Republican again. I got right on the case. First I checked the oil companies, particularly the ones making record profits like ExxonMobil. But they had reliable enough alibis. They claimed that their profits were being turned around to spend on record expenses, including increased deep-water drilling and also shelling out more money for production contracts with national oil companies. My next stop was the downstream companies. Public tended to buy most of his petroleum products in the form of gasoline, which was now facing record fuel prices. But they argued that fuel prices are not even truly reflecting the proportional price of oil, with gasoline actually undervalued. Another dead-end. I decided to hit up my stoolie and see if he had heard any interesting tidbits. He said the word on the street was that big-time gangster Fine China had been trying to buy up as much oil as possible to fund his growing business. I knew this guy. He was dirty, but he had a lot of pull around town. Even Public bought his merchandise from the guy. And while he was dirty in a lot his dealings, his oil racket was a legit business. He was too big a fish for me to mess with, but his business practices have been shakey lately. I had a feeling he was going to take a fall very soon. I finally met up with Ms. Congress and let her know what I had discovered. She seemed resigned and nodded her head, saying it was just as she suspected. Still, she said that Public wasn't going to be satisfied with that answer, and that if she wanted to keep her job, she better find a patsy to put the finger on, preferably the people with the deepest pockets. She then met up with Public, hopping in his gas-guzzling SUV as he was screaming some obscenities about the high fuel prices. I heard that Ms. Congress was now looking into the commodity-traders and institutional investors, arguing that they were using secret data to affect prices and that they were going to need to publish monthly reports detailing their transactions. This drama looks like it's going to unfold for months, all on Public's dime. Case closed. –Stephen Payne, Editor, Oil and Gas Investor This Week;