While some skeptics doubt such a dire scenario, other experts fret that rising demand, military conflict in Iran and continued chaos in Iraq suddenly could cause supplies to tighten and prices to spike.
"The unrelenting pressure of increased demand has left the market a coiled spring," said John Kilduff of the New York office of futures broker Man Financial Inc.
The average price of gasoline at the pump exceeds $3 a gallon across the United States, but that hasn't kept consumers from traveling. Gasoline deliveries were at a record 9.23 million barrels a day in the first half of this year, according to the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C.
Outside the United States, demand is rising quickly to fuel the fast-growing economies of India and China.
Benchmark crude oil futures ended last week at $75.57 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 51 percent since mid-January and twice the level of early 2003.