One would think that the trajectory that's taken crude prices from near $50 a barrel earlier this year to where they could tickle $100 in a few days would be a bigger story for mainstream media than whether Rosie O'Donnell gets a gig with MSNBC.

Unfortunately, for an understanding of the moving parts of our economy, along with the general level of the nation's discourse, it isn't.

So with minimal help from the scribes and talking heads, let's look at what might have caused this surge. Having done so, we can gain an inkling of whether we're near a top for the per-barrel levy, and perhaps see what prices might look like in a year, or two, or five.

And beyond that, we might be able to project what all this means for oil majors like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), oilfield service players like Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) and Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), and other big companies that depend on hydrocarbons for their feedstocks, such as Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW).

It's clear, for starters, that the crude price runup has many causes, including storms around the world, the weakening dollar, the adequacy of domestic stocks, general seasonality, trading gymnastics in the commodities markets, and geopolitical edginess.

But as relatively short-term phenomena, those reasons have less importance than the simple -- but infrequently acknowledged -- fact that global production is unlikely to keep pace with increasing demand. Many of the world's biggest fields are slowing their oil and gas output, so additions to production in the years ahead will occur only after we've compensated for those declines.

None of this is new. It's a collection of factors that could indicate there's no magic in a $100 per-barrel price as a stopping place for crude's upward march.

For my money, Fools would be well advised to remain fixed on the energy sector. Service companies -- including deepwater drillers Transocean (NYSE:RIG) and Diamond Offshore (NYSE:DO) -- stand to be among the first and biggest beneficiaries of our increasingly upside-down world. 

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a buttery disclosure policy.