I suppose we might call it a smokescreen: Blame the steady upward march of crude prices on speculation by financial types, and thereby duck any need to take supply- or demand-related steps to slow -- or even reverse -- the surge.

This week, a trio of groups attempted to squelch the notion that the speculators -- definitely a pejorative term in this context -- and not basic supply and demand are pushing prices northward. One group, consisting of a passel of international oil companies, took direct aim at claims by OPEC and others that speculation is at the heart of the crude price jump to more than $140 a barrel, about double the level of a year ago.

For instance, BP (NYSE:BP) CEO Tony Hayward said it was a myth that financial types were behind the run-up in crude prices. And Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) CEO Jeroen van der Veer said he believes that speculation merely follows the long-term fundamentals. And Repsol's (NYSE:REP) Antonio Brufau offered that the "fundamentals in the industry are the significant reasons for having these prices."

And then there was Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), whose analysts said that notions of a speculative bubble driving crude prices are "unwarranted." Rather, as the CEOs indicated, the real culprits may be politics and geopolitics. Hayward observed that the problems are above ground, not below it. And Brufau noted that 90% of global reserves are located in countries where investment by international oil companies is restricted or prohibited.

Finally, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said that, while blaming speculation is easy, the real reasons for the jump in prices include surging demand growth, supply shortages, and inadequate refining capacity. In detailing its assessment, the agency pointed to price surges in commodities that, because they're not traded on futures markets, are immune to speculation.

This argument should be more than academic for Foolish investors: If you believe that speculation is pushing prices higher, steer clear of energy names because you're witnessing a bubble that must burst eventually. But if, as I do, you think we're simply paying the piper for having long neglected obvious supply/demand considerations, then be sure to include energy representation in your portfolio. My favorite places to start are integrated ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), oilfield services leader Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), and surging natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK).

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