What a difference a quarter makes. As we entered early July, we watched the price of crude oil blow through $145 a barrel and on its way, we thought, to $150 and goodness knew how much higher. Largely because commodities prices had been on an almost linear march north for about a year, energy companies like Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB), Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), and Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) were near all-time highs.

Now, crude has fallen back below $95. With all that volatility, where will black gold's price be, say, six months or a year from now? Is it more likely to regain the 35% it's lost since Independence Day or to retreat another 35%, putting it closer to $60?

Before I answer that, allow me to echo my colleague Joe Magyer in saying that you simply cannot predict oil prices in the short run. Still, my best guesstimate is that, barring a major unforeseen event such as a dustup with Iran, a good case can be made for prices remaining around where they are, slightly below $100 a barrel.

Here's why I feel that way:

  • The slowdown in the economies of the U.S. and Europe will create something of a ceiling for crude, keeping prices from jumping up precipitously again.
  • Yet if prices fall much below their current levels, OPEC will almost certainly hit the brakes on production -- something that, given individual capacity limitations, is far easier for the cartel to do than to raise output when prices climb.
  • And while the rate of growth in China's demand for oil has decreased somewhat, the nation's oil use will still likely continue to expand at a slower rate, along with other developing nations. That, almost certainly, will more than offset the slowing in the West.

From an investing perspective, I think this spells o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y. All but a few energy-related companies have watched their share prices slide meaningfully since summer. And yet even if crude prices don't return to their record highs, global exploration and production activity should remain stable.

This'll be especially beneficial to the oilfield services players, such as Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), Weatherford (NYSE:WFT), and deepwater driller Transocean (NYSE:RIG). Looking at those companies, we might therefore insert c-o-m-p-e-l-l-i-n-g before "opportunity."

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own a single share in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions, comments, and college football picks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.