A world oil crisis is underway, so it must be time to turn on your television and find out what Philip K. Verleger Jr. has to say about it. You could be forgiven for not knowing who he was until last weekend, but get used to him: He may seem like a longtime pal before all this is over.

Hardly a household name in placid times, Verleger is one of a handful of scholars and analysts rolled out when the energy outlook darkens. He was last in vogue in January when heating oil prices spiked. Before that, it was the Exxon Valdez spill off the Alaskan coast, and the resulting price increases.

In the last two days, he has been called to testify at three congressional hearings. Reporters besiege him around the clock. Upon his return from 2 1/2 hours on the Hill yesterday, he had 20 messages awaiting him -- from 17 news hounds, two administration officials and one oil industry operative. He and those like him are the staples of this week's television news and talk shows.

"I turned on my television in the hotel last night and I was watching you all night," said fellow oil industry expert John Lichtblau when the two bumped into each other yesterday as witnesses before the Joint Economic Committee. Lichtblau, chairman of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, also has spent most of the last six days on the phone with reporters and industry officials.

Being a media star is good fun, of course, but it also can make one feel ignored. If Congress and the administration had listened to people like Verleger in the years since the last oil crisis -- the years when, as Verleger said, "we've been growing cobwebs around us" -- maybe the economy wouldn't be so vulnerable today.

Listening to President Bush's speech yesterday about the crisis, Verleger occasionally shielded his eyes in exasperation. Hearing the president call on the American people to exercise conservation brought back memories of the conservation initiatives -- which Verleger considers the heart of any workable energy policy -- the administration has axed.

Hearing Bush call on the oil companies to exercise price restraint brought a major roll of the eyes. Verleger has spent the last decade writing and speaking about the change in the oil market since the 1979 crisis -- how it has become a commodity market in which a price increase immediately travels everywhere, rather than moving more slowly as in the last two major interruptions.

"This {the recent price increases} is not a result of a conspiracy. Nobody has been able to find it if it is," he said.

He has repeatedly warned that the next oil shock will be far more painful to consumers. Describing himself as "responsibly apocalyptic," he has been calling to no avail for immediate use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, amassed by the government in case of supply disruptions.

"It makes you wonder whether anybody has learned anything in the last 20 years," he said, as he raced in a taxi from the Hill to his office, the Institute for International Economics, where he was expected to speak over lunch to staffers about the crisis -- before returning another batch of calls.

Verleger, 46, is a large man who carries a large briefcase, bulging nowadays with testimony, analyses of oil price elasticity and oil price data. His energy odyssey has taken him from consulting firms to a brokerage house, the Carter administration, Yale and now a think tank.

He is the one you consult to find out instantly how much oil is affected by the embargo of Iraq and Kuwait (4 million barrels a day), how much could be made up by extra production from Saudi Arabia and others (3 million) and how much a 1 million-barrel gap would raise prices (20 percent).

When not working as a fellow at the economics institute, Verleger consults with oil companies and law firms, and writes. A book in progress, "The Next Energy Crisis," has just been overtaken by events, he observed ruefully.

But Verleger, who doesn't go looking for this attention, clearly loves anything to do with the oil market -- talking about it, thinking about it, picking up gossip about it. With laypersons, he is clear and simple; with industry junkies, he worries about "backwardation" and "contango" -- sometimes in the same sentence.

On a wall beside his desk hangs a cover of The Economist from 1980, displaying a map of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and asking in bold letters: "What's a nice thing like oil doing in a place like this?"

"The demand for us is so enormous right now," said Lichtblau, Verleger's fellow oil economist. "But it will die down in a couple of weeks and no one will remember our names."

Asked if this disappoints him, Lichtblau frowned and shook his head. "No," he said emphatically. "I couldn't live like this every day."