The most actively traded oil futures contract in the world is being challenged by a new oil benchmark that aims to better represent the mix of crude oils most often used in the U.S.

Platts, a division of McGraw-Hill ( MHP) and a leading publisher of energy data and analysis, is planning to launch the Americas Sour Marker, or ASM.

The ASM will be correlated with sour crude types in the Gulf Coast region instead of West Texas crude oil at Cushing, Okla., as is the West Texas Intermediate oil futures contract that is traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Platts asserts that the energy industry needs a new oil benchmark because production and refining of light, sweet crude is becoming increasingly uncommon in the U.S.

"There is a growing market consensus that WTI, priced at Cushing, Oklahoma nd usually viewed as a global reference price, is in fact functioning more as a local, landlocked crude with an increasingly tenuous relationship to the larger U.S. and international markets," according to Jorge Montepeque, global director of market reporting for Platts.

"The U.S. is in need of a strong benchmark to reflect physical market economics in the primary refining and production areas of the Gulf Coast," Montepeque said. "We believe that need has become more urgent and that the Americas Sour Marker will provide a valuable representation of market value for crude oil in the Americas."

The Nymex is adamantly defending the WTI futures contract and the role that it plays in setting the dominant market price of crude oil around the world.

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