Gold exchange traded funds have played a role in the metal’s historic rally, but now some are wondering whether the ETFs could speed a decline in gold prices on the way down, according to a report Monday.

“Analysts generally say it’s difficult to quantify the effect of funds that hold bullion on the price of gold, but agree that the growth of their holdings has helped fuel the surge in the metal’s price in recent years,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “And that suggests that a drop in those holdings could contribute to a decline in the price of gold, which already is well below its recent peak.”

SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD) is the largest gold ETF with assets of $65.1 billion and bullion holdings of more than 40 million ounces, or about 1,255 metric tons. Another ETF, iShares Gold Trust (NYSEArca: IAU), has $8.9 billion in assets and 171 tons of gold. The funds rose about 10% last year to extend their winning streak. [Can Gold Fund Reclaim Title of World’s Largest ETF?]

In 2009 and 2010, ETF inflows represented 13% of total global demand for gold, according to the WSJ article. Gold ETFs have become a popular tool for investors of all stripes to gain access to the yellow metal, including hedge funds. They offer low fees and the ability to buy and sell during the trading day. [Gold ETFs and Hedge Funds]

“While that easy access to the market hasn’t been the dominant factor in the recent volatility of the gold price, it has contributed to the market’s skittishness,” the newspaper reported. [Gold ETFs Eye 200-Day Average]

Bullion holdings in gold ETFs have pulled back a bit from the record highs seen in mid-December. [Are ETF Flows Sending a Warning Signal on Gold?]

Gold prices, meanwhile, have climbed back above $1,600 an ounce but are down by about $300 from the all-time nominal high recorded over the summer.