Yom Kippur War - Arab Oil Embargo
In 1972 the price of crude oil was about $3.00 per barrel and by the end of 1974 the price of crude oil had quadrupled to over $12. The Yom Kippur War started with an attack on Israel by Syria and Egypt on October 5, 1973. The US and many countries in the western world showed support for Israel. As a result of this support for the victim of a multi-state surprise attack, several Arab exporting nations imposed an embargo on the countries supporting Israel. While Arab nations curtailed production by 5 million barrels per day (MMBPD) about 1 MMBPD was made up by increased production in other countries. The net loss of 4 MMBPD extended through March of 1974 and represented just 7 percent of the free world production.
If there was any doubt that the ability to control crude oil prices had passed from the United States to OPEC it was removed during the Arab Oil Embargo. The extreme sensitivity of prices to supply shortages of only 7% became all too apparent when prices increased 400% in only six months.
From 1974 to 1978 world crude oil prices were relatively flat ranging from $12.21 per barrel to $13.55 per barrel. When adjusted for inflation the price over that period of time world oil prices were in a period of moderate decline.
Crises in Iran and Iraq
Events in Iraq and Iran led to another round of crude oil price increases in 1979 and 1980. The Iranian revolution resulted in the loss of 2 to 2.5 MMBPD of oil production between November, 1978 and June, 1979. At one point production almost came to a halt.
While the Iranian revolution was the cause of what would be the highest prices in post-WWII history, its impact on prices would have been limited and of relatively short duration had it not been for subsequent events. Shortly after the revolution production was up to 4 million barrels per day.
Iran, weakened by the revolution, was invaded by Iraq in September, 1980. By November the combined production of both countries was only a million barrels per day and 6.5 million barrels per day less than a year before. As a consequence worldwide crude oil production was 10 percent lower than in 1979.
The combination of the Iranian revolution and the Iraq-Iran War caused crude oil prices to more than double increasing from from $14 in 1978 to $35 per barrel in 1981.
Twenty-six years later Iran’s production is only two-thirds of the level reached under the government of Reza Pahlavi, the former Shah of Iran.
Iraq’s production remains about 1.5 million barrels below its peak before the Iraq-Iran War.
US Oil Price Controls - Bad Policy?
The rapid increase in crude oil prices from 1973 to 1981 would have been much less were it not for United States poorly executed energy policy during the post Embargo period. The US imposed price controls on domestically produced oil in an attempt to lessen the impact of the 1973-74 price increase. The obvious result of the price controls was that U.S. consumers of crude oil paid about 50% more for imports than domestic production, and U.S producers received less than world market price. In effect, the domestic petroleum industry was subsidizing the US consumer.
Did the policy achieve its goal? In the short term, the recession induced by the 1973-1974 crude oil price rise was less because U.S. consumers faced lower prices than the rest of the world. However, it had other effects as well.
In the absence of price controls U.S. exploration and production would certainly have been significantly greater. Higher petroleum prices faced by consumers would have resulted in lower rates of consumption: automobiles would have had higher miles per gallon sooner, homes and commercial buildings would have been better insulated and improvements in industrial energy efficiency would have been greater than they were during this period. As a consequence, the United States would have been less dependent on imports in 1979-1980 and the price increase in response to Iranian and Iraqi supply interruptions would have been much less.
Part I - The History and Analysis of Crude Oil Prices
Part II - The History and Analysis of Crude Oil Prices
Part III - The History and Analysis of Crude Oil Prices
Part IV - The History and Analysis of Crude Oil Prices
Part V - The History and Analysis of Crude Oil Prices
Will post part IV tomorrow - “OPEC’s Failure to Control Crude Oil Prices”