The New Global Oil Market: Understanding Energy Issues in the World Economy

By Siamack Shojai | Go to book overview

Chapter 10 Oil Markets In Crisis: Major Oil Supply Disruptions Since 1973

Lowell S. Feld

It has now been more than 20 years since the world was shaken by the first in a series of "oil shocks." Before 1973, oil had been one of the most stable commodities, in terms of both price and reliability of supply. In fact, oil had for decades been so cheap, so plentiful, and so easily transportable that it had become the most desirable energy source for powering modern civilization. To fill Western societies' seemingly insatiable demand for oil, a great international network of large oil companies had evolved over the years. These corporations effectively controlled exploration, production, and marketing of oil, while also enjoying most of the profits associated with these activities. Meanwhile, the countries in which oil happened to be located were becoming increasingly disenchanted with this arrangement. For the most part, however, oil producing countries could do little about this situation until 1973. In that year, the countries seized an opportunity to change the situation, and world oil markets have not been the same since.


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Over the past 40 years, there have been 13 significant disruptions of oil supplies from the Middle East (see Table 10.1). Chronologically, by far the largest number of Middle East oil supply disruptions occurred in the 1970s (7), with 2 each taking place in the 1950s and 1960s, and 1 each in the 1980s and 1990s. These disruptions have varied in terms of cause, ranging from damage to oil facilities to war or other forms of civil unrest. They have also varied widely in terms of severity, although the vast majority have been relatively small (i.e., the 300,000 bpd oil supply loss in the case of the 1976 Lebanese civil war) and/or short-lived (i.e., the 1-month, 700,000 bpd disruption to a Saudi oilfield in May

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