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  • the 1980s oil glut caused the world price of oil, which had peaked during the 1979 energy crisis at over US$35 per barrel, to dip below US$15 in the early 1980s?

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The Real and Nominal price of oil from 1968 to 2006.[1]

The 1980s oil glut was a surplus of crude oil caused by falling demand following the 1970s Energy Crisis. The world price of oil, which had peaked in 1980 at over US$35 per barrel ($91 per barrel in today's terms), fell in 1986 from $27 to below $10 ($52 to $19 today).[2][3] The glut began in the early 1980s as a result of slowed economic activity in industrial countries (due to the crises of the 1970s, especially in 1973 and 1979) and the energy conservation spurred by high fuel prices[4]. The inflation adjusted real 2004 dollar value of oil fell from an average of $78.2 in 1981 to an average of $26.8 per barrel in 1986.[5]

In June 1981, The New York Times stated an "Oil glut! ... is here" [6] and Time Magazine stated: "the world temporarily floats in a glut of oil," [7] though the next week a New York Times article warned that the word "glut" was misleading, and that in reality, while temporary surpluses had brought down prices somewhat, prices were still well above pre-energy crisis levels.[8] This sentiment was echoed in November 1981, when the CEO of Exxon Corp also characterized the glut as a temporary surplus, and that the word "glut" was an example of "our American penchant for exaggerated language." He wrote that the main cause of the glut was declining consumption. In the United States, Europe and Japan, oil consumption had fallen 13% from 1979 to 1981, due to "in part, in reaction to the very large increases in oil prices by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil exporters," continuing a trend begun during the 1973 price increases.[9]

After 1980, reduced demand and overproduction produced a glut on the world market, causing a six-year-long decline in oil prices culminating with a 46 percent price drop in 1986.

Detailed analysis of changes in oil price from 1970-2007. The graph is based on the nominal, not real, price of oil.



The 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 oil crisis turned oil from a cheap to a very expensive energy source. During the 1973 energy crisis, the price of oil quadrupled. [10] Oil never returned to pre-1973 levels, either in real or nominal terms, even during the 1980s glut.

The nominal price continued its slow increase after the crisis ended. Six years later, the price more than doubled during the 1979 energy crisis. [10] OPEC and Saudi Arabia artificially raised the price of oil several times in 1979 and 1980. Also during this time, several OPEC members significantly lowered their production levels, the Iran hostage crisis occurred, and the Iran–Iraq War began.

There was fear that the world's oil market supply was tenuous[11], causing the price of oil to escalate [12] and that OPEC would dictate very high prices in a shortage.


OPEC, Non-OPEC, & World oil production, 1973-2004 [13]


During the 1980s, non-OPEC production increased worldwide. [13]


In April 1979, Jimmy Carter signed an executive order which was to remove market controls from petroleum products by October 1981, so that prices would be wholly determined by the free market. Ronald Reagan signed an executive order on January 28, 1981 which enacted this reform immediately,[14] allowing the free market to adjust oil prices in the US.[15] This ended the withdrawal of old oil from the market and artificial scarcity, encouraging increased oil production. The US Oil Windfall profits tax was lowered in August 1981 and removed in 1988, ending disincentives to US oil producers.


From 1980 to 1986, OPEC decreased oil production several times and nearly in half to maintain oil's high prices. However, it failed to hold on to its preeminent position, and by 1981, its production was surpassed by Non-OPEC countries. OPEC had seen its share of the world market drop to less than a third in 1985, from nearly half during the 1970s.[16] In Feb 1982, the Boston Globe reported that OPEC's production, which had previously peaked in 1977, was at its lowest level since 1969. Non-OPEC nations were at that time supplying most of the West's imports.[17]

OPEC's membership began to have divided opinions over what actions to take. In September 1985, Saudi Arabia, tried to gain market share by increasing production, creating a "huge surplus that angered many of their colleagues in OPEC".[18] High-cost oil production facilities became less or even not profitable.

US imports

The US imported 28 percent of its oil in 1982 and 1983, down from 46.5 percent in 1977, due to lower consumption. Reliance on Middle East sources dwindled even further as Britain, Mexico, Nigeria and Norway joined Canada in the forefront of American suppliers. [16]

Imported crude oil from Libya was banned in the United States on March 10, 1982. [19]

Reduced demand

OPEC had relied on the price elasticity of demand of oil to maintain high consumption, but underestimated the extent to which other sources of supply would become profitable as prices increased. Electricity generation from nuclear power and natural gas[20]; home heating from natural gas; and ethanol blended gasoline all reduced the demand for oil. New passenger car fuel economy rose from 17 mpg in 1978 to more than 22 mpg in 1982, an increase of more than 30 percent.[21]


OPEC net oil export revenues for 1971 - 2007.[22]

The 1986 oil price collapse benefited oil-consuming countries such as the United States, Japan, Europe, and Third World nations, but represented a serious loss in revenue for oil-producing countries in northern Europe, the Soviet Union, and OPEC.

In 1981, before the brunt of the glut, Time Magazine wrote that in general, "A glut of crude causes tighter development budgets" in some oil-exporting nations. [23] In a handful of heavily populated impoverished countries whose economies were largely dependent on oil production — including Mexico, Nigeria, Algeria, and Libya — government and business leaders failed to prepare for a market reversal.

With the drop in oil prices, OPEC lost its unity. Oil exporters such as Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela, whose economies had expanded in the 1970s, were plunged into near-bankruptcy. Even Saudi Arabian economic power was significantly weakened.

Iraq had fought a long and costly war against Iran, and had particularly weak revenues. It was upset by Kuwait contributing to the glut[24] and allegedly pumping oil from the Rumaila field below their common border[25]. Iraq invaded Kuwait territory in 1990, planning to increase reserves and revenues and cancel the debt, resulting in the first Gulf War.[25]

The USSR had become a major oil producer before the glut. The drop of oil prices contributed to the nation's final collapse [26].

In the US, domestic exploration declined dramatically, and the number of active drilling rigs was nearly halved in 1982." Oil producers held back on the search for new oilfields for fear of losing on their investments[27]. In May 2007, companies like ExxonMobil were not making nearly the investment in finding new oil today that they did in 1981.[28]

See also

External links

Further reading

  • World Hydrocarbon Markets: Current Status, Projected Prospects, and Future Trends, (1983), By Miguel S. Wionczek, ISBN 0080299628
  • The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power,(1993) , by Daniel Yergin, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0671799320 & ISBN 0671502484
  • The Oil Market in the 1980s: A Decade of Decline, (1992), by Siamack Shojai, Bernard S. Katz, Praeger/Greenwood, ISBN 0275933806


  1. ^ Annual Energy Review 2006, Energy Information Administration
  2. ^ ROBERT D. HERSHEY JR. (1989-12-30). "Worrying Anew Over Oil Imports". The New York Times.  
  3. ^ "Oil Prices Pass Record Set in ’80s, but Then Recede". New York Time. 2008-03-08.  
  4. ^ "Oil Glut, Price Cuts: How Long Will They Last?". 89. U.S. News & World Report. 1980-08-18. p. 44.  
  5. ^ Oak Ridge National Lab data
  6. ^ Robert D Hershey Jr. (1981-06-21). "How the oil glut is changing business". New York Times.  
  7. ^ Christopher Byron (1981-06-22). "Problems for Oil Producers". Time Magazine.,8816,950550,00.html.  
  8. ^ DANIEL YERGIN (1981-06-28). "The Energy Outlook; LULLED TO SLEEP BY THE OIL GLUT MIRAGE". Section 3; Page 2, Column 3. New York Times.  
  9. ^ C. C. Garvin Jr. (November 9, 1981). The oil glut in perspective. Annual API Issue; Pg. 151. Oil & Gas Journal.  
  10. ^ a b "The price of oil - in context". Retrieved 2007-05-29.  
  11. ^ Christopher Byron (1977-10-10). "Yes, There Is An Energy Crisis". Time Magazine.,8816,915580,00.html.  
  12. ^ "Guessing What's There". Time Magazine. 1977-05-02.,8816,947929,00.html.  
  13. ^ a b EIA - International Energy Data and Analysis
  14. ^ "Executive Order 12287 -- Decontrol of Crude Oil and Refined Petroleum Products". January 28, 1981.  
  15. ^ Edward Weiner (1999). Urban Transportation Planning in the United States An Historical Overview. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. p. 112. ""By September 30, 1981, petroleum prices were to be determined by the free market. This process was accelerated by President Reagan through an Executive Order""  
  16. ^ a b Worrying Anew Over Oil Imports - New York Times
  17. ^ David Warsh (1982-02-28). "The economy: the oil glut deepens; OPEC's grip loosens; but a boom or a bomb could spur prices back up". Boston Globe.  
  18. ^ Stephen Koepp (1986-04-14). "Cheap Oil!". Time Magazine.,8816,961087,00.html.  
  19. ^ "Proclamation 4907 -- Imports of Petroleum". President of the United States. 1982-03-10.  
  20. ^ Ferenc L. Toth, Hans-Holger Rogner, (2006). "Oil and nuclear power: Past, present, and future" (in English) (PDF). Energy Economics 28 (1–25): pg. 3.  
  21. ^ Paul R. Portney, Ian W.H. Parry, Howard K. Gruenspecht, and Winston Harrington (November 2003). The Economics of Fuel Economy Standards. Resources For The Future.  
  22. ^ EIA Fact sheet
  23. ^ Christopher Byron (1981-06-22). "Problems for Oil Producers". Time Magazine.,8816,950550,00.html.  
  24. ^ Ted Thornton (2007-01-12). "The Gulf Wars: Iraq Occupies Kuwait" (in English). Northfield Mount Hermon School.  
  25. ^ a b David L. Rousseau. "History of OPEC" (in English) (PDF).  
  26. ^ Charles Ganske. "The Long War in the Middle East and Russian Oil" (in English).  
  27. ^ Oil, Oil Everywhere -
  28. ^ Justin Fox (2007-05-31). "No More Gushers for ExxonMobil" (in English). Time magazine.,9171,1626994,00.html.  


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