22 December 1973: Opec more than doubles the price of oil
On this day in 1973 Opec, the oil price cartel, more than doubled the price of oil from $5.12 a barrel to $11.65.
On this day in 1973 Opec more than doubled the price of oil overnight from $5.12 a barrel – around $60 in today's money (the price of oil is currently around $50) – to $11.65 (around $145 now). The initial price was in fact as a result of being raised a few months earlier from $3. The price increase caused the legendary 1973 oil crisis, and was a major shock for the Western world economy.
The reason behind the price rise was political. Israel had just won the Yom Kippur War against Egypt and Syria – the two Arab countries had launched a surprise attack on Israel during the Jewish Yom Kippur festival with the aim of reversing the losses of the Six Day War in 1967 and reassert Arab claims over the region.
However, the Opec move was not designed against Israel. It was meant to hurt the United States who had quickly and heavily supplied Israel with military equipment to fight the war, as well as providing political support.
Richard Nixon, the US president at the time, created a new short term Energy Office to deal with the crisis. It implemented price controls which forced “old oil” to stay at a certain price, while newly discovered oil was allowed to be sold at market rates.
It was meant to reduce dependence on Arab oil by opening up new suppliers. However, the result was an artificial shortage in fuel because “old oil” disappeared from the market. To tackle this, the government introduced a rationing programme and even reduced the speed limit to 55mph to cut consumption.
Eventually, the crisis ended through a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Arab countries. Israel came out on top overall but relinquished some of the new land it had taken during the war.