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JC History Tuition - What is OPEC - Oil Shocks - Global Economy Notes

What is OPEC?

Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]: 
Paper 1: Understanding the Global Economy (1945-2000)
Section B: Essay Writing
Theme II Chapter 1: Problems of economic liberalisation

Find out more about the role of the OPEC to understand how its output decisions influence global oil prices.

History of the OPEC
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed in September 1960. Its five founding members comprised of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Venezuela. The OPEC was established with a central aim of price stabilization for oil producers through discussions.

Before OPEC, seven multinational corporations dominated the petroleum industry since the mid-1940s. They were commonly known as the “Seven Sisters”, which consisted of

  • Anglo-Persian Oil Company [British Petroleum]
  • Gulf Oil
  • Standard Oil for California [Chevron]
  • Texaco
  • Royal Dutch Shell
  • Standard Oil Company for New Jersey [Exxon]
  • Standard Oil Company for New York [Mobil]

Ever since its establishment, the OPEC membership continued to grow (such as Algeria, Nigeria, Ecuador and Gabon). As of 2019, the OPEC has 14 members.

The “Black Gold”: Energy Crisis of the 1970s
In 1973, the OPEC members reduced oil output and caused a spike in the oil prices. Its consequences were devastating to many oil-dependent economies since it is an essential resource for industrialization. In 1979, the oil price surged extensively in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. By 1980, global oil price had peaked over US$35 per barrel.

Examine the trends to understand the volatility of oil prices, especially the 1970s and 1980s
[Chart taken from the World Economic Forum]

Even the economic giant, USA, was not spared from this unilateral action by the OPEC. The unprecedented impacts included stagflation (high inflation rates and economic stagnation) that forced households to conserve oil consumption for the first time in U.S. history.

Petrodollar Recycling
OPEC members benefited tremendously from this oil spike. With the increased in earning from oil exports (also known as ‘petrodollars’), these oil exporters engaged in petrodollar recycling, in which their money was loaned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Then, the IMF used these loans to finance the balance of payment deficits by oil-importing countries.

However, these non-oil exporting countries were disadvantaged, especially for the Latin American nations in the 1970s. Over time, these borrowing nations had growing debts that later gave rise to the Third World Debt Crisis in the 1980s.

The Oil Glut of 1986
By mid-1980s, some countries had reduced their dependence on oil to sustain economic development. For instance, advanced economies like USA and France explored alternative energy. Likewise, Japanese auto firms engaged in innovation to produce fuel-efficient automobiles. These developments led to the falling demand for oil in the global petroleum industry.

On the other hand, there were emerging oil producers that did not belong to the OPEC that engaged in oil extraction. In 1980, the Canadian Government introduced the National Energy Program to promote self-sufficiency for oil. As such, the increase in supply from these alternative sources had diminished the share of the OPEC members.

OPEC went for a last-ditch attempt to maintain high oil prices by decreasing oil production from 1980 to 1986. However, these efforts were unsuccessful. In 1986, oil price plunged from $27 to nearly above $10 per barrel.

Recent Developments
In view of the COVID-2019, the decreased economic activities (such as airline flights) led to the fall in demand for oil. OPEC has held online meetings to contemplate on the decrease in oil production. However, some countries are hesitant to follow through as Saudi Arabia takes the lead.

On 20 April 2020, the US crude oil (West Texas intermediate crude, WTI) plunged from US$17.85 a barrel to negative US$37.63 a barrel. This is a typical scenario in which oil glut combined with falling demand results in falling oil prices, such that there is negative crude oil price.

Negative oil prices for US WTI on 20 April 2020
[Published on BBC; Source: Bloomberg]

What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– Assess the economic impacts of volatile oil prices in affecting the development of the global economy from 1945 to 2000 [to be discussed in class].

Join our JC History Tuition and learn how to organise your learning materials to do well for the essay writing component at the A Level examination. Our online lessons feature content discussion and class practices to review knowledge application.

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JC History Tuition Bishan Bedok Tampines Singapore - What caused the energy crisis of the 1970s - JC History Essays

What caused the energy crisis of the 1970s?

What was the oil shocks about?
Following a period of rapid economic modernization, also known as the ‘Golden Age of Capitalism‘, the world witnessed a sudden turn of events that resulted in the gradual decline in this fast-paced growth, ushering the ‘Crisis Decades‘. The twin oil shocks that took place in 1973 and 1979 were the result of geopolitical conflicts that involved the key driver of the global economy – USA – as well as the OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) that dictated the output of oil. In general, the surge in oil prices dealt a significant blow to many economies, including USA, reflecting the significance of oil as an essential resource for households and firms.

Learn more about the causes and consequences of the energy crisis of the 1970s

Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]: 
Paper 1: Understanding the Global Economy (1945-2000)
Section B: Essay Writing
Theme II Chapter 2: Reasons for problems of the global economy 

In the next section, we will look at the background causes to understand what happened during the energy crisis of the 1970s.

1. [USA] 1973 Oil Crisis: Causes
There were two major factors that contributed to the start of the 1973 Oil Crisis – the dismantling of the ‘Gold Standard’ (US Dollars -Gold) fixed exchange rate system as well as the Yom Kippur War.

On 15 Aug 1971, US President Nixon announced that the United States would cease to maintain the Gold-USD standard fixed exchange rate system, which was based on the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement. Consequently, the loss of market confidence towards the USD resulted in its depreciation (fall in currency value). In contrast, many firms and investors valued gold, contributing to the surge in gold prices.

However, the depreciation of USD undermined the OPEC as their export revenue (earnings from the sale of oil) was in USD. Therefore, OPEC lost a significant proportion of its export earnings.

The second factor was the Yom Kippur War, which began on 6 Oct 1973. Following Israel’s victory during the Six-Day War in 1967, both Egypt and Syria deployed its military to attack Israel on a religious day for the Jewish population, known as the Yom Kippur. Several weeks later, Nixon sought Congress funding of $2.2 billion to provide military backing for Israel.

2. [OPEC] Oil Embargo of 1973: Consequences
In view of the American intervention in the Yom Kippur War, the OPEC members in the Middle East, such as Egypt and Syria, protested by engaging in an oil embargo. This embargo persisted even after the end of the Yom Kippur War, thus triggering a global energy crisis.

The price of crude oil surged from $3/barrel to $12/barrel in 1974. The oil crisis was arguably a major cause of the economic recession in the developed economies from 1973 to 1975.

In the US, the economy experienced stagflation, in which there was high inflation, high unemployment and slow economic growth rates. Unemployment rate peaked at 9% in 1975.

In the UK, it experienced a fall in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by 3.9% in the same time period. Also, the UK experienced double-digit inflation that went beyond 20%.

3. [USA & OPEC] 1979 Oil Crisis: Causes
The energy crisis resurfaced in the late 1970s. Primarily, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a major contributing factor that led to the spike in oil prices. After the departure of the Shah of Iran, the world supply of crude oil fell significantly.

4. 1979 Oil Shocks: Consequences
Similar to the 1973 energy crisis, the oil shortage was detrimental to the oil-dependent economies. The price of crude oil increased to nearly $40/barrel from 1979 to 1980.

In the US, many households were forced to undergo conservation, since petrol and fuel were needed for transport and other domestic purposes (like cooking). Also, the automobile companies, such as Detroit’s “Big Three” (General Motors, Chrysler and Ford) suffered from the oil spike.

In contrast, Japanese manufacturers adapted to the situation by producing fuel-efficient automobiles, which then captured a significant market share in the global industry.

On a separate but related note, the OPEC earned a significant sum from the sale of petroleum exports – known as ‘petrodollars’. OPEC members then placed their earnings in international banks, which were handed out to developing nations as loans. Later, this petrodollar recycling process was known to have contributed to the ‘Third World Debt Crisis‘ of the 1980s.

What can we learn from this case study?
Consider the following questions to understand this economic issue:
– How far do you agree that the energy crisis of the 1970s was more significant than the debt crises of the 1980s in causing the problems of the global economy? [to be discussed in class]

Now that you have studied the key considerations, you can enhance your knowledge application skills through the answering of History Essay questions. Join our JC History Tuition and find out how we teach you to form clear and logical arguments to answer fundamental and complex questions effectively and efficiently.

Furthermore, we offer other complementary JC tuition classes, such as GP Tuition, Economics Tuition, JC Chemistry Tuition, JC Math Tuition and China Studies in English Tuition. For Secondary Tuition classes, we offer Secondary English Tuition, Secondary Math tuition, Secondary Chemistry Tuition and Secondary Economics Tuition. Call 9689 0510 to learn more.