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The 1979 (or second) oil crisis in the United Statesmarker occurred in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. Amid massive protests, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, fled his country in early 1979, allowing the Ayatollah Khomeini to gain control. The protests shattered the Iranian oil sector. While the new regime resumed oil exports, it was inconsistent and at a lower volume, forcing prices to go up. Saudi Arabiamarker and other OPEC nations, under the presidency of Dr. Mana Alotaiba increased production to offset the decline, and the overall loss in production was about 4 percent. However, a widespread panic resulted, driving the price far higher than would be expected under normal circumstances.

In 1980, following the Iraqi invasion of Iran, oil production in Iran nearly stopped, and Iraq's oil production was severely cut as well.

After 1980, oil prices began a six-year decline that culminated with a 46 percent price drop in 1986. This was due to reduced demand and over-production, which caused OPEC to lose its unity. Oil exporters such as Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela expanded production. Ending of price controls allowed the US and Europe to get more oil from Prudhoe Baymarker and the North Seamarker.


In November 1978, a strike by 37,000 workers at Iran's nationalized oil refineries initially reduced production from per day to about . Foreign workers (including skilled oil workers) fled the country. On January 16, 1979, Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife left Iran at the behest of Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar (a long time opposition leader himself), who sought to calm down the situation.

Effect on Other OPEC members

OPEC net oil export revenues for 1971 - 2007.
The rise in oil price benefited other OPEC members, which made record profits.

Effect on the United States

Line at a gas station in Maryland, USA, June 15, 1979.
Richard Nixon had imposed price controls on domestic oil, which had helped cause shortages that led to gasoline lines during the 1973 Oil Crisis. Gasoline controls were repealed, but controls on domestic US oil remained. The Jimmy Carter administration began a phased deregulation of oil prices on April 5, 1979, when the average price of crude oil was US$15.85 per barrel (42 US gallons). Over the next 12 months the price of crude oil rose to $39.50 per barrel (its all time highest real price until March 7, 2008.) Deregulating domestic oil price controls allowed domestic U.S. oil output to rise sharply from the large Prudhoe Baymarker fields, while oil imports fell sharply. Hence, long lines appeared at gas stations, as they had six years earlier during the 1973 oil crisis.

As the average vehicle of the time consumed between two to three liters (about 0.5-0.8 gallons) of gasoline (petrol) an hour while idling, it was estimated that Americans wasted up to of oil per day idling their engines in the lines at gas stations.
Gas coupon printed but not issued during the 1979 energy crisis
During the period, many people believed the oil companies artificially created oil shortages to drive up prices, rather than factors beyond human control or the US' own price controls. The amount of oil sold in the United States in 1979 was only 3.5 percent less than the record set for oil sold the year previously.

Many politicians proposed gas rationing; one such proponent was Harry Hughes, Governor of Maryland, who proposed odd-even rationing (only people with an odd-numbered license plate could purchase gas on an odd-numbered day), as was used during the 1973 Oil Crisis. Several states actually implemented odd-even gas rationing, including Pennsylvaniamarker, New Jerseymarker, and Texasmarker. Coupons for gasoline rationing were printed but were never actually used during the 1979 crisis.

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter outlined his plans to reduce oil imports and improve energy efficiency in his "Crisis of Confidence" speech (sometimes known as the "malaise" speech). It is often said that during the speech, Carter wore a cardigan (he actually wore a blue suit) and encouraged citizens to do what they could to reduce their use of energy. He had already installed solar power panels on the roof of the White Housemarker and a wood-burning stove in the living quarters. However, the panels were removed in 1986, reportedly for roof maintenance, during the administration of his successor, Ronald Reagan, and were never replaced.

Carter's speech argued the oil crisis was "the moral equivalent of war". Several months later, in January 1980, Carter issued the Carter Doctrine, which declared that any interference with U.S. oil interests in the Persian Gulfmarker would be considered an attack on the vital interests of the United States. Additionally, as part of his administration's efforts at deregulation, Carter proposed removing price controls that had been imposed in the administration of Richard Nixon before the 1973 crisis. Carter agreed to remove price controls in phases; they were finally dismantled in 1981 under Reagan. He also said he would impose a windfall profit tax on oil companies. While the regulated price of domestic oil was kept to $6 a barrel, the world market price was $30.

In 1980, the U.S. Government established the Synthetic Fuels Corporation to produce an alternative to imported fossil fuels.

Oil patch

When the price of West Texas intermediate crude oil increased 250 percent between 1978 and 1980, the oil-producing areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming, and Alaska began experiencing an economic boom and population inflows.

Automobile fuel economy

At the same time, Detroit's then-Big Three automakers (Ford, Chrysler, GM) were marketing downsized automobiles which met the CAFE fuel economy mandates passed in 1978; by the mid-1980s, a majority of rear wheel drive (RWD) family sedans and station wagons sold poorly despite government mandates from CAFE; vehicles like the Ford Fairmont and Dodge St. Regis were short-lived in response to second energy crisis.

GM's Cadillac division experimented with their V8-6-4 power plant (the ancestor of the modern-day Active Fuel Management and/or variable displacement), which was a market failure.

When RWD family sedans were marketed during this era, this is where Japanese imports were building inroads; by the start of the 1980s, every automaker was making the transition to front-wheel drive.

See also

Further reading


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