No one likes to wait on line, but can you imagine being in line for hours in a station wagon with screaming kids in the back seat, waiting to fill up your tank? That's how it was 40 years ago, when the Arab Oil Embargo created an energy crisis that forced millions of Americans into hours-long lines at the tanks every time they needed gas.
The 40th anniversary of the start of the embargo, on Oct. 17, 1973, is marked with irony as the U.S. has now surpassed Saudi Arabia in oil and natural gas production, according to a recent report released by Pira Energy Group. Saudi Arabia was the main Arab oil-producing state that pushed for the embargo. The embargo banned crude oil exports to the U.S. and introduced a 5 percent cut in oil production each month.
The Arab oil-producing states were punishing the U.S. for supplying Israel with military aid after the Jewish state suffered heavy losses at the hands of Syrian and Egyptian forces who launched a surprise attack in the first week of October, 1973.
The embargo's direct impact was a 40 percent increase in gasoline prices. The embargo also triggered nationwide fuel shortages and sparked a scramble for new supplies to cover short and long-term needs.
Today the energy landscape has changed thanks in part to new technologies that can tap previously unreachable reserves, like fracking and horizontal drilling.
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Thanks to demand, and the aforementioned technologies, the U.S. recently surpassed Saudi Arabia as the top oil and natural gas producer and is on track to become a crude exporter should current laws change to allow that. The U.S. is producing approximately 300,000 barrels of oil per day more than Saudi Arabia and around 1.6 million barrels of oil per day more than Russia.
“Compared to 40 years ago, today the United States is in a growing position of strength with respect to the global energy landscape,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told the International Business Times.
How far the U.S. has come. At the time of the 1973 embargo U.S. oil consumption was rising while domestic stocks fell. The nation's reliance on oil from the very countries refusing to sell it to the U.S. grew, leaving gas stations dry and consumers frustrated.
As the U.S. realized its reliance on imported oil was unsustainable it began implementing conservation and production policies launched during the Nixon administration and continuing today.
“Thanks to today’s expanding wealth of energy resources, falling dependence on foreign oil, and the emergence of cleaner and renewable energy sources, our country is headed towards a more secure energy future,” Wyden said. “For the 50th anniversary of the oil embargo, our goal should be not just energy security, but to end dependence on overseas petroleum imports.”
For a more in depth look at the Arab oil embargo check out this weeks magazine feature, with info-graphics.