This fall marks the fortieth anniversary of the Arab oil embargo, a painful episode in American history that had a profound effect on both the economy and psyche of the United States. It began in mid-October 1973, following the US decision to resupply Israel with weaponry after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.
In response to President Nixon’s decision, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Arab members of OPEC, declared an embargo and cut off oil supplies to the United States and its allies.
In the three months after the embargo was announced, oil prices quadrupled, from $3 to $12 per barrel. Yes, twelve bucks would be a monumental bargain in these days of $100-a-barrel crude, but back then it sent shock waves through developed country economies.
Meanwhile, the supply disruptions forced motorists to wait for hours in long lines to get gasoline. The US government response was largely limited to attempts to reduce consumption, by lowering the national speed limit to 55 mph and asking people to refrain from decorating with holiday lights, to reduce the use of oil that then powered many generating plants.
During the 1970s, Washington also launched efforts that still continue today. Those efforts would purportedly increase the nation’s energy independence by promoting conservation and energy-efficient appliances, nuclear power, and “alternative” energy development via tax breaks, mandates and subsidies for ethanol, wind and solar energy. Our three branches of state and federal government did very little to expand leasing and drilling, onshore or offshore, in the Lower 48 States or in Alaska; much to block such development; and little to encourage these activities.
In August 1973, just before the embargo, even enacting a law to end incessant lawsuits over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline passed Congress by a single vote (by Vice President Spiro Agnew, following a 49-49 Senate vote). After the embargo hit, Congress finally authorized building the pipeline.
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