The Energy Embargo of 1973

In 1973, there was a sudden and unpredicted interruption of the supply of petroleum to the world. The result was alarming, with citizens no longer able to drive their cars, long lines at the gas pumps, and a lot of posturing by elected officials on just what to do about it.

But was this an "energy shortage"? Not really; there was no shortage of any type of energy except those derived from petroleum, and there was no real shortage of petroleum. There was plenty of petroleum available, but those who provided it had decided they weren't being paid enough for it.  Although I'm generally not prone to providing references, I do present one reference supporting this contention.

It's tempting to blame the oil suppliers of the Mideast for their greed, but they were only doing what any businessmen would have done -- and what most intelligent businessmen would have done a lot sooner!

The result, of course, was that the price of a gallon of gasoline (here in the US) jumped from 30 cents/gallon to over a dollar, with corresponding increases in other countries. Other results included a "windfall profits tax" levied on our domestic oil producers, a nationwide speed limit of 55 mph (87 kph) (which, in fact, was repealed twenty years later), and several government bureaucracies established to force or compel us to use less energy.

Most people, when asked about the connection, will readily agree that the 1973 Oil Embargo was not the result of a real energy shortage, but assert that it made us aware of the limitations of the supply of petroleum and brought us a new consciousness of the realities of energy limitations.

It is true that the events of 1973 started it all. But the logic that brought us to the conclusion that energy is a precious and limited resource is faulty. Petroleum is only one source of energy, one of many, and is only of mediocre importance in the overall energy picture for centuries to come. And the concept of "running out of oil" is misunderstood by most.

Petroleum: a limited resource

Alternative Fuels

Military/National Defense impacts

What the future will bring


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