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Is the Current Gas Crisis Worse Than the Gas Shortage in the 1970s?

Danielle Letenyei - Author

Mar. 4 2022, Published 3:02 p.m. ET

In 2022, gas prices are off the chain, and analysts warn they could reach as high as $5 per gallon. Currently, the national average cost for gas sits at $3.78, with some states like California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada already over $4 per gallon. The price motorists are paying at the pump is creating an even bigger crisis than the 1970s gas shortage.

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The U.S. experienced one of the biggest gas shortages in history during the 1970s. The crisis's impact was so significant that it led to the enactment of the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit and the introduction of daylight savings time.

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What caused the 1970s gas shortage?

Currently, the skyrocketing gas prices are partially due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, the 1970s gas crisis was fueled by a war between Israel and the Arab nations surrounding it.

The oil shortage began in October 1973 when OPEC placed an embargo on oil exports to the U.S. as punishment for the U.S. support of Israel. OPEC wasn’t happy about the decision by U.S. lawmakers to re-supply the Israeli military and gain leverage in post-war peace negotiations. OPEC also placed embargoes on Portugal, South Africa, and the Netherlands for those countries' support of Israel.

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Back in the 1970s, the U.S. was more dependent on foreign oil than it is today. The strain on the country caused by the embargo and limited supply of oil caused gas prices to nearly double to 55 cents per gallon.

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Gas stations around the country were running out of gas. They would post green, yellow, and red flags to indicate how much gas supply they had left. Motorists lined up at the pumps hoping to fill up their vehicles before the station ran out of gas. Some stations started using an odd-even rationing system that would only allow vehicles with odd numbers as the last digit of their license plate to get gas on odd-numbered dates and vice versa for even-numbered dates.

How long did the gas shortage last in the 1970s?

In March 1974, OPEC lifted the embargo amid talk of a settlement negotiated between Israel and Syria. However, the gas shortage crisis wasn’t over just yet. In 1979, the U.S. was hit with another oil shortage that sent gas prices climbing. This time, the oil shortage was due to protests in Iran, the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini in that country, and the imminent Iranian Revolution. The unrest also caused oil shortages in Iran’s neighboring country, Iraq.

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jimmy carter
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Again, the price of crude oil doubled, and long lines returned at gas stations. This time, the U.S. imposed an embargo on foreign oil. Calling the oil crisis “the moral equivalent to war,” then-President Jimmy Carter imposed an embargo on Iranian oil after Iranian revolutionaries seized the American Embassy in their country.

Oil prices didn’t return to normal until the mid-1980s.


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