Petroleum has played an important role in the social, economic, and political history of the the world.
The international system has encountered major energy crises in 1973, 1979, and 1990. All three of these crises coincided with increased social usage of petroleum as well as political turmoil in major exporting countries.
THE SUEZ CRISIS (1956/57)
The story of the Suez crisis is well-studied and known. In October 1956, French, British and Israeli forces jointly attacked Egypt following the nationalization of the Suez Canal, previously
owned by the Anglo-French Suez Canal Company. The subsequent closure of the Canal combined with a Saudi oil embargo, and sabotage to two pipelines of the Iraq Petroleum Company brought to a halt all flows of Middle Eastern oil to OEEC Europe. At the time, these amounted to 2 million b/d or close to 90% of regular deliveries.
In relative terms, this was the biggest oil shortage in the post-war period. Yet, it had a much smaller impact on the consumer’s world, compared to later crises. The main reason for that seems to be the high degree of coordination in the response to the crisis. European governments, led by the United States, gathered in a number of committees and managed to avert a major economic disaster.
The American oil companies, in coordination with the Administration, took an active role in supplying European countries with crude and products. The US role could be broken down to the
following elements: anti-trust exemption for the oil majors, availability of spare production and tanker capacity, early-on emergency planning and a requirement to work with European governments en bloc. These factors proved crucial in bringing cooperation, not only during Suez, but during all pre-1970 crises. The first two provided a security cushion for Europeans, which had the insurance that help was coming. The third gave them the opportunity to negotiate oil re-allocation within the OEEC oil committee.