Have We Reached a "New Normal" in Oil Prices?

By Editors

The talk among oil experts over the past five years is that we have now passed through the era of "easy oil." Somewhere around 2006 we hit the "peak oil" that everybody had been predicting since M. King Hubbert made his observations since in the 1950s.

Well, it appears to have happened. But we didn't fall off the edge of the earth. Instead, other unconventional sources that were too expensive before have kicked into gear. Fracking technology opened up the Bakken Shale. Canada started developing its tar sands. And high prices have encouraged a lot of conservation. All of a sudden, oil is plentiful again, it's just more expensive.

So here we are. The graph, provided by EconomBrowser, shows that after a roller coaster ride over the last four years, prices have settled in at about $100 a barrel. The big step up in 1973 was the result of world trade shifting to the producers (the result of American domestic production peaking in 1970) and the weird spike in 1980 was entirely the result of oil price controls. After that, things settled down to another "new normal" where prices weren't much higher than pre-1973. But growing demand and the end of "easy oil" eventually caused the spike of 2008. The resulting recession pushed them down again but now we've settled in around $100. As EconomBrowser says, "We've been seeing oil over $100 a barrel and gasoline above $3.40 a gallon for much of the last 3 years. Those prices would have shocked many Americans a few years ago, but have now become the new normal." Not as painful as expected, perhaps.

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