- Absolute gas price: $0.66
- Inflation-adjusted price: $2.81 (#30 most expensive year in 84-year span)
Unemployment in 1976 had reached 7.7%, and President Jimmy Carter inherited a nation that was still in recovery from years of oil shortages, inflation, and general economic instability. Gas prices jumped up again this year, from $0.61 in 1976 to $0.66 in 1977, but the economy did prosper during Carter's first year in office, and unemployment rates fell for the two ensuing years.
- Absolute gas price: $0.67
- Inflation-adjusted price: $2.65 (#34 least expensive year in 84-year span)
Just a few years after the 1973 oil shock, a second crisis reared its head. Consumer inflation was steadily increasing, and though the Federal Reserve tried to combat this issue, it proved ineffective—prices were about to jump once more. The worst of the crisis would occur the following year, and the beginning of the Iranian Revolution helped set the stage.
- Absolute gas price: $0.90
- Inflation-adjusted price: $3.20 (#15 most expensive year in 84-year span)
The Iranian Revolution began in January 1978, disrupting the country's oil exportation process. Availability dropped as a consequence, but in reality, Iranian oil exportation only dropped by a small percentage. Nevertheless, the panic was enough to send gas prices around the globe skyrocketing once again. America was, for the second time in a decade, faced with high prices, long waits at the gas station, and extreme inflation. In November, the global situation worsened as the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis began.
- Absolute gas price: $1.25
- Inflation-adjusted price: $3.92 (#5 most expensive year in 84-year span)
After the oil crisis of 1979, gas prices surged once more in 1980, jumping from $0.90 to $1.25 per gallon as global oil prices peaked. Jimmy Carter's presidency was marked by inflation, gas shortages, and international crises, and despite his 1979 “crisis of confidence” speech, Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan.
- Absolute gas price: $1.38
- Inflation-adjusted price: $3.92 (#4 most expensive year in 84-year span)
In 1981, the oil and gasoline panic gave way to a glut, though as New York Times writer Daniel Yergin cautioned, the idea of a “glut” was a “dangerous and costly illusion.” There wasn't more oil, simply a change in demand for the product. High prices meant that demand and consumer interest had fallen, and this lack of demand created a global surplus in the oil market. Additionally, the Reagan administration effectively deregulated the oil market. Suppliers were suddenly more eager to sell, as higher interest rates increased the cost of keeping large amounts of stock. Though prices rose again in 1981, they were moving closer to pre-crisis numbers.
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- Absolute gas price: $1.30
- Inflation-adjusted price: $3.48 (#9 most expensive year in 84-year span)
The automobile industry struggled throughout the 1980s, and one unlucky victim of this hardship was the DeLorean. Made iconic by its role in the “Back to the Future” franchise, the Delorean was already famous due to the lavish legacy of its founder, John Z. DeLorean. In October 1982, however, DeLorean shuttered its doors. Perhaps the option of a 24-karat gold-plated DeLorean, retailing at $85,000, simply didn't have enough mass-market appeal.
- Absolute gas price: $1.24
- Inflation-adjusted price: $3.22 (#14 most expensive year in 84-year span)
Gas prices still hovered at levels far above their pre-crisis numbers in 1983. Just five years prior, gas was $0.67, almost half the price in 1983. The “oil glut” of the 1980s was causing prices to drop to the point where major oil suppliers marked down their crude oil to as little as $5 a barrel. This came in sharp contrast to the globally jacked-up oil prices of just a few years prior, but since demand for gasoline had fallen so sharply, oil suppliers were forced to slash prices.
- Absolute gas price: $1.21
- Inflation-adjusted price: $3.01 (#18 most expensive year in 84-year span)
Between the 1960s and the 1980s, global awareness of the fossil fuel industry's impact on the environment grew rapidly. A 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara garnered public condemnation of offshore drilling, and in the early '80s, Congress banned new offshore drilling in most parts of the country's coastal waters. However, offshore drilling continues in areas of the Gulf of Mexico, and as regulations shift, this practice makes up a higher and higher percentage of the United States' total oil production.
- Absolute gas price: $1.20
- Inflation-adjusted price: $2.88 (#22 most expensive year in 84-year span)
As environmental awareness and concern began to take root, the government turned its attention towards the automobile industry with regards to fuel economy standards. In 1975, Congress introduced the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which set standards intended to double the average car's fuel economy by model year 1985. As a result, the average mileage in a passenger vehicle jumped from 13.5 miles per gallon in 1975 to 27.5 miles per gallon a decade later. Light truck fuel economy also increased, and many Americans paid less for gas in total (even though prices per gallon were still fairly high at $1.20).
- Absolute gas price: $0.93
- Inflation-adjusted price: $2.19 (#15 least expensive year in 84-year span)
Oil prices collapsed in 1986, as Saudi Arabia changed course in its approach to the oil market. Rather than drumming up prices as it had in the past, it increased production in an attempt to dominate its share of the global market. Oil prices were plummeting and gas prices dropped 27 cents from the year prior, with a sweeping impact on the American economy and job market. The oil and gas extraction industry lost 150,000 jobs over the course of the year.
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