AMERICA OUT OF GAS: Haunting Images From The 1973 Oil Crisis

40 years ago this month, Middle Eastern countries shook the West.

Israel had successfully pushed back incursions from Syria and Egypt during the Yom Kippur War, with the help of U.S. reinforcements.

In response, The Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries or the OAPEC (consisting of the Arab members of OPEC, plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) said it would halt all oil exports to America (as well as the Netherlands, Portugal, and South Africa, which had also supported Israel), while cutting overall production.

At the time, OPEC accounted for an average of two-thirds of American oil imports in the ’70s.

What followed was a massive nationwide gas shortage and panic.

Gas stations served by appointment only to regular customers, or closed altogether. Businesses and towns were shutting off electricity to save energy. Some towns even banned Christmas lights to cope with the crisis.

By January 1974, world oil prices were four times higher than they had been at the start of the crisis.

The situation was further complicated by expansionary fiscal policy implemented by President Nixon that predated the embargo, which resulted in inflation.

40 years later, only 40% of American imports are from OPEC countries. Canada and Mexico are now our largest crude import bases.

Yet many remain obsessed with the idea of “weaning America from Mideast oil.”

Two years before the crisis, the EPA had begun its “Documerica” project, dispatching photographers to chronicle environmental situations, and everyday life, in the ’70s. Freelance photographer David Falconer was tasked with shooting the oil crisis, and chose Oregon and Washington as his setting. We reproduce the best of his photos here.

As independent gas stations enacted their own restrictive pump policies, nearby restaurants hit back.

Eventually Oregon and other states banned all neon signage.

Not everyone was thrilled. The Genesis passage in question is the one about letting there be light.

New speed limits were posted (while the Watergate crisis continued to metastasize).

It took some getting used to.

Enforcement got interesting too.

Oregon was one of the first states to implement an odd-even rationing system, which was in place Monday - Friday. Saturdays were open to all, Sundays were closed.

Some residents started up carpooling services.

Oregon Gov. Tom McCall tried to lead by example.

Though it suddenly became hard to tell what year it was.

By May, the crisis had abated. But gas prices would never be less than $US0.50/gallon ever again, and a lifelong obsession with Mideast oil politics had begun.

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