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2008 peak and crash

Oil prices peaked at almost $150 a barrel in July 2008 and fell sharply in the second half of 2008 to a low of below $40 as the global financial crisis hit.

Stable and high prices 2011 to 2014

Prices increased steadily over the following two and a half years to more than $100 per barrel in February 2011 and more than $125 in April 2011. Concern over supplies following the start of the ‘Arab Spring’ was a major reason behind this increase.

Over the following three and a half years oil prices varied in the $100‑125 per barrel range. This was the most (relatively) stable period since the first few years of the century.

2014 to 2016 price collapses

In the second half of 2014 prices fell dramatically to below $50 per barrel in early 2015. Weaker demand due to poor global growth levels/forecasts combined with rising supplies during this period to cause this fall. After a brief recovery they fell again to a low of just over $27 per barrel in January 2016. Again increases in supply, particularly from Iran, and a slowdown in demand were the main causes. This was the lowest level since November 2003.

2016 to early 2020: Steady increases

There was a general increase in prices from early 2016 to late 2018 with taking levels back above $75 per barrel for much of mid-2018. Global demand was strong over this period. Increases in supply, particularly in the US have meant prices did not approached earlier highs, but concerns over the impact of sanctions against Iran helped to keep prices buoyant. Prices increased in January 2020 following growing tension between Iran and the US. 

Pandemic price crash

The Coronavirus outbreak and associated lockdowns, initially in China, then spreading to the rest of the world, led to a dramatic cut in demand, oversupply of oil and rapid build-up of stocks. Prices briefly fell to below $20 per barrel in April 2020, the lowest since February 2002. They subsequently recovered and increased consistently during the rest of 2020 and much of 2021. 

Higher prices in the build up to and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

An underlying increase in demand, combined with below target supply from OPEC and increased tension over the Ukraine crises helped to push prices higher. They reached $90 per barrel in late January 2022 and $97 per barrel on 22 February; their highest since September 2014.

Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Oil prices immediately jumped above $100 a barrel and increased to $127 per barrel on 8 March before falling over the following week to just below $100 per barrel. 

Prices increased in late April and early May due to the “improving prospects” of an EU ban on Russian oil. They reached more than $120 per barrel in mid-June, again possibly linked to the EU’s sixth package of sanctions. The briefing Imports of Energy from Russia gives more details of the sanctions the EU adopted in early June and later.

Prices fell sharply in late June due to concerns about the deteriorating global economic environment which affected financial markets in general. There were more gradual price falls for much of the rest of summer and prices were below $90 per barrel in late September. They have since edged up again, thought to be due to the OPEC+ decision to cut in production targets in early October. On 4 November the price was just over $98 per barrel.

Even larger increases in Sterling price of oil

The price of oil in Sterling has increased at a faster rate than the US Dollar figure over the last decade. This is because Sterling has been weaker, particularly after the Brexit vote in summer 2016. Prices of oil in Sterling are a better indicator of the costs faced by UK consumers. They reached new record highs in early March 2022 and exceeded these in mid-June 20222 when the price briefly exceeded £100 a barrel.

Prices for Russian Oil

The price of Urals oil (the ‘brand’ used to price Russian oil exports) was similar to Brent crude up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Immediately after the invasion the price of Urals fell while Brent prices increased. Ths gap between the two ‘brands’ widened to more than $30 per barrel in late April/early May.  

The ‘discount’ on Urals is due to a mixture of current sanctions on Russia, disruption to supply and some ‘self-sanctioning’ by refineries and traders wanting to avoid Russia oil.

This note provides annual, monthly and daily data for Brent crude oil prices. It gives some possible reasons for the recent very large price increases in 2008 and also includes the longest available oil price series to help put more recent price rises in historical context.

Most oil prices are quoted in cash terms (not inflation adjusted) even in relatively long time series. This generally means that when prices are compared over time increases are overstated and price falls understated. This is much less of a problem over short periods, especially as the price of oil has an important impact on underlying inflation. However, when prices are being compared over a number of decades and direct comparisons are being made –such as, is today’s oil price the highest ever? –then real prices give a more meaningful picture. The daily prices in this note are given in cash terms, the monthly and annual data are presented in both real and cash terms.

The top 20 oil producing and exporting countries are listed in an appendix to this note. An accompanying spreadsheet includes the following tables:

Readers may also wish to refer to the following briefing papers:

  • Data/charts on oil prices can be downloaded/viewed at:

The Office for Budget Responsibility has produced occasional analyses of the impact of different oil prices on the economy and public finances.

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