House of Commons Library

Oil Prices

Published Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Spot oil prices were around $78 per barrel in late October 2018. They have been rising steadily since early 2016, but are still well below the July 2008 peak of almost $150 per barrel and the $100-125 range they occupied for much of 2011 to early 2014.

Jump to full report >>

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.

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.

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.

There has been a general increase in prices since early 2016 with more consistent rises from summer 2017 taking levels back above $75 per barrel for much of the past five months. Global demand has been strong over this period. Increases in supply, particularly in the US have meant prices have not approached earlier highs, but concerns over the impact of sanctions against Iran have helped to keep prices buoyant.

Prices fell in the final two months of 2018 and were less than $55 per barrel in late December

The weaker value of Sterling since 2016 has meant that the price increase since then has been even larger in the UK.

The International Energy Agency’s latest five year forecasts show prices ‘easing’ to 2020 and reaching around $58 per barrel in 2023.


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 a series using real prices gives 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.

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

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

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

The top 20 oil producing and exporting countries are listed in the appendix to this note.



Commons Briefing papers SN02106

Authors: David Hough; Cassie Barton

Topics: Energy, Iraq, Oil, petrol and natural gas, Roads

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.