TIMELINE: Half a century of oil price volatility

LONDON (Reuters) - OPEC meets in Cairo on November 29 in an attempt to stem a collapse in oil that has knocked two thirds off the price in just four months.

Oil ministers face an uphill task trying to tame a commodity that has seen a roller-coaster ride from about $2 a barrel in the 1960s to a peak above $147 in July to a low of almost $50 this month.

Suppliers of about 40 percent of the world’s oil, the 12 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meet regularly to discuss the market and sometimes adjust supplies by a few million barrels per day (bpd).

Following is a chronology of major events in the oil market since OPEC was founded almost 50 years ago:

2008 - On the first trading day of 2008, U.S. crude breaks the $100 barrier for the first time. Prices rise fairly steadily through the first half of the year and peak on July 11 at $147.50 for Brent and $147.27 for U.S. crude.

Oil’s peak coincides with the acknowledgement by Western leaders of the true gravity of the economic crisis sweeping the world in the wake of the collapse of the U.S. home loans market.

On July 15, a sell-off begins after remarks by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke indicating a significant fall in demand in the United States, the world’s top consumer. By the middle of September, prices are below $100 and still falling.

2007 - Prices slip back in early 2007 but power up to over $90 in October 2007, spurred by a combination of tension on the Iraq-Turkish border and the fall in the value of the dollar, in which oil is priced for most major consumers.

2005 - Oil prices rise above $68 in August 2005 as Hurricane Katrina hits refining facilities in the U.S. Gulf coast.

2003 - The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq temporarily removes 2.5 million bpd from the market and raises the risk profile of the Middle East, home to the world’s biggest oil reserves.

Demand increases as Western economies enter a decade of rising prosperity and growth rockets in the emerging economies such as China, India, Russia and Brazil.

While demand in most developed economies rises very slowly from 1997, consumption in China almost doubles thanks to years of double-digit economic growth. In 2003, China becomes the second biggest oil consumer after the United States.

1998 - The Tiger economies of East Asia spiral into crisis, cutting oil demand and pushing Brent to a low of just $9.55 at the end of the year. But December 1998 proves to be the bottom of the oil market and the start of a rally that sees prices increase by more than 15 times in nine years.

1990 - Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf war send prices to a then all-time high of $41.90 a barrel in October but gains are short-lived as U.S.-led forces secure the giant oilfields of Saudi Arabia and tanker lanes in the Gulf.

1990s - Crude prices oscillate between $10 a barrel and $25, declining most years in real terms.

1980-1988 - Iran-Iraq War. Forties benchmark hits a high of $40 a barrel early in the decade. But that peak was not to be exceeded for 10 years as recession in the early 1980s combined with a drive to save energy cuts world petroleum demand and helps create a glut.

1983 - OPEC abandons fixed pricing structure and cuts prices to try to win back market share. OPEC tries introducing production quotas for its members but with limited success. Some OPEC members exceed assigned volumes.

1980 - Arab Light reaches high around $36 a barrel by January. Higher prices help spur production of oil in non-OPEC countries, most notably in the North Sea, where a crude from one field, Forties, became an alternative benchmark. It is later replaced by Brent Blend.

1979 - Revolution in Iran, the second biggest OPEC seller after Saudi Arabia, at the end of the 1970s produces a second oil shock. Supply never runs out, but Japanese buyers lead a scramble for stocks on fears that it might.

1973 - Arab-Israeli war. OPEC wrests pricing control from the Western multinationals. An Arab oil embargo causes panic buying, resulting in the first “Oil Shock” when prices soar from around $2.50 a barrel in January to $11.50 by 1974.

1970s - Oil-producers become more assertive in their attempts to control their biggest currency earner. Oil industries in several countries are nationalized and other governments negotiate more advantageous deals with the major companies pumping oil in their countries.

1960 - OPEC founded by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The oil price based on Saudi Arabian Light (Arab Light), a medium-density oil that was a benchmark for oil until 1980, had been between $2 and $3 for several years.

Oil peaks and lows in nominal prices since 1960

(Dollars per barrel)

Arab Light Forties Brent

1960 - OPEC formed 2.00

1973 - Arab oil embargo 11.50

1976 - Saudi price held constant 11.63 12.80

1980 - Iran crisis 40.00 40.00

1986 - Oil glut 8.75

1990 - First Gulf war 41.90

1994 - Excess OPEC supply 12.90

1996 - Supply tightens on demand for oil products 25.06

1998 - Asian economic crisis 9.55

2000 - Iraq/Kuwait tension, U.S. supply fears 35.30

2001 - September 11 attacks on World Trade Center 31.05

2003 - China become 2nd biggest oil consumer 28.83

2005 - Hurricane Katrina hits U.S. Gulf coast 68.89

2006 - Israel-Lebanon War 78.65

2008 - Brent hits all-time peak on July 11 147.50

2008 - average to November 18 107.72

Reporting by Christopher Johnson; editing by Peg Mackey