What's oil's real record? CERA says it knows…

With oil threatening to top the $100 per barrel mark in recent weeks, everyone (us included) has been weighing in what the real record for oil is.
Many media outlets place the all-time inflation-adjusted high between $90 and more than $101. Bloomberg News said the record was $84.73, adjusted from a March 1981 high of $37.48. And up until Friday’s $95+ close the Energy Information Administration was saying the record was a January 1981 inflation-adjusted number of $93.09. On the other hand, the Paris-based International Energy Agency says the actual record was in the previous spring and is $101.70 in today’s dollars.
Now Cambridge Energy Research Associates is saying it’s actually $99.04 per barrel.
In a release today CERA said it ” … finds that the inflation-adjusted high of $99.04 in today’s dollars — $39.50 in 1980 dollars — was reached during the spring of 1980 when geopolitical turbulence in the Middle East, and Iran in particular, created acute uncertainty about the reliability and adequacy of oil supplies from the world’s most important oil exporting region.

“Today’s high prices have a ‘back to the future’ quality,” said Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA and executive vice president, IHS. “Rising tensions today between Iran and the United States are, as in 1980, at the center of worries about oil supply.”

CERA said it bases its calculation of $99.04 on the April 1980 nominal average posted price of $39.50 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate. This was a time before there was a NYMEX futures price for crude that everyone followed (that didn’t show up until 1983).

“There are different indexes and methods that can be used to adjust prices to inflation,” said James Burkhard, managing director of the Global Oil Group at CERA. “These methods can result in prices that are lower or higher than our $99.04 per barrel calculation. However, we believe that using an annual average inflation rate provides the best basis for comparison between 1980 and 2007, and that is what makes $99.04 the benchmark for today.”

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