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More than 50 years after it was created to wrest economic power from the major oil companies, the OPEC oil cartel finds itself at risk of losing its dominant role in the global oil market. The group is increasingly competing with new oil sources that are starting to chip away at its share in previously secure markets, while a shaky global economy keeps demand for oil at bay. Also troubling for OPEC as it looks to protect oil prices: One key member, long-suffering Iraq, is aiming to dramatically increase production and flex its muscles again as a major exporter.

It adds up to a nightmare scenario for the group. China, Russia and other countries are taking early steps to emulate the North American unconventional oil boom of recent years, which has the U.S. on track to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer. Some key OPEC members, meanwhile, are eager to pump as much as possible to bring in badly needed revenue, rather than restrain output as part of any concerted effort to add upward pressure to prices.

1960: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is founded by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Venezuela. The Seven Sisters of Western oil companies control global production and prices.

1968: OPEC declares the inalienable right of sovereign nations to control their resources for the benefit of national development.

1971: The U.S. pulls out of the Bretton Woods Agreement, taking itself off the gold standard. The U.S. dollar depreciates, dramatically eroding the value, in local currency, of a dollar-denominated crude price paid to OPEC members.

1973-74: OPEC nations nationalize their oil reserves and seize control of production. In response to October’s Yom Kippur War, OPEC initiates an oil embargo, quadrupling prices and sparking the first Western “energy crisis.”

1973-74: OPEC nations nationalize their oil reserves and seize control of production. In response to October’s Yom Kippur War, OPEC initiates an oil embargo, quadrupling prices and sparking the first Western “energy crisis.”

1979: The Iranian Revolution reduces exports from the Persian Gulf country.

1980: Iraq attacks Iran, launching a devastating eight-year war between two of OPEC’s founding members. Production from the two combatants drops by 6.5 million barrels and prices rise to $35 (U.S.) a barrel in early 1981 from $14 in 1978.

1980-81: High prices trigger fuel switching and non-OPEC production increases, and contribute to a global recession that dramatically reduces demand. Prices begin to plunge.

1986: Global prices hit a low of $9 a barrel, devastating the economies of cartel members and non-OPEC producers such as Alberta and Texas. OPEC introduces a quota system for member states.

1990-91: Iraq invades cartel colleague Kuwait; U.S. leads a UN-sanctioned coalition that includes OPEC members Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait – as well as Canada. Oil prices double after the Iraqi invasion but quickly retreat.

1997-98: In December 1997, OPEC increases its production quota by 10 per cent. The next year, fast-growing “Asian Tiger” economies hit a wall, sparking an economic crisis that drives down oil demand. Prices average $11 a barrel in 1998.

1998:Iraq is formally removed from OPEC’s quota system as Saddam Hussein fails to boost exports above 1.5 million barrels a day following the Gulf War.

2001: OPEC cuts quotas by 3.5 million barrels in response to slumping prices. Terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 send prices lower, prompting another quota cut. Prices rebound to $25 a barrel by March, 2002.

2004: Demand growth in China and other emerging markets – including the Middle East itself – erodes OPEC’s spare capacity to less than one million barrels a day, and prices begin to rise.

2007: Angola becomes the newest OPEC member, signalling a surge of production in western Africa.

2008: Strong demand, flat non-OPEC production and a flood of investment money into oil futures drive price to a record $145 a barrel in July. But prices quickly reverse, and with the onslaught of the financial crisis and recession, slump to below $40 by the end of the year. In January, 2009, OPEC members agree to cut production by 4.5 million barrels a day.

2009: Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, leaves the cartel after becoming a net importer of crude.

2011: Libya’s revolution removes 1.6 million barrels a day of production and, with the threat of “Arab Spring” disruption in other OPEC countries, prices climb. Saudi Arabia unilaterally boosts production to offset Libyan losses.

2013: Sanctions on Iran cut its exports to one million barrels a day from 2.5 million in 2011, while other OPEC members – notably Saudi Arabia – produce above quota. Rising U.S. production prompts the International Energy Agency to predict the U.S. will be the world’s largest oil producer in 2018, taking global market share away from OPEC. Civil war in Syria heightens tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims within OPEC.

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