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In 1971 Richard Nixon was forced to close the gold window taking the U.S. off the gold standard and setting into motion a massive devaluation of the U.S. dollar. In an effort to prop up the value of the dollar Nixon negotiated a deal with Saudi Arabia that in exchange for arms and protection they would denominate all future oil sales in U.S. dollars. Subsequently, the other OPEC countries agreed to similar deals thus ensuring a global demand for U.S. dollars and allowing the U.S. to export some of its inflation. Since these dollars did not circulate within the country they were not part of the normal money supply, economists felt another term was necessary to describe the dollars received by petroleum exporting countries (OPEC) in exchange for oil, so the term petrodollar was coined by Georgetown University economics professor, Ibrahim Oweiss.
Because the United States was the largest producer and consumer of oil in the world, the world oil market had been priced in United States dollars since the end of World War II. International oil prices were based on discounts or premiums relative to that for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. But, although oil sales prior to 1973 were denominated in U.S. dollars nothing precluded settlement in local currency.
In October 1973, OPEC declared an oil embargo in response to the United States' and Western Europe's support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War and this tension (and new power of OPEC) led to fear that the dollar would become insignificant in the oil trade.
In the existing system all transactions actually be settled in U.S. dollars creating a world-wide demand for dollars. The petrodollar system also meant that the U.S., the largest consumer of oil in the world, gained the power to buy oil with a currency it can print at will.
Large inflows of petrodollars into a country often has an impact on the value of its currency. For Canada it was shown that an increase of 10% in the price of oil increases the Canadian dollar value versus the US dollar by 3% and vice versa.
In addition to the United States petrodollar, a petrodollar can also refer to the Canadian dollar in transactions that involve the sale of Canadian oil to other nations. In this sense, the term petrodollar is related to but should not be confused with petrocurrency which refers to the actual national currency of each petroleum exporting country.