Twenty percent of the global oil supply flows through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water that separates Persian Gulf countries like Iran, Iraq and Kuwait from the rest of the world. From May 15 to June 15, more than 1,000 tanker ships traveled the strait. Many were destined for places as far away as China and South Korea. The gulf region has been rocked by instability in recent months, threatening the flow of oil through the strait. Six tankers have been attacked since May amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States.
The surge has changed the dynamics of the world’s oil market, which has long taken its cues from OPEC, the cartel of oil producers that includes Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran. In previous eras, attacks in the Strait of Hormuz would have sent the price of oil spiraling down. The oil market’s response to the recent tanker attacks has been muted, in part because of how much oil now comes from the United States. As its reliance on Middle Eastern oil has decreased, the United States has found itself in a stronger position when dealing with countries like Iran.