Oil reserves

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Image:TrendLinesOilDepletionScenarios41211.png Image:Oil well3419.jpg Image:Hubbert world 2004.png Oil reserves refer to portions of oil in place that are recoverable under economic constraints. In comparison, oil in place, or STOOIP, meaning "Stock Tank Original Oil In Place", represents all of the liquid hydrocarbon contained in a reservoir.

Oil in the ground is not a reserve unless it is economically recoverable, since as the oil is extracted, the cost of recovery increases incrementally. The recovery factor (RF) is the percentage of STOOIP which is economically recoverable under a given set of conditions.

Reserves = STOOIP * RF

Proven, probable and possible reserves are the three most common categories of reserves. They represent the certainty that a reserve exists based on the geologic and engineering data and interpretation for a given location. The international authority for reserves definitions is generally the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Between 1859 and 1968, 200 billion barrels (31 km³) of oil were used. In 2005, as prices reach record highs, world consumption is on track to 30 billion barrels per year. [1]

As the price of oil increases a vast number of oil-derived products will become more expensive to produce, including gasoline, lubricating oils, plastics, tires, roads, synthetic fabrics, etc. Science has so far been unable to find an affordable alternative to any of these products, even when compared to crude oil prices of $50/bbl and above.


World oil resources

It has been estimated that there is a total of 2,390 billion barrels (380 km³) of crude oil on Earth, of which about 30% has been used so far. The World Energy Resources Program of the United States Geological Survey produces the official estimates of the world oil resources for the U.S. Federal Government. They estimate the remaining world oil reserves are about 1012 barrels, and current estimates place the exhaustion of the remaining known reserves within the next 50 years. Other estimates of undiscovered reserves range widely from 275 to 1,469 billion barrels (44 to 234 kmĀ³). (It should be noted that one barrel equals 42 US gallons, or 158.97 litres.) The Middle East has about 50% of the known remaining world oil reserve. The USGS estimates the total reserves are about three times the known amount. It is sometimes said that oil reserves may actually increase over time. This increase would be due to the discovery of new oil fields.

There are margins of uncertainty concerning the actual size of proven oil reserves.[2] Presumably for political reasons, some nations have not allowed audits of the size of their fields. This is especially true of Middle East members of OPEC, as well as nations that belonged to the USSR. OPEC limits the amount of oil output a member nation can produce to a portion of the remaining reserves, giving an incentive to manipulate the data. For example, in 1985 Kuwait increased the estimated size of their oil fields by 50%, which allowed them to increase their output. Other member nations quickly followed suit. The Saudi national oil company controls the largest amount of proven oil reserves in the world.

Crude oil is a non-renewable resource. Current estimates predict that oil reserves will become scarce by the 2050s, although this date has been pushed forward many times as new oil fields have been discovered. However, these numbers must be treated carefully as they include only reserves that are presently economically recoverable. They do not include tar sands and bitumen, nor do they take into account possible coal-derived production, the recycling of tires, junkyard plastics, or crumbling asphalt roads. These reserves, if recovered, would provide enough petroleum to supply all human needs and growth for centuries to come. Estimates also do not include any reserves in Antarctica, which is protected from exploration by environmental treaties. Although none of these sources are currently economical, they could be used to produce significant quantities of hydrocarbons in the future, and they may become important as crude oil production dwindles, or if new technology makes them easier to recover. Higher crude oil prices also make these sources more attractive; industry observers believe that sustained prices above $40/bbl will provide the incentive and return on investment to make previously undesirable oil deposits economically viable.

North America and Russia are rich in crude oil. Canada's proven oil reserves have been raised from around 5 billion barrels to the much larger figure of around 180 billion barrels to include tar sands [3], because these deposits are now considered recoverable. This change in figures moved Canada up from a relatively low rank in oil reserves by country, to the second position, with Saudi Arabia being the first.

Middle Eastern reserves

The amount of oil in middle eastern reserves is a contentious issue. While several oil companies and the US Department of Energy state that the middle east has two thirds of all the world's oil reserves, it has been argued that it only has two thirds of all proven oil reserves, and the actual percentage of the oil reserves it has may be much lower [4]. The US Geological Survey says that the middle east has only between half and a third of the recoverable oil reserves in the world. The International Energy Agency has assumed that Saudi oil output will double during the next two decades, projecting a 19.5 million barrels a day production in 2020. In 2004, Matthew R. Simmons, president of Simmons and Company International claimed that Saudi Arabia's oil production is declining, and that it will not be able to produce more than it is at present - about 10 million barrels a day [5]. Saudi Aramco refuted Simmons' claim and asserted Saudi Arabia would be able to increase its output by 1/5 to 1/2 its present rate within ten years time.

Oil supplies

The term oil supplies is sometimes used to mean the same thing as oil reserves. However, Oil reserves refers mainly to oil in the ground that can be recovered economically. Oil supply also includes the oil production and processing facilities and the oil delivery systems that provide oil to the end user. When there is a 'shortage' of supply it is more often a problem of the delivery systems than a failure of reserves.

Oil exploration

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}} Shell, one of the world's largest oil companies, believes Arctic waters, including those of northern Alaska, hold great potential as an oil and natural gas frontier. Shell sees the Arctic as a very tantalizing opportunity to develop new oil and gas resources and the last remaining frontier. The company's views tend to support studies by academics and agencies that Arctic basins contain 25% of the world's remaining undiscovered resources. Most of these basins are unexplored and undeveloped. Shell recognizes how "difficult and challenging" the social, environmental, and economic aspects will be. Shell believes that technology solutions developed for other areas, such as the deepwater, will have applications in the offshore Arctic.

Arctic basins tend to be richer in natural gas than in oil. The abundance of gas in the Arctic so far from main markets will require moving gas long distances. Problems of ensuring that oil and gas keep flowing freely in arctic subsea pipelines are virtually identical to those experienced at a depth of 8,000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico, where temperatures are at or close to the freezing point along the seafloor where hydrates can form. Technology for moving oil from the seafloor to the shore is similar to that employed in Norway, and may someday have application in Alaska.

Building reserves

Several countries keep their own oil reserves. The United States maintains a Strategic Petroleum Reserve at four sites in the Gulf of Mexico, with a total capacity of 727 million barrels of crude oil. It has not actually been filled to this point; the largest amount reached thus far was 700 million barrels on August 17, 2005. This reserve was begun in 1975 following the 1973-4 oil embargo, and as of 2005 it is the largest emergency petroleum supply in the world.

China, the world's biggest consumer of oil after the United States, has begun a plan to build state strategic crude reserves as the country's demand for the fuel continues to grow. It has also told its three largest state oil groups to purchase foreign holdings to ensure adequate strategic energy supplies to power the country's rapidly growing economy.

Separately, Kong Linglong, director of the National Development and Reform Commission's Foreign Investment Department, said that the Chinese government would soon move to establish a government fund aimed at helping its state oil groups purchase offshore energy assets.

The state of India previously met most of its oil requirements domestically. However the nation has undergone a dramatic increase in the consumption of oil recently. As a result they have also begun the development of a strategic crude oil reserve.

Oil reserves by country

Image:Top ten largest oil reserves by country.GIF Image:Gulf Offshore Platform.jpg Image:Lightmatter oilrigs.jpg

As the amount of oil left is an estimate, not a known amount, there are many differing estimates for the amount of oil remaining in different regions of the world. The following table lists the highest and lowest estimates for regions, and countries, with significant oil reserves in billions (109) of barrels, as listed here [6].

Country/Region Lowest estimate Highest estimate
North America 40.9 214.8
Canada 4.7 178.8
United States 21.3 29.3
Mexico 14.6 14.8
Central & South America 76 101.1
Venezuela 52.4 77.2
Brazil 10.6 11.2
Western Europe 16.2 17.3
Eastern Europe & Former USSR 79.2 121.9
Russia 60 72.3
Kazakhstan 9 39.6
Middle East 708.3 733.9
Iran 125.8 130.8
Iraq 115 115
Kuwait 99 101.5
Qatar 15.2 20
Saudi Arabia 261.9 262.7
UAE 69.9 97.8
Africa 100.8 112.4
Algeria 11.8 15.3
Libya 33.6 39.1
Nigeria 35.3 36.6
Asia and Oceania 36.2 41.1
China 15.4 18.3
Australia 1.5 4
India 4.9 5.6
Indonesia 4.7 5.3
World total 1082 1277

Image:Iraq-oil-power.jpg The following table lists the top ten nations by proven oil reserves[7] in 2005:

Rank Country 109 Barrels
1 Saudi Arabia 261.9
2 Canada 178.8
3 Iran 125.8
4 Iraq 115.0
5 Kuwait 101.5
6 United Arab Emirates 97.8
7 Venezuela 77.2
8 Russia 60.0
9 Libya 39.0
10 Nigeria 35.3

Image:Opec Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries countries.PNG Of these nations, all except Canada and Russia are members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. The nation members of the OPEC cartel hold about two-thirds of the world's oil reserves, allowing them to significantly influence the international price of crude oil.

Countries that have already passed their production peak

Regular Oil (light, heavy, deepwater, polar) Other hydrocarbon reserves Total Depletion (projected)
State Oil Discovery peak Oil Production peak Oil Depletion midpoint Natural Gas peak Coal peak Oil peak (tar sand, shale) Total Oil Depletion Total Natural Gas depletion Total Coal depletion
North America
Canada 1958 1973 1988
USA 1930 1971 2003
Mexico 1977 2002 1999
South America
Argentina 1960 1998 1994
Colombia 1992 1999 1999
Venezuela 1 1941 1970 2003
Chile 1960 1982 1979
Ecuador 2 1969 2004 2007
Peru 1861 1983 1988
Trinidad and Tobago 1969 1978 1983
Albania 1928 1983 1986
Austria 1947 1955 1970
Croatia 1950 1988 1987
Denmark 1971 2002 2004
France 1958 1988 1987
Germany 1952 1966 1977
Hungary 1964 1987 1987
Italy 1981 1997 2005
Netherlands 1980 1987 1991
Norway 1979 2003 2003
Romania 1857 1976 1970
Ukraine 1962 1970 1984
United Kingdom 1974 1999 1998
Cameroon 1977 1986 1994
Congo 1984 2001 2000
Egypt 1965 1995 2007
Gabon 2 1985 1996 1997
Libya 1 1961 1970 2011
Sudan 1980 2005 2009
Tunisia 1971 1981 1998
Middle East
Bahrein 1932 1970 1977
Oman 1962 2001 2003
Qatar 1 1940 2004 1998
Syria 1966 1995 1998
Yemen 1978 1999 2003
Eurasia and Central Asia
Turkey 1969 1991 1992
Uzbekistan 1992 1998 2008
Rest of Asia
Brunei 1929 1978 1989
China 1953 2003 2003
India 1974 2004 2003
Indonesia 1 1955 1977 1992
Malaysia 1973 2004 2002
Pakistan 1983 1992 2001
Thailand 1981 2005 2008
Papua New Guinea 1987 1993 2007
Australia 1967 2000 2001

Data from [8] and the annual British Petroleum Energy Report.
1 OPEC member
2 former OPEC member

Countries where production can be increased

Regular Oil (light, heavy, deepwater, polar) Other hydrocarbon reserves Total Depletion (projected)
State Oil Discovery peak Oil Production peak (projection) Oil Depletion midpoint Natural Gas peak Coal peak Oil peak (tar sand, shale) Total Oil Depletion Total Natural Gas depletion Total Coal depletion
North America - no such states (but some are still unclassified)
South America
Bolivia 1966 2010 2016
Brazil 1996 2012 2012
Europe - no such states (but some are still unclassified)
Algeria 1 1956 2006 2006
Angola 1998 2019 2011
Chad 1977 2008 2014
Nigeria 1 2001 2009 2009
Middle East
Iran 1 1961 1974 2 2009
Iraq 1 1948 2015 2021
Kuwait 1 1938 1971 2 2018 3
Saudi Arabia1 1948 2012 2020
United Arab Emirates 1 1964 2011 2026
Eurasia and Central Asia
Azerbaijan 1871 2009 2014
Kazakhstan 2000 2030 2036
Russia 1960 1987 2 1992
Rest of Asia
Vietnam 1975 2009
Oceania - no such states (but some are still unclassified)
Antarctica - still unclassified

Data from [9] and the annual British Petroleum Energy Report.
1 OPEC member
2 The main peak is already passed, but becouse of some historical events production has dropped unnaturaly in the past, so currently there are still possibilities for furthure increases.
3 The Burgan field, the largest oil field in Kuwait, peaked in November 2005, years earlier than expected. This estimate thus requires revision.

Countries to be classified

Regular Oil (light, heavy, deepwater, polar) Other hydrocarbon reserves Total Depletion (projected)
State Oil Discovery peak Oil Production peak Oil Depletion midpoint Natural Gas peak Coal peak Oil peak (tar sand, shale) Total Oil Depletion Total Natural Gas depletion Total Coal depletion
North America
Costa Rica
multiple additional countries
South America
multiple additional countries
Equatorial Guinea
Sahrawi Republic
Western Sahara
multiple additional countries
Middle East
(West Bank and Gaza Strip)
Eurasia and Central Asia
Kyrgyz Republic
Rest of Asia
multiple additional countries
multiple additional countries
Antarctica 1

1 Becouse of a international treaty no mining is allowed there, but maybe there are some oil, natural gas and coal reserves.

Alternative fuels

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}} Several types of fuels exist that offer alternatives to petroleum. The United States Department of Energy officially recognizes the following alternative fuels:

  • Alcohols-such as ethanol and methanol are extracted from grains, wood and biomass.
  • Compressed Natural Gas-is natural gas under high pressure.
  • Electricity-stores energy in batteries.
  • Hydrogen-is produced by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen by using electricity.
  • Liquefied Natural Gas-refrigerates natural gas to very cold levels until it condenses into a liquid.
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas-consists of a mixture of propane and other similar types of hydrocarbon gasses under low pressure.
  • Synthetic oil-using the Fischer-Tropsch process. Liquids made from Coal-are capable of producing gasoline, diesel fuel and methanol. During World War II Germany which had limited access to crude oil supplies, manufactured 90 million tons of synthetic oil in 1944.
  • Biodiesel-resembles the characteristics of diesel fuel but is made from vegetable oil or animal fat.

Transportation Alternatives:

  • Fuel cells. Vehicles-turn hydrogen fuel and oxygen into electricity. They are considered to be zero emission vehicles.
  • Hybrid Vehicles-generate primary power from gasoline, but use an electric motor for accelerating.
  • Coal. During the nineteenth century, trains, ships, machines and even some cars were run by steam engine, which requires the use of coal. Coal reserves were estimated in 1997 to be 1.04 trillion metric tons. [10]
  • Solar power. Solar powered cars have been built, including the Nuna which had an average speed of 103km/h during the World solar challenge solar car race, and a top speed of 140km/h.

See also


  • Adams Neal, Terrorism & Oil (2002, pg.66), ISBN 0878148639
  • Various, The Oil Industry of the Former Soviet Union: Reserves, Extraction, Transportation (1998, pg. 24-59), ISBN 9056990624
  • Robert J Art, Grand Strategy for America (2003, pg.62), ISBN 0801441390
  • Paul Roberts, "The End of Oil", (2004 p47-p52), Bloomsbury, pbk, ISBN 0 7475 7081 7

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