Mapped: The World's Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868
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Mapped: The World’s Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868

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Mapped: The World's Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868

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Mapped: The World’s Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868

Oil and gas discoveries excite markets and nations with the prospect of profits, tax revenues, and jobs. However, geological processes did not distribute them equally throughout the Earth’s crust and their mere presence does not guarantee a windfall for whatever nation under which they lie.

Entire economies and nations have been built on the discovery and exploitation of oil and gas, while some nations have misused this wealth─or projected growth just never materialized.

Today’s chart comes to us from research compiled by World Bank economist Jim Cust and Natural Resource Governance Institute economist David Mihalyi and it plots major oil discoveries since 1868.

The 20 Biggest Oil Discoveries

This map includes 1,232 discoveries of recoverable reserves over 500 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) From 1868 to 2010.

The discoveries cluster in certain parts of the world, covering 46 countries, and are of significant magnitude for each country’s economy. The average discovery is worth 1.4% of a country’s GDP today, based on the cash value from their production or net present value (NPV).

Of the total 1,232 discoveries, these are the 20 largest oil and gas fields:

FieldOnshore/OffshoreLocationDiscoveryProduction startRecoverable oil, past and future (billion barrels)
Ghawar FieldOnshoreSaudi Arabia1948195188-104
Burgan FieldOnshoreKuwait1937194866-72
Gachsaran FieldOnshoreIran1927193066
Mesopotamian Foredeep BasinOnshoreKuwaitn/an/a66-72
Bolivar Coastal FieldOnshoreVenezuela1917192230-32
Safaniya FieldOffshoreKuwait/Saudi Arabia1951195730
Esfandiar FieldOffshoreIran1965n/a30
Kashagan FieldOffshoreKazakhstan2000201330
Aghajari FieldOnshoreIran1938194028
Tengiz FieldOnshoreKazakhstan1979199326-40
Ahvaz FieldOnshoreIran1953195425
Upper Zakum FieldOffshoreAbu Dhabi, UAE1963196721
Cantarell FieldOffshoreMexico1976198118-35
Rumaila FieldOnshoreIraq1953195417
Romashkino FieldOnshoreRussia Volga-Ural1948194916-17
Marun FieldOnshoreIran1963196616
Daqing FieldOnshoreChina1959196016
Shaybah FieldOnshoreSaudi Arabia1998199815
West Qurna FieldOnshoreIraq1973201215-21
Samotlor FieldOnshore
Russia, West Siberia
1965196914-16

The location of these deposits reveals a certain pattern to geopolitical flashpoints and their importance to the global economy.

While these discoveries have brought immense advantages in the form of cheap fuel and massive revenues, they have also altered and challenged how nations govern their natural wealth.

The Future of Resource Wealth: A Curse or a Blessing?

A ‘presource curse’ could follow in the wake of the discovery, whereby predictions of projected growth and feelings of euphoria turn into disappointment.

An oil discovery can impose detrimental consequences on an economy long before a single barrel leaves the ground. Ideally, a discovery should increase the economic output of a country that claims the oil. However, after major discoveries, the projected growth sometimes does not always materialize as predicted.

Getting from discovery to sustained prosperity depends on a number of steps. Countries must secure investment to develop a project to production, and government policy must respond by preparing the economy for an inflow of investment and foreign currency. However, this is a challenging prospect, as the appetite for these massive projects appears to be waning.

In a world working towards reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, what will happen to countries that depend on oil wealth when demand begins to dwindle?

Countries can no longer assume their oil and gas resources will translate into reliable wealth — instead, it is how you manage what you have now that counts.

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Energy

Visualizing the Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production

How much oil, coal, and natural gas do we extract each year? See the scale of annual fossil fuel production in perspective.

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The Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Fossil fuels have been our predominant source of energy for over a century, and the world still extracts and consumes a colossal amount of coal, oil, and gas every year.

This infographic visualizes the volume of global fossil fuel production in 2021 using data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.

The Facts on Fossil Fuels

In 2021, the world produced around 8 billion tonnes of coal, 4 billion tonnes of oil, and over 4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Most of the coal is used to generate electricity for our homes and offices and has a key role in steel production. Similarly, natural gas is a large source of electricity and heat for industries and buildings. Oil is primarily used by the transportation sector, in addition to petrochemical manufacturing, heating, and other end uses.

Here’s a full breakdown of coal, oil, and gas production by country in 2021.

Coal Production

If all the coal produced in 2021 were arranged in a cube, it would measure 2,141 meters (2.1km) on each side—more than 2.5 times the height of the world’s tallest building.

China produced 50% or more than four billion tonnes of the world’s coal in 2021. It’s also the largest consumer of coal, accounting for 54% of coal consumption in 2021.

Rank Country2021 Coal Production
(million tonnes)
% of Total
#1🇨🇳 China 4,126.050%
#2🇮🇳 India 811.310%
#3🇮🇩 Indonesia 614.08%
#4🇺🇸 U.S. 524.46%
#5🇦🇺 Australia 478.66%
#6🇷🇺 Russia 433.75%
#7🇿🇦 South Africa 234.53%
#8🇩🇪 Germany 126.02%
#9🇰🇿 Kazakhstan 115.71%
#10🇵🇱 Poland 107.61%
🌍 Other 600.97%
Total8,172.6100%

India is both the second largest producer and consumer of coal. Meanwhile, Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter, followed by Australia.

In the West, U.S. coal production was down 47% as compared to 2011 levels, and the descent is likely to continue with the clean energy transition.

Oil Production

In 2021, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were the three largest crude oil producers, respectively.

Rank Country2021 Oil Production
(million tonnes)
% of Total
#1🇺🇸 U.S. 711.117%
#2🇷🇺 Russia 536.413%
#3🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 515.012%
#4🇨🇦 Canada 267.16%
#5🇮🇶 Iraq 200.85%
#6🇨🇳 China 198.95%
#7🇮🇷 Iran 167.74%
#8🇦🇪 UAE 164.44%
#9 🇧🇷 Brazil156.84%
#10🇰🇼 Kuwait 131.13%
🌍 Other 1172.028%
Total4221.4100%

OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia, made up the largest share of production at 35% or 1.5 billion tonnes of oil.

U.S. oil production has seen significant growth since 2010. In 2021, the U.S. extracted 711 million tonnes of oil, more than double the 333 million tonnes produced in 2010.

Natural Gas Production

The world produced 4,036 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2021. The above graphic converts that into an equivalent of seven billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to visualize it on the same scale as oil and gas.

Here are the top 10 producers of natural gas in 2021:

Rank Country2021 Natural Gas Production
(billion m3)
% of Total
#1🇺🇸 U.S. 934.223%
#2🇷🇺 Russia 701.717%
#3🇮🇷 Iran 256.76%
#4🇨🇳 China 209.25%
#5🇶🇦 Qatar 177.04%
#6🇨🇦 Canada 172.34%
#7🇦🇺 Australia 147.24%
#8🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia 117.33%
#9🇳🇴 Norway 114.33%
#10🇩🇿 Algeria 100.82%
🌍 Other 1106.327%
Total4,036.9100%

The U.S. was the largest producer, with Texas and Pennsylvania accounting for 47% of its gas production. The U.S. electric power and industrial sectors account for around one-third of domestic natural gas consumption.

Russia, the next-largest producer, was the biggest exporter of gas in 2021. It exported an estimated 210 billion cubic meters of natural gas via pipelines to Europe and China. Around 80% of Russian natural gas comes from operations in the Arctic region.

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