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Mapped: The World’s Biggest Oil Discoveries Since 1868



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

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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Visualizing the Uranium Mining Industry in 3 Charts

These visuals highlight the uranium mining industry and its output, as well as the trajectory of nuclear energy from 1960 to today.



When uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Heinrich Klaproth, it’s likely the German chemist didn’t know how important the element would become to human life.

Used minimally in glazing and ceramics, uranium was originally mined as a byproduct of producing radium until the late 1930s. However, the discovery of nuclear fission, and the potential promise of nuclear power, changed everything.

What’s the current state of the uranium mining industry? This series of charts from Truman Du highlights production and the use of uranium using 2021 data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and Our World in Data.

Who are the Biggest Uranium Miners in the World?

Most of the world’s biggest uranium suppliers are based in countries with the largest uranium deposits, like Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada.

The largest of these companies is Kazatomprom, a Kazakhstani state-owned company that produced 25% of the world’s new uranium supply in 2021.

A donut chart showing the biggest uranium mining companies and the percentage they contribute to the world's supply of uranium.

As seen in the above chart, 94% of the roughly 48,000 tonnes of uranium mined globally in 2021 came from just 13 companies.

Rank Company2021 Uranium Production (tonnes)Percent of Total
1🇰🇿 Kazatomprom 11,85825%
2🇫🇷 Orano 4,5419%
3🇷🇺 Uranium One 4,5149%
4🇨🇦 Cameco 4,3979%
5🇨🇳 CGN 4,1129%
6🇺🇿 Navoi Mining3,5007%
7🇨🇳 CNNC 3,5627%
8🇷🇺 ARMZ 2,6355%
9🇦🇺 General Atomics/Quasar 2,2415%
10🇦🇺 BHP 1,9224%
11🇬🇧 Energy Asia 9002%
12🇳🇪 Sopamin 8092%
13🇺🇦 VostGok 4551%

France’s Orano, another state-owned company, was the world’s second largest producer of uranium at 4,541 tonnes.

Companies rounding out the top five all had similar uranium production numbers to Orano, each contributing around 9% of the global total. Those include Uranium One from Russia, Cameco from Canada, and CGN in China.

Where are the Largest Uranium Mines Found?

The majority of uranium deposits around the world are found in 16 countries with Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada accounting for for nearly 40% of recoverable uranium reserves.

But having large reserves doesn’t necessarily translate to uranium production numbers. For example, though Australia has the biggest single deposit of uranium (Olympic Dam) and the largest reserves overall, the country ranks fourth in uranium supplied, coming in at 9%.

Here are the top 10 uranium mines in the world, accounting for 53% of the world’s supply.

A map of the largest mines and countries that undertake uranium mining.

Of the largest mines in the world, four are found in Kazakhstan. Altogether, uranium mined in Kazakhstan accounted for 45% of the world’s uranium supply in 2021.

Uranium MineCountryMain Owner2021 Production
Cigar Lake🇨🇦 CanadaCameco/Orano4,693t
Inkai 1-3🇰🇿 KazakhstanKazaktomprom/Cameco3,449t
Husab🇳🇦 NamibiaSwakop Uranium (CGN)3,309t
Karatau (Budenovskoye 2)🇰🇿 KazakhstanUranium One/Kazatomprom2,561t
Rössing🇳🇦 NamibiaCNNC2,444t
Four Mile🇦🇺 AustraliaQuasar2,241t
SOMAIR🇳🇪 NigerOrano1,996t
Olympic Dam🇦🇺 AustraliaBHP Billiton1,922t
Central Mynkuduk🇰🇿 KazakhstanOrtalyk1,579t
Kharasan 1🇰🇿 KazakhstanKazatomprom/Uranium One1,579t

Namibia, which has two of the five largest uranium mines in operation, is the second largest supplier of uranium by country, at 12%, followed by Canada at 10%.

Interestingly, the owners of these mines are not necessarily local. For example, France’s Orano operates mines in Canada and Niger. Russia’s Uranium One operates mines in Kazakhstan, the U.S., and Tanzania. China’s CGN owns mines in Namibia.

And despite the African continent holding a sizable amount of uranium reserves, no African company placed in the top 10 biggest companies by production. Sopamin from Niger was the highest ranked at #12 with 809 tonnes mined.

Uranium Mining and Nuclear Energy

Uranium mining has changed drastically since the first few nuclear power plants came online in the 1950s.

For 30 years, uranium production grew steadily due to both increasing demand for nuclear energy and expanding nuclear arsenals, eventually peaking at 69,692 tonnes mined in 1980 at the height of the Cold War.

Nuclear energy production (measured in terawatt-hours) also rose consistently until the 21st century, peaking in 2001 when it contributed nearly 7% to the world’s energy supply. But in the years following, it started to drop and flatline.

A chart plotting the total nuclear energy produced since 1950 and the percentage it contributes to the world's energy supply.

By 2021, nuclear energy had fallen to 4.3% of global energy production. Several nuclear accidents—Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima—contributed to turning sentiment against nuclear energy.

YearNuclear Energy
% of Total Energy
196572 TWh0.2%
196698 TWh0.2%
1967116 TWh0.2%
1968148 TWh0.3%
1969175 TWh0.3%
1970224 TWh0.4%
1971311 TWh0.5%
1972432 TWh0.7%
1973579 TWh0.9%
1974756 TWh1.1%
19751,049 TWh1.6%
19761,228 TWh1.7%
19771,528 TWh2.1%
19781,776 TWh2.3%
19791,847 TWh2.4%
19802,020 TWh2.6%
19812,386 TWh3.1%
19822,588 TWh3.4%
19832,933 TWh3.7%
19843,560 TWh4.3%
19854,225 TWh5%
19864,525 TWh5.3%
19874,922 TWh5.5%
19885,366 TWh5.8%
19895,519 TWh5.8%
19905,676 TWh5.9%
19915,948 TWh6.2%
19925,993 TWh6.2%
19936,199 TWh6.4%
19946,316 TWh6.4%
19956,590 TWh6.5%
19966,829 TWh6.6%
19976,782 TWh6.5%
19986,899 TWh6.5%
19997,162 TWh6.7%
20007,323 TWh6.6%
20017,481 TWh6.7%
20027,552 TWh6.6%
20037,351 TWh6.2%
20047,636 TWh6.2%
20057,608 TWh6%
20067,654 TWh5.8%
20077,452 TWh5.5%
20087,382 TWh5.4%
20097,233 TWh5.4%
20107,374 TWh5.2%
20117,022 TWh4.9%
20126,501 TWh4.4%
20136,513 TWh4.4%
20146,607 TWh4.4%
20156,656 TWh4.4%
20166,715 TWh4.3%
20176,735 TWh4.3%
20186,856 TWh4.2%
20197,073 TWh4.3%
20206,789 TWh4.3%
20217,031 TWh4.3%

More recently, a return to nuclear energy has gained some support as countries push for transitions to cleaner energy, since nuclear power generates no direct carbon emissions.

What’s Next for Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear remains one of the least harmful sources of energy, and some countries are pursuing advancements in nuclear tech to fight climate change.

Small, modular nuclear reactors are one of the current proposed solutions to both bring down costs and reduce construction time of nuclear power plants. The benefits include smaller capital investments and location flexibility by trading off energy generation capacity.

With countries having to deal with aging nuclear reactors and climate change at the same time, replacements need to be considered. Will they come in the form of new nuclear power and uranium mining, or alternative sources of energy?

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