Which Countries Have the World's Largest Proven Oil Reserves?
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Which Countries Have the World’s Largest Proven Oil Reserves?

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The Countries With the Largest Proven Oil Reserves

Oil is a natural resource formed by the decay of organic matter over millions of years, and like many other natural resources, it can only be extracted from reserves where it already exists. The only difference between oil and every other natural resource is that oil is well and truly the lifeblood of the global economy.

The world derives over a third of its total energy production from oil, more than any other source by far. As a result, the countries that control the world’s oil reserves often have disproportionate geopolitical and economic power.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020, 14 countries make up 93.5% of the proven oil reserves globally. The countries on this list span five continents and control anywhere from 25.2 billion barrels of oil to 304 billion barrels of oil.

Proven Oil Reserves, by Country

At the end of 2019, the world had 1.73 trillion barrels of oil reserves. Here are the 14 countries with at least a 1% share of global proven oil reserves:

RankCountryOil Reserves
(billion barrels)
Share of Global Reserves
#1🇻🇪 Venezuela30417.8%
#2🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia29817.2%
#3🇨🇦 Canada1709.8%
#4🇮🇷 Iran1569.0%
#5🇮🇶 Iraq1458.4%
#6🇷🇺 Russia1076.2%
#7🇰🇼 Kuwait1025.9%
#8🇦🇪 UAE985.6%
#9🇺🇸 United States694.0%
#10🇱🇾 Libya482.8%
#11🇳🇬 Nigeria372.1%
#12🇰🇿 Kazakhstan301.7%
#13🇨🇳 China26.21.5%
#14🇶🇦 Qatar25.21.5%

While these countries are found all over the globe, a few countries have much larger amounts than others. Venezuela is the leading country in terms of oil reserves, with over 304 billion barrels of oil beneath its surface. Saudi Arabia is a close second with 298 billion, and Canada is third with 170 billion barrels of oil reserves.

Oil Reserves vs. Oil Production

A country with large amounts of reserves does not always translate to strong production numbers for petroleum, oil, and by-products. Oil reserves simply serve as an estimate of the amount of economically recoverable crude oil in a particular region. To qualify, these reserves must have the potential of being extracted under current technological constraints.

While countries like the U.S. and Russia are low on the list of oil reserves, they rank highly in terms of oil production. More than 95 million barrels of oil were produced globally every day in 2019, and the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Russia are among the world’s top oil-producing countries, respectively.

Oil Sands Contributing to Growing Reserves

Venezuela has long been an oil-producing country with heavy economic reliance on oil exports. However, in 2011, Venezuela’s energy and oil ministry announced an unprecedented increase in proven oil reserves as oil sands in the Orinoco Belt territory were certified.

The nearly 200 billion barrels of proven oil reserves identified between 2005 and 2015, pushed Venezuela from fifth in the world to number one. As a result, South and Central America’s proven oil reserves more than doubled between 2008 and 2011.

In 2002, Canada’s proven oil reserves jumped from 5 billion to 180 billion barrels based on new oil sands estimates.

Canada accounts for almost 10% of the world’s proven oil reserves at 170 billion barrels, with an estimated 166.3 billion located in Alberta’s oil sands, and the rest found in conventional, offshore, and tight oil formations.

Large Reserves in OPEC Nations

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an intergovernmental global petroleum and oil distribution agency headquartered in Vienna, Austria.

The majority of countries with the largest oil reserves in the world are members of OPEC. Now composed of 14 member states, OPEC holds nearly 70% of crude oil reserves worldwide.

Most OPEC countries are in the Middle East, the region with the largest oil reserves, holding nearly half of the global share.

Regional Shifts

Though most of the proven oil reserves in the world were historically considered to be centered in the Middle East, in the past three decades their share of global oil reserves has dropped, from over 60% in 1992 to about 48% in 2019.

One of the main reasons for this drop was constant oil production and greater reserves discovered in the Americas. By 2012, Central and South America’s share had more than doubled and has remained just under 20% in the years since.

While oil sands ushered in a new era of global oil reserve domination, as the world shifts away from oil consumption and towards green energy and electrification, these reserves might not matter as much in the future as they once did.

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Energy

Charted: 40 Years of Global Energy Production, by Country

Here’s a snapshot of global energy production, and which countries have produced the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

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The Biggest Energy Producers since 1980

Energy was already a hot topic before 2022, but soaring household energy bills and a cost of living crisis has brought it even more to the forefront.

Which countries are the biggest energy producers, and what types of energy are they churning out? This graphic by 911 Metallurgist gives a breakdown of global energy production, showing which countries have used the most fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy since 1980.

All figures refer to the British thermal unit (BTU), equivalent to the heat required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

Editor’s note: Click on any graphic to see a full-width version that is higher resolution

1. Fossil Fuels

Biggest Producers of Fossil Fuel since 1980

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While the U.S. is a dominant player in both oil and natural gas production, China holds the top spot as the world’s largest fossil fuel producer, largely because of its significant production and consumption of coal.

Over the last decade, China has used more coal than the rest of the world, combined.

However, it’s worth noting that the country’s fossil fuel consumption and production have dipped in recent years, ever since the government launched a five-year plan back in 2014 to help reduce carbon emissions.

2. Nuclear Power

Biggest Producers of Nuclear Energy since 1980

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The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power by far, generating about double the amount of nuclear energy as France, the second-largest producer.

While nuclear power provides a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima caused many countries to move away from the energy source, which is why global use has dipped in recent years.

Despite the fact that many countries have recently pivoted away from nuclear energy, it still powers about 10% of the world’s electricity. It’s also possible that nuclear energy will play an expanded role in the energy mix going forward, since decarbonization has emerged as a top priority for nations around the world.

3. Renewable Energy

Biggest Producers of Renewable Energy

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Renewable energy sources (including wind, hydro, and solar) account for about 23% of electricity production worldwide. China leads the front on renewable production, while the U.S. comes in second place.

While renewable energy production has ramped up in recent years, more countries will need to ramp up their renewable energy production in order to reach net-zero targets by 2050.

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Energy

What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

As European gas prices soar, countries are introducing policies to try and curb the energy crisis.

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What is the Cost of Europe’s Energy Crisis?

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Europe is scrambling to cut its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

As European gas prices soar eight times their 10-year average, countries are introducing policies to curb the impact of rising prices on households and businesses. These include everything from the cost of living subsidies to wholesale price regulation. Overall, funding for such initiatives has reached $276 billion as of August.

With the continent thrown into uncertainty, the above chart shows allocated funding by country in response to the energy crisis.

The Energy Crisis, In Numbers

Using data from Bruegel, the below table reflects spending on national policies, regulation, and subsidies in response to the energy crisis for select European countries between September 2021 and July 2022. All figures in U.S. dollars.

CountryAllocated Funding Percentage of GDPHousehold Energy Spending,
Average Percentage
🇩🇪 Germany$60.2B1.7%9.9%
🇮🇹 Italy$49.5B2.8%10.3%
🇫🇷 France$44.7B1.8%8.5%
🇬🇧 U.K.$37.9B1.4%11.3%
🇪🇸 Spain$27.3B2.3%8.9%
🇦🇹 Austria$9.1B2.3%8.9%
🇵🇱 Poland$7.6B1.3%12.9%
🇬🇷 Greece$6.8B3.7%9.9%
🇳🇱 Netherlands$6.2B0.7%8.6%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic$5.9B2.5%16.1%
🇧🇪 Belgium$4.1B0.8%8.2%
🇷🇴 Romania$3.8B1.6%12.5%
🇱🇹 Lithuania$2.0B3.6%10.0%
🇸🇪 Sweden$1.9B0.4%9.2%
🇫🇮 Finland$1.2B0.5%6.1%
🇸🇰 Slovakia$1.0B1.0%14.0%
🇮🇪 Ireland$1.0B0.2%9.2%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria$0.8B1.2%11.2%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg$0.8B1.1%n/a
🇭🇷 Croatia$0.6B1.1%14.3%
🇱🇻 Lativia$0.5B1.4%11.6%
🇩🇰 Denmark$0.5B0.1%8.2%
🇸🇮 Slovenia$0.3B0.5%10.4%
🇲🇹 Malta$0.2B1.4%n/a
🇪🇪 Estonia$0.2B0.8%10.9%
🇨🇾 Cyprus$0.1B0.7%n/a

Source: Bruegel, IMF. Euro and pound sterling exchange rates to U.S. dollar as of August 25, 2022.

Germany is spending over $60 billion to combat rising energy prices. Key measures include a $300 one-off energy allowance for workers, in addition to $147 million in funding for low-income families. Still, energy costs are forecasted to increase by an additional $500 this year for households.

In Italy, workers and pensioners will receive a $200 cost of living bonus. Additional measures, such as tax credits for industries with high energy usage were introduced, including a $800 million fund for the automotive sector.

With energy bills predicted to increase three-fold over the winter, households in the U.K. will receive a $477 subsidy in the winter to help cover electricity costs.

Meanwhile, many Eastern European countries—whose households spend a higher percentage of their income on energy costs— are spending more on the energy crisis as a percentage of GDP. Greece is spending the highest, at 3.7% of GDP.

Utility Bailouts

Energy crisis spending is also extending to massive utility bailouts.

Uniper, a German utility firm, received $15 billion in support, with the government acquiring a 30% stake in the company. It is one of the largest bailouts in the country’s history. Since the initial bailout, Uniper has requested an additional $4 billion in funding.

Not only that, Wien Energie, Austria’s largest energy company, received a €2 billion line of credit as electricity prices have skyrocketed.

Deepening Crisis

Is this the tip of the iceberg? To offset the impact of high gas prices, European ministers are discussing even more tools throughout September in response to a threatening energy crisis.

To reign in the impact of high gas prices on the price of power, European leaders are considering a price ceiling on Russian gas imports and temporary price caps on gas used for generating electricity, among others.

Price caps on renewables and nuclear were also suggested.

Given the depth of the situation, the chief executive of Shell said that the energy crisis in Europe would extend beyond this winter, if not for several years.

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