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:
|Rank||Country||Oil Reserves |
|Share of Global Reserves|
|#2||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||298||17.2%|
|#9||🇺🇸 United States||69||4.0%|
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.
Between 2005 and 2015, Venezuela jumped from fifth in the world to number one as nearly 200 billion barrels of proven oil reserves were identified. 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.
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.
Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts
This infographic takes a look at what China’s energy transition plans are to make its energy mix carbon neutral by 2060.
Visualizing China’s Energy Transition in 5 Charts
In September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping announced the steps his nation would take to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 via videolink before the United Nations Assembly in New York.
This infographic takes a look at what this ambitious plan for China’s energy would look like and what efforts are underway towards this goal.
China’s Ambitious Plan
A carbon-neutral China requires changing the entire economy over the next 40 years, a change the IEA compares to the ambition of the reforms that industrialized the country’s economy in the first place.
China is the world’s largest consumer of electricity, well ahead of the second place consumer, the United States. Currently, 80% of China’s energy comes from fossil fuels, but this plan envisions only 14% coming from coal, oil, and natural gas in 2060.
|Energy Source||2025||2060||% Change|
Source: Tsinghua University Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy; U.S. EIA
According to the Carbon Brief, China’s 14th five-year plan appears to enshrine Xi’s goal. This plan outlines a general and non specific list of projects for a new energy system. It includes the construction of eight large-scale clean energy centers, coastal nuclear power, electricity transmission routes, power system flexibility, oil-and-gas transportation, and storage capacity.
Progress Towards Renewables?
While the goal seems far off in the future, China is on a trajectory towards reducing the carbon emissions of its electricity grid with declining coal usage, increased nuclear, and increased solar power capacity.
According to ChinaPower, coal fueled the rise of China with the country using 144 million tonnes of oil equivalent “Mtoe” in 1965, peaking at 1,969 Mtoe in 2013. However, its share as part of the country’s total energy mix has been declining since the 1990s from ~77% to just under ~60%.
Another trend in China’s energy transition will be the greater consumption of energy as electricity. As China urbanized, its cities expanded creating greater demand for electricity in homes, businesses, and everyday life. This trend is set to continue and approach 40% of total energy consumed by 2030 up from ~5% in 1990.
Under the new plan, by 2060, China is set to have 42% of its energy coming from solar and nuclear while in 2025 it is only expected to be 6%. China has been adding nuclear and solar capacity and expects to add the equivalent of 20 new reactors by 2025 and enough solar power for 33 million homes (110GW).
Changing the energy mix away from fossil fuels, while ushering in a new economic model is no small task.
Up to the Task?
China is the world’s factory and has relatively young industrial infrastructure with fleets of coal plants, steel mills, and cement factories with plenty of life left.
However, China also is the biggest investor in low-carbon energy sources, has access to massive technological talent, and holds a strong central government to guide the transition.
The direction China takes will have the greatest impact on the health of the planet and provide guidance for other countries looking to change their energy mixes, for better or for worse.
The world is watching…even if it’s by videolink.
Visualizing the Flow of U.S. Energy Consumption
From renewables to fossil fuels, we’ve visualized the diverse mix of energy sources that powered U.S. energy consumption in 2020.
Breaking Down America’s Energy Consumption in 2020
The United States relies on a complex mix of energy sources to fuel the country’s various end-sectors’ energy consumption.
While this energy mix is still dominated by fossil fuels, there are signs of a steady shift to renewable energy over the past decade.
This radial Sankey diagram using data from the EIA (Energy Information Administration) breaks down U.S. energy consumption in 2020, showing us how much each sector relies on various energy sources.
The Balance of Energy Production and Consumption
In 2019 and now in 2020, America’s domestic energy production has actually been greater than its consumption—a development that hasn’t taken place since 1957.
Last year’s numbers were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing a 5% drop in energy production and a 7% drop in consumption compared to 2019. Total energy production and consumption for 2020 came in at 95.75 and 92.94 quads respectively.
The energy amounts are equalized and measured in quadrillion BTUs (British thermal units), also known as quads. A quad is a huge amount of energy, equivalent to 183 million barrels of petroleum or 36 million tonnes of coal.
So how is America’s overall energy production and consumption split between energy sources?
U.S. Energy Production and Consumption Share by Source
|Energy Source||Percentage of U.S. Energy Production||Percentage of U.S. Energy Consumption|
America’s new margin of energy production over consumption has resulted in the country being a net total energy exporter again, providing some flexibility as the country continues its transition towards more sustainable and renewable energy sources.
Fossil Fuels Still Dominate U.S. Energy Consumption
While America’s mix of energy consumption is fairly diverse, 79% of domestic energy consumption still originates from fossil fuels. Petroleum powers over 90% of the transportation sector’s consumption, and natural gas and petroleum make up 74% of the industrial sector’s direct energy consumption.
There are signs of change as consumption of the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, has declined more than 58% since its peak in 2005. Coinciding with this declining coal dependence, consumption from renewable energy has increased for six years straight, setting record highs again in 2020.
However, fossil fuels still make up 79% of U.S. energy consumption, with renewables and nuclear accounting for the remaining 21%. The table below looks at the share of specific renewable energy sources in 2020.
Distribution of Renewable Energy Sources
|Renewable Energy Source||2020 Energy Consumption in Quads||Share of 2020 Renewable Energy Consumption|
The Nuclear Necessity for a Zero-Emission Energy Transition
It’s not all up to renewable energy sources to clean up America’s energy mix, as nuclear power will play a vital role in reducing carbon emissions. Technically not a renewable energy source due to uranium’s finite nature, nuclear energy is still a zero-emission energy that has provided around 20% of total annual U.S. electricity since 1990.
Support for nuclear power has been growing slowly, and last year was the first which saw nuclear electricity generation overtake coal. However, this might not last as three nuclear plants including New York’s Indian Point nuclear plant are set to be decommissioned in 2021, with a fourth plant scheduled for retirement in 2022.
It’s worth noting that while other countries might have a higher share of nuclear energy in their total electricity generation, the U.S. still has the largest nuclear generation capacity worldwide and has generated more nuclear electricity than any other country in the world.
Converting Energy to Electricity
The energy produced by nuclear power plants doesn’t go directly to its end-use sector, rather, 100% of nuclear energy in the U.S. is converted to electricity which is sold to consumers. Along with nuclear, most energy sources aside from petroleum are primarily converted to electricity.
Unfortunately, electricity conversion is a fairly inefficient process, with around 65% of the energy lost in the conversion, transmission, and distribution of electricity.
This necessary but wasteful step allows for the storage of energy in electrical form, ensuring that it can be distributed properly. Working towards more efficient methods of energy to electricity conversion is an often forgotten aspect of reducing wasted energy.
Despite the dip in 2020, both energy production and consumption in the U.S. are forecasted to continue rising. As Biden aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (from 2005 emission levels), U.S. energy consumption will inevitably continue to shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable and nuclear energy.
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