The oil market is bigger than all metal markets combined
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
Ever since the invention of the internal combustion engine, oil has been one of the most crucial commodities on Earth. Without it, modern transportation as we know it would not be possible. Industries such as aviation, aerospace, automobiles, shipping, and the military would look nothing like they do today.
Of course, as we now know, this has all come with some extreme drawbacks from an environmental perspective. And while new green technology and the lithium revolution will aid in eventually reducing the role of oil in transportation, the fact is we still use 94 million barrels per day of crude worldwide.
As a result, the energy industry continues to have huge amounts of influence on our lives. Special interest groups with a focus on energy have influence on a domestic level. Meanwhile, from a foreign policy angle, countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia wield additional geopolitical and economic power because of their natural resources. It’s even arguable that everything from the Gulf War to the more recent Middle East interventions in Libya, Syria, and Iraq have been at least partially to do with oil.
This week’s chart of the week aims to help explain the influence that oil has on countries and markets by using a very simple perspective: the size of the oil market vs. all metal markets combined.
The True Size of the Oil Market
While the amount of uses in one barrel of oil is quite incredible, we still need a mind-boggling amount of the natural resource each year to sustain consumption.
Oil production per year: 34 billion barrels (incl. other liquids)
Oil market size at current prices: $1.7 trillion per year
To consider how big this actually is, we compare the annual market sizes of all major metals and minerals that are mined throughout the world:
- Gold: $170 billion
- Iron: $115 billion
- Copper: $91 billion
- Aluminum: $90 billion
- Zinc: $34 billion
- Manganese: $30 billion
- Nickel: $21 billion
- Silver: $20 billion
- Other metals: $67 billion (Including platinum, palladium, titanium, tin, moly, uranium, and more)
The total amount works out to $660 billion – just a tiny fraction of the size of the oil market.
Note: we focus on raw, physical materials in this analysis. We leave out things like gold futures, or alloy markets such as steel in this analysis. To get market size numbers, we used the latest price multiplied by 2015 demand in most cases. We left out the smaller markets for many other metals like bismuth, antimony, or rhodium. Exact sources can be seen in the chart itself. Oil market size includes other liquids such as lease condensate.
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.
The Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production
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.
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||Country||2021 Coal Production|
|% of Total|
|#7||🇿🇦 South Africa||234.5||3%|
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.
In 2021, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were the three largest crude oil producers, respectively.
|Rank||Country||2021 Oil Production |
|% of Total|
|#3||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||515.0||12%|
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||Country||2021 Natural Gas Production |
|% of Total|
|#8||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||117.3||3%|
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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