The World’s Largest Oil Reserves By Country

By Victoria Simpson on September 30 2020 in Economics

When we mention oil reserves of a specific country, we are talking about the amounts of crude oil that can be found in the country and recovered at a cost that matches the current price of oil.
When we mention oil reserves of a specific country, we are talking about the amounts of crude oil that can be found in the country and recovered at a cost that matches the current price of oil.
  • Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world, but aging infrastructure and internal conflict is preventing the country from producing as much as it could.
  • There are 32 US states producing oil, with Texas topping the list and North Dakota coming in a distant second.
  • Experts predict the world could potentially face a global oil crisis within the next 100 years, if known reserves stay at their current levels.

Oil is everywhere in our lives. From the fuel in our car to our shampoo bottles, roads, and more, petroleum is actually difficult to escape from. Today, petroleum products are used as fuel for transportation, as well as for heating and generating electricity. Oil is also found as an ingredient in plastics, chemicals, and a plethora of other synthetic materials.

While the US was the first country to turn oil production into a massive industry through the efforts of John D. Rockefeller, it has not been the only one with significant stores of the material. Drilling for oil began in 1859, in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in the US. Over time, however, much of the oil known to be in American soil has been extracted. Today, the countries with the largest known oil reserves are largely located in the Middle East, although not entirely.

Here is a look at the world’s largest oil reserves by country. 

Oil refinery near Punto Fijo, Venezuela. Image credit: Alejandro Solo/Shutterstock

1. Venezuela - 303 billion barrels

Venezuela is a country with a lot of conflict, and poverty. Ironically, it is also home to the largest oil reserves in the world, accounting for about 18% of the total global reserves. Not surprisingly, petroleum accounts for over 90% of this country’s exports. Aging oil extraction infrastructure is dragging down annual oil production in this South American country, however. 

Oil refinery in Saudi Arabia. Image credit: anek.soowannaphoom/Shutterstock

2. Saudi Arabia - 267 billion barrels

Located in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is synonymous with oil production. But it is not the Saudis who started the craze. The US company Standard Oil was the first to drill for petroleum in Saudi Arabia back in 1933. Today, Saudi Aramco, this kingdom’s largely state-owned oil-producing company, is the most profitable company in the world, and the world’s largest oil producer. 

Pumpjacks in Alberta, Canada. Image credit: Ronnie Chua/Shutterstock

3. Canada - 167 billion barrels

It may come as a surprise to see Canada as #3 on this list. Mostly known as the land of friendly people, moose, and snowy winters, Canada also has significant oil reserves in the western province of Alberta, however. This petroleum sits in the country’s controversial oil sands. National Geographic labels Canada’s oil operation as the “world’s most destructive” as the extraction process from oil sands is energy-intensive. Large swathes of the boreal forest have been destroyed to make way for bitumen to be mined from massive, open pits so large they can be seen from outer space. 

Oil refinery in Iran. Image credit:  Mohamad Reza Jamei/Shutterstock

4. Iran - 155 billion barrels

Iran is finding itself in a bit of a sticky, or rather oily, spot. The nation has a lot of oil and recently discovered even more.  In 2019, Iran reported finding 53 billion more barrels of crude oil in Khuzestan province to the west. They are having trouble selling it, however. US sanctions, which were imposed on the country in 2018 when Iran was found to be disrespecting a deal regarding nuclear production in Iran, are preventing its sale. 

Drilling rig in southern Iraq. Image credit: Mokhtar Alagha/Shutterstock

5. Iraq - 145 billion barrels

Iraqi oil is present in abundance. The country’s many oil fields account for hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. Up until 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, the nation’s oil industry was run by the state and closed to Westerners. Following the war, this changed. Now the nation’s petroleum business is primarily run by private companies, and dominated by firms based outside of the country.  

Oil refinery in Kuwait. Image credit: Golf_chalermchai/Shutterstock

6. Kuwait - 101 billion barrels

Located on the Persian Gulf nestled in beside Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait has oil reserves that, along with gas, account for about 92% of its export revenue. Drilling for oil began in the country back in 1938, and commercial exportation, in 1946. 

Oil field near Dubai, Fedor Selivanov/Shutterstock

7. United Arab Emirates - 97 billion barrels

The UAE is a bit smaller than the state of Maine, but it remains a powerful player in the global oil industry. Located on the Arabian Gulf, the country consists of seven independent city-states. Before oil was discovered in the country in the 1950s, fishing and the sale of pearls ran the country’s economy. 

Pumpjacks in Siberia, Russia. Image credit: ded pixto/Shutterstock

8. Russia - 80 billion barrels

Russian oil accounts for about 11% of all the oil produced in the world. Most of the country’s petroleum sits in fields in Western Siberia, and is extracted under state-controlled companies like Lukoil, and Rosneft. When the Soviet Union fell, the oil industry was run by private companies but that has since changed and the major oil-producing companies are all owned and operated by the state-owned monopoly.

Oil well near Tripoli, Libya. Image credit: Paul Rookes/Shutterstock

9. Libya - 48 billion barrels

Libya is said to have the largest oil reserves in Africa. Unfortunately, the country’s civil war has been reignited and as a result, oil production and export has stopped. Warlord Khalifa Haftar shut oil facilities in the eastern and central parts of the country in January 2020 in order to pressure the government to change. 

Oil storage in Bayonne, New Jersey, US. Image credit: Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

10. United States - 47 billion barrels

According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2019, 45% of the petroleum consumed in the US was used as gasoline in cars, 20% was used in heating and as diesel fuel, and about 8% was used to power jet engines. Texas produces by far the most oil in the state, followed by North Dakota and New Mexico each producing less than half what the top state produces, while another 32 US states produce the rest. 

When Will Oil Run Out?

Oil is a finite resource, and once it is burned, that’s it. Predicting when oil will run out on Earth is tricky, however. Some sources say we could experience an oil crisis as early as within the next 100 years. There could be more in the ground than we know about, however. Will we use it? Climate change is forcing us to look elsewhere for our fuel. Because of this reality, experts predict that we will actually have to leave about 65%  to 80% of our current known oil reserves in the ground, unused. Only by doing this can we refrain from heating our planet up by more than two degrees, which is a current global target. Oil consumption keeps rising however, so whether or not we will stick to this goal remains to be seen. 

The World’s Largest Oil Reserves By Country

RankCountryProven Oil Reserves in 2020 in millions of barrels
1Venezuela302,809
2Saudi Arabia267,026
3Canada167,896
4Iran155,600
5Iraq145,019
6Kuwait101,500
7United Arab Emirates97,800
8Russia80,000
9Libya48,363
10United States47,053
11Nigeria36,972
12Kazakhstan30,000
13China25,620
14Qatar25,244
15Brazil12,999
16Algeria12,200
17Angola8,273
18Ecuador8,273
19Mexico7,300
20Azerbaijan7,000
21Norway6,611
22Oman5,373
23India4,600
24Egypt4,400
25Vietnam4,400

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