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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.