What exactly are oil reserves in the first place? I ask that rhetorical question because without the answer, we won’t be able to understand the context of the topic.
Let’s talk about what an oil reserve isn’t.
Oil reserves aren’t a bunch of barrels sitting in a warehouse waiting to be shipped out to consumers. It could be misconstrued that way, but that’s not what it is.
They’re simply the amount of technically and economically recoverable oil in a given country. Since reserves are estimated, they could be met with a little uncertainty. Geologic and engineering data determine how much oil a country may have, however it’s never a certainty.
There are two variations of oil reserves: proven and unproven.
Proven reserves have reasonable certainty of existence by at least 90 percent. Unproven reserves either have technical, contractual, or regulatory uncertainties causing them to be left out of the “proven reserves” group.
Here’s an important caveat: probable reserves are part of the “unproven reserves” group, and are said to have a 50 percent confidence level of recovery. Taking probable reserves into account, the landscape of oil reserves by country shifts dramatically.
Rystad Energy says the United States actually has the most oil when taking probable reserves into account–even beating out Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
Venezuela is thought to have the most oil reserves, however much of them include yet undiscovered oil. Here’s the top five.
- United States – 264 billion barrels
- Russia – 256 billion barrels
- Saudi Arabia – 212 billion barrels
- Canada – 167 billion barrels
- Iran – 143 billion barrels