Black Gold: Ten Countries With The Largest Oil Reserves

As fuel prices rise and oil drilling becomes more difficult, the world is turning to alternative methods to access the oil that our modern world runs on. Although there are still quite a few places where traditional oil wells and offshore rigs are more than up to the task, some nations have oil reserves that require additional technology to access. From tar sands refinement, to wells that descend to depths that test the limits of our technology’s reach, acquiring and refining oil is becoming more and more complex.

However, there are still massive oil reserves across the world, and as prices rise, alternative methods of acquiring crude are becoming more and more profitable. The new horizons being unlocked by technology are opening up markets across the globe in places far from the traditional OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) nations. Rather than a mixed blessing, these new sources of crude could well lead to prosperity and economic development in unlikely areas, and in some cases areas that sorely need the income that comes along with being a major crude oil exporter. 

The future of oil exploration, acquisition, and refinement is an exciting one. At no other point in history has there been so much potential made available by cutting-edge technology. Regions in Africa, South America, and Canada are sitting on tens of trillions of dollars in untapped wealth, and the old standby OPEC nations are able to access more and more of their huge reserves. Far from the dire predictions of shortages, today’s crude oil market is vibrant and healthy, with amazing investment opportunities and exciting new ventures for corporations and savvy individuals. The oil markets of tomorrow promise to be more diverse, open, and friendly than the markets of the 70’s and 80’s. These top 10 countries with proven oil reserves are certainly places to watch as we move further into the 21st century.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

7 Nigeria - $3.66 Trillion Total Reserves

Although beset by problems with a weak central government, vandalism, and lawlessness, Nigeria contains proven crude oil reserves of 37.2 billion barrels, valued at $3.66 trillion dollars at current market prices. This West African nation stands to gain quite a bit in terms of social stability and income as its largely offshore resources are explored more fully.

As of 2006, exploratory wells drilled by Chevron in the Gulf of Guinea have discovered massive unexplored reserves. A single well, located in the Joint Development Zone between Nigeria and the tiny island nation of Sao Tome, turned up over a billion barrels of oil. Nigeria is set to be a major oil exporter in the near future.

6 Libya - $4.72 Trillion Total Reserves

The largest oil producer in Africa, Libya is currently making good use of its massive reserves. Libya’s strength is in its mature existing infrastructure, as well as the fact that much of the country’s oil might still be undiscovered.Taking into account proven reserves, Libya is currently estimated to be sitting on 48 billion barrels of crude, worth a current market price of $4.72 trillion dollars.

Much of Libya’s oil reserves are inland, with the primary existing infrastructure in the eastern half of the country. As foreign sanctions are loosened and wells get deeper and deeper, Libya is certainly a market that will expand.

5 Russia - $7.88 Trillion Total Reserves

Russia is a truly different beast. Because of the difficult arctic terrain, much of the oil in Russia remains unexplored. However, just dealing with proven, well-known reserves, Russia currently holds an estimated 80 billion barrels of oil valued at $7.88 trillion dollars.

Some estimates maintain that Russia may have reserves of as much as 200 billion barrels of oil, with the majority inland, mostly in Eastern Siberia, and an additional 80 billion barrels in the frigid arctic waters off of the eastern coast. In addition, there may be as much as an additional 2 trillion barrels of so-called “tightly held” oil in Western Siberia, although at present it is unknown how much is realistically recoverable. As technology continues to improve, the oil fields of Western Siberia may well be a huge boon to world oil markets.

4 United Arab Emirates - $9.63 Trillion Total Reserves

The United Arab Emirates, a small collection of moderate, peaceful, tiny nations on the Persian Gulf is a much more traditional OPEC member. Its reserves are largely developed, but its long history of oil exportation hasn’t depleted the UAE, which still possesses proven reserves of 97.8 billion barrels of crude oil. Their reserves valued at $9.63 trillion dollars, the United Arab Emirates is an excellent model of how oil exports can stabilize and moderate an otherwise unstable region.

The bulk of the proven reserves, 92 billion barrels, is found in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in offshore wells deep in the Persian Gulf. The UAE is notable for producing and exporting a controlled amount, ensuring its productivity for the next 90 years by most estimates.

3 Kuwait - $10.24 Trillion Total Reserves

With proven reserves of 104 billion barrels, Kuwait has long been a major exporter of crude oil. At current market prices, Kuwait’s reserves are valued at $10.24 trillion dollars. The country is notable for its large, traditional inland oil fields, including the Burgan field, which is notable for being the second largest of its kind in the world.

Despite the large reserves, Kuwait’s oil producing capacity is limited due to the age of its infrastructure, with the vast majority of its wells being 60+ years old.

2 Iraq - $13.82 Trillion Total Reserves

Because of recent civil unrest, the data about Iraq’s oil reserves is rather dated. However, even with old data, Iraq contains proven reserves of at least 140.3 billion barrels, worth a total of $13.82 trillion dollars. Iraq’s next steps, rather than relying on new technology, will come as the largely destroyed infrastructure is replaced. 

Like Kuwait, much of the Iraqi oil is extracted via traditional inland wells. Geographically, oil production in Iraq is concentrated in bands in the south and north of the country, held by different sectarian groups. The future of Iraqi oil has yet to be written, but the proven reserves are huge.

1 Iran - $15.49 Trillion Total Reserves

Holding nearly 10% of the world’s proven oil reserves, Iran is a major player and a large power in OPEC. It is estimated that Iran holds 157.3 billion barrels of crude, worth $15.49 trillion by today’s prices. The oil is found mostly in and around the Persian Gulf in the southwest of the country, and it is split fairly equally between inland and offshore production.

Due to heavy sanctions and export limits enforced by the international community, it is politics, not technology, which will limit Iran’s production moving forward.

3. Canada - $17.26 Trillion Total Reserves

Including Canada’s vast oil sands, the country’s reserves are estimated to be 175.2 billion barrels, worth a market price of nearly $17.26 trillion dollars. With its modern infrastructure, stable government, and large proven reserves, Canada is set to soar as an oil exporting country.

The Canadian tar sands, as they’re known, are becoming profitable for corporations to refine. Recent technological breakthroughs have increased the utility of the tar sands, and its close proximity to American refineries makes it all but certain that Canadian crude exports are set to massively increase. In addition to tar sands, the vast size of Canada makes it likely that its already large inland and offshore fields will continue to grow as more proven oil is discovered. The outlook for Canadian oil is very bright indeed.

2. Saudi Arabia - $26.39 Trillion Total Reserves

Perhaps the most famous exporter of petroleum, Saudi Arabia has oil fields containing massive proven reserves of 267.9 billion barrels. This wealthy nation is set to grow even wealthier, with the market value of their proven exports being an impressive $26.39 trillion dollars. Although nearly all of Saudi Arabia’s oil production comes from only eight inland oil fields, there are still large deposits offshore.

Saudi Arabia is also home to the very largest inland oil field, the Ghawar Field, which alone contains more proven crude oil reserves than Libya and Nigeria combined. The importance of Saudi Arabian oil to the rest of the world cannot be overstated.

1. Venezuela - $29.31 Trillion Total Reserves

In 2011 Venezuela shot to the top of the list of nations with the largest proven oil reserves. Witth an astonishing 297 billion barrels, Venezuelan oil reserves are worth $29.31 trillion dollars. Due to recent technological advances in refinery, the otherwise sub-par oil in the Orinoco belt in the north of the country has become a viable source for refinement.

It should be noted that the Venezuelan numbers are still hotly contested by Saudi Arabia, a country with no small amount of experience in oil exports. However, if the estimates are true, Venezuela would be the largest source of oil in the entire world. As its infrastructure improves, look to this nation to start supplying more and more of the world’s modern refineries with crude oil.

More in Economy