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Survey: World Oil Reserves Are Not Being Fully Replaced

Top 10 holders of oil reserves, according to the survey. Click to enlarge.

The world is currently producing more oil annually than it is replacing with new reserves, according to a new survey of global liquids reserves published by Energy Intelligence, a data and information provider for the global energy industry.

In contrast to the gradual rise in global oil reserves that has been reported annually in most surveys based on public sources, the new assessment shows that the trend in worldwide liquids reserves is actually one of stagnation and modest decline.

The Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW) Reserves Survey shows global oil reserves declining by almost 13 billion barrels, or 0.9%, over the last two years to 1.459 trillion bbl at the end of 2006 on a “proved plus probably basis.” Global oil reserves are liquid hydrocarbons, natural gas liquids, tar sands and crude oil, that are economically recoverable at current prices.

Other surveys of public data show a world total of proved reserves in the range of 1.2 trillion to 1.3 trillion bbl. The PIW survey uses a somewhat broader definition of reserves than the other surveys based on public sources and it applies that definition consistently and systematically across all countries, fully accounting for production declines and new additions.

The main reason for the poor performance in growing reserves is a lack of additions to reserves from new discoveries, which account for 20% or less of additions in the last few years. The high oil prices and sharply increased upstream spending budgets of most oil companies have not yet provided any significant improvement in global additions to reserves, but more time may be needed, according to the publisher.

For 2006, the big increases in reserves were led by Brazil and Kazakhstan. Among the top 20, only eight countries saw increases last year, while the rest were flat or in decline.

The PIW survey also confirms earlier suspicions about the overstatement of reserves by Kuwait and some other OPEC producers. At the same time, the survey also indicates that reserves in Russia and some other non-OPEC countries are much higher than is generally reported.

Energy Intelligence has been a core information provider for the global energy industry for more than 50 years, and publishes Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, The Oil Daily, Natural Gas Week, World Gas Intelligence and Energy Compass.


Rafael Seidl

"The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.", Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani. He was the Saudi oil minister during the 1970's.

It's perhaps useful to highlight the difference between proven (i.e. economically recoverable) and ultimate (i.e. technically recoverable) oil reserves. The difference between the two lies in estimates of future oil prices and drilling technology. Investors tend to be on the ultra-conservative end of this spectrum.

The real driver for the end of the oil age will be prices rising beyond what consumer nations are prepared to pay. The main reason for the current low rate of new exploration and production is not geology nor technology - it is politics. Most of the nationalized oil industries have under-invested in new capacity for fear of turning the boom into yet another bust. Western oil majors no longer enjoy predictable investment environments in places like Russia, Venezuela or Bolivia. Iraq still has vast amounts of easily produced oil but the war there means capacity remains at a fraction of its potential.

The amount of natural gas currently being squandered world-wide (vented, flared, lost due to leaky pipelines) is roughly equivalent to the total consumed by Germany and France put together. This energy could and would be used if the economies in the 10 or so countries responsible for most of the flaring were opened up to Western investment. If nothing else, it could be used to smelt aluminum for use in car bodies.

The Nabucco pipeline project that was to deliver Qatari and Iranian gas to Central Europe is on indefinite hold, as is another linking Iran, Pakistan and India and a third between Central Asia and Pakistan. Again, the reasons are politics and/or war. LNG and GTL are ways around the problem, but they are both less efficient and more expensive than pipelines would be.


Politics are certainly preventing the oil supply from expanding as much as it could expand (in the Middle East and in Russia) but I am not convinced it is the chief explanation as Rafael think it is. If we take a look at the graph of global oil production it is apparent that it increases almost every year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Crude_NGPL_IEAtotal_1960-2004.png In yr 2006 the production reached 84,58 million b/d. Only at two times in this 40 year history of oil production did it decrease, namely, in the 1st and the 2nd oil crisis where production was deliberately decreased by OPEC in order to boost oil prices. Now take a look at the historical graph of oil prices http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Oil_Prices_1861_2006.jpg. This graph shows that the oil price increased during the first and the second oil crisis and that it has increased in similar magnitude from 1999 to the present. At all other times the oil price is decreasing or flat. The truly new issue to note about the oil price increase from 1999 to 2006 is that it happens in spite of increased oil supply. This has never happened before. The reason that the price increases from about $20 to $65 in this period is that the demand increases faster than the supply increases. The world economy now appears to grow at almost 5% pro anno and oil production cannot expand equally fast. At 4 to 5% economic growth the world economy will double by 2027. This is almost certain to happen but I have little faith in believing that oil production will double also from its present level to about 170 million barrels per day in 2027. Instead, a wild guess is that oil will continue to rise by about $10 per barrel every year from now until it reaches about $120 per barrel in 2012. At $120 per barrel cellulose ethanol can be competitively produced even with today’s immature production technology for this feedstock. Consequently it will be able to ramp up global production to levels that prevent further increases in crude oil. There is plenty of cellulose available for this production. For instance, the biomass on the planet is estimated at 1877 billion tons which is reproduced every 11 years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomass For comparison the annual crude oil production in 2006 was about 5 billion tons. I also hope that lithium batteries will make it possible to get around without liquid fuel but at the current price of about $1600 per kWh for the relevant ones (A123 or Altair) these batteries can’t even compete with $120 a barrel.

Rafael you are right that politics is a mayor problem that limits production of crude oil in Russia and the Middle East (but that is hardly a new issue). My point is that politics is not the most important issue but rather the rapid growth in demand from a booming world economy.


Without geopolitics oil prices would be under $25/barrel. Western oil companies can find and extract oil much more efficiently and cleanly than the NOCs (Pemex, PDVSA, Gazprom, etc). But the political and cultural situation isn't likely to change, even in my children's lifetimes.

Charles S

"At 4 to 5% economic growth the world economy will double by 2027. This is almost certain to happen... "

I think that may be a bit optimistic. There are bound to be some kind of economic disruptions in between. Even if all else remain flat, the rising cost of energy as a result of demands from growth will most likely cause certain global and economic sectors to suffer.

I think we have not felt any significant effects from rising fuel costs because that expense used to be a small part of our budgets. We have all adopted and adjusted our habits and in most part, we are able to absorb the increased expense and still enjoy the status quo. But once the percentage spent on energy passes a the threshold, I think a economic contraction would likely happen.

When will this happen? I don't know, but I just can't imagine that the world can support a continuous up trend in energy prices and still be able to keep steady growth globally.


This has been true since the early 80s. Oil production will peak for political reasons as much as geological ones, if not moreso.

Harvey D.

Charles S:

World economy grew by 3.14X between 1950 and 1975, by 2.18X between 1975 and 2000 and will certainly grow by at least 2.0X betweem 2000 and 2025. New 'green' economy factors, + increased growth rate in China, India, South America etc may help it grow at the rate of 2.5X (for the current quarter century).

Will future eonomic growth = energy consumption growth? Most probably so.

Will future economic growth = Oil consumption growth? No, because alternative energies will progressively replace OIL.


two words: peak oil

Reality Czech

Henrik appears to believe that humans can harvest on the order of 170 billion tons of biomass per year from existing sources on an indefinite basis.  Do I have to point out that such an assumption is dangerously naïve?


Reality Czech,

No, but even a fraction of that potential biomass would take out a signifigent fraction of oil use.


If we peak at 100 million barrels a day of worldwide production and the worldwide demand over the next 20 years becomes 150 million barrels a day, then prices will go up and shortages will become more common. I think that this pattern of future events is probable. If this becomes a realistic outlook of future conditions, then coordination, planning and execution become essential. This may be stating the obvious, but all I have heard so far is talk and I have seen very little action on the part of world leaders.


Reality Czech where do you get the 170 billion tons of biomass number from? I certainly didn’t writhe it.

Rafael Seidl

Henrik -

you are quite right to point out that we are currently in the unusual situation of decent economic growth rates not just in virtually all OECD countries but very rapid growth in China, Eastern Europe, India, Brazil, Turkey and many other places. As Charles S. points out, it would be atypical for this to continue indefinitely. Someone somewhere is going to suffer an economic downturn and that may prove contagious.

My point was simply that the currently high price of oil is a function of the slow growth in supply capacity relative to structural growth in demand. With little excess capacity to fall back on, traders are placing a high premium on the political risks. Fears of a physical supply crunch appear to be unfounded.

Rikiki Weisbrich


The technology is and has been available for some time to use the waste gases from petroleum platforms, installations, refineries... anywhere gas is blown off or flared. (I.E.WASTED) If land based wells were as efficient as offshore platforms, you would see the adoption of more of these "waste gas" turbines pumping out electricity, just as they do in offshore installations.

Several companies make APUs that use the waste gases. Check out this compact unit seen at many petro sites.


BTW the Fischer-Tropf process can also be used to use waste gases in GTL plants. Collection systems is the problem there. Though I believe in dense production areas such as Qatar and Saudia are on that road already.

Rikiki Weisbrich
Round Rock, TX


Don't forget US politics. Oil and gas drilling are prohibited or prohibitive in much of the US. For example, the Arctic national wildlife refuge (14 billion barrels?), off the coast, and some places in the Rockies.


There's also a huge shortage of drilling rigs right now, and that influences how quickly new oil exploration and production wells can be completed. This is why peak oil is going to be so damned hard to predict. And it'll surprise everybody, including the experts.


There are so many "experts" is the area of peak oil, one of them has to be right.


Henrick - "At $120 per barrel cellulose ethanol can be competitively produced even with today’s immature production technology for this feedstock."

But that is assuming that the production cost for cellulostic ethanol remains at the present level. With 120/barrel oil this will double or triple the cost of ethanol as gathering and transporting the feedstock will be 3 or 4 times more expensive as will all other costs associated with producing ethanol.

From Robert Rapier's blog:

"And then he makes the mistake that so many others repeatedly make:

If the price of oil keeps rising, he said, so will profits.

This is the same mistake that proponents of tar sands, GTL, oil shale, cellulosic ethanol, and many others have run into. They believe that oil prices will rise, and yet their costs will magically remain where they were. In fact, what happens is that as oil prices rise, all the costs associated with these various projects rise. That’s why oil shale has been imminent for 100 years. That’s why ExxonMobil is scrapping GTL plans. And that’s why tar sands costs have skyrocketed. A poster at The Oil Drum has referred to this trend as The Law of Receding Horizons."

Hamid Al Drees

I am a little curious of how we are treating the planet. Is the planet shrinking with all this oil reserve being sucked out of the ground and replaced by water. There are very little oil well gushers any more. The oil in turn converted into gases entering the atmosphere must being heading out into space. So, we are experiencing loses here of the earths products. Will we bear dire consequences for this later. Is the oil in the ground acting as an insulation in keeping the earth heat sealed inside. Hard to tell. I know the water we used to bring up out of wells 700 - 1000 feet deep in Saudi Arabia was about 40 degrees C temp. Is the inner earth going to cool quicker because it is dissipating heat out into the outer crust, seas, etc. Why are Governments wasting time in not collectively looking into new technology for operating machinery, transport, etc, and working towards habitating other planets and the problems that overpopulation of this one will create in years to come. There are many issues, but we need to be thinking beyond our time on the planet and for the following generations also. All this stupidity and fighting needs to stop and serious cooperation begin among all..


In simple terms what happemed to the oi; industry is exactly the same as with the electricpower industry. Things piled up tomake siting new units far too combersome and supid so both industries coasted knowing that the sure way to clear away stupid regs and clogged gov regs was to let the bleep hit the fan.

In both cases it worked rather well.

Sad fact is humans simplr dometimes need to be kicked in the privates dropped off a roof and beaten to a pulp o make then shut up and get thier act togther.

The bad thing is in the end what it will realy tke is a good old fasioned doomfall to realy cut the stupidity factor we face these days... and mother nature combined with our tender care will provide that.. a few billion doses.


Ender: Oil sands production prices haven't really changed (except down). When they first started in the oil sands they could only make a profit at 30$/bbl. Last I checked they can make money at 15$/bbl. The expenses you are hearing about are the costs of starting new operations. That is a result of everyone and their dog all trying to get into the the tar sands at the same time. You should see what's happened to prices in Fort MacMurray.

Mridul Kashatria


Don't worry about gases going out in Space, they can't. Gravity is there. only some light gases like hydrogen or helium can escape.

And, about Shrinking Earth, well it is true that we're taking stuff out of earth but look at the scale, a number in billions or trillions is just a fraction for Earth.


Ender you have a point in saying that increasing crude oil prices increases the cost of producing ethanol using the present technology. However, you are grossly exaggerating when saying “With 120/barrel oil this will double or triple the cost of ethanol as gathering and transporting the feedstock will be 3 or 4 times more expensive as will all other costs associated with producing ethanol.” Firstly, you are exaggerating because doubling of crude oil from $60 to $120 can at most increase transportation cost by 100%. In fact, the cost of diesel and gasoline will only increase by some 80% when doubling the crude oil price because the fabrication of these fuels are associated with other costs that stay the same regardless of the price of crude oil. 80% is far less than the 300% to 400% that you suggest for transportation costs. Secondly, you are grossly wrong when saying that transportation cost is a dominant cost in the fabrication of ethanol. In fact, the US department of agriculture made an analysis saying that, I quote “Every 1 Btu of petroleum fuel used to produce ethanol generates 13.2 Btus, thereby greatly enhancing U.S. energy security.” In other words, the cost of transportation full for ethanol production is very low. In fact, the reason that the corn farmers and ethanol factories use fossil diesel is more due to the fact that this is the traditional fuel of choice. You will see in a few years (2-4 years) the majority of these farmers and ethanol facilities will be running on bio diesel made as a by-product from corn ethanol and other sources.

The major cost involved in ethanol production is the cost of 1) feedstock, 2) production energy, 3) capital costs, 4) industrial enzymes, 5) labour, and yes 6) transportation energy. Of these 6 factors the first 2 are the most important.

1) Corn or sugar used as a feedstock will increase in price as we have seen already with corn going from about $2,1 a bushel to $3,7 a bushel. The US corn ethanol production will triple in as little as 4 to 5 years from now and that will drive corn prices further up. However, I doubt you will see corn above $6 a bushel even with crude oil at $120. The increasing price of sugar and corn will make cellulose very attractive as a feedstock because it will be comparatively inexpensive and it is so plentiful that dramatically increased demand will have little impact on the long term price of cellulose. Globally it should not be a problem to harvest about 15 billion tons of cellulose a year. One ton of corn produces 400 kg of ethanol. If this conversion rate can be maintained for cellulose 15 billion tons of cellulose could yield 6 billion tons of ethanol enough to replace all crude oil produced in 2006. Such a cellulose harvest is realistic on a global scale because I repeat that the planet contains more than 1000 billion tons of biomass that regenerates in about every 11 years.

2) The production energy (not transportation energy) in today’s corn ethanol fabrication is due to use of electricity and natural gas mostly for heating purposes. Today a few ethanol producers have begun to use electricity generated by wind turbines. This will change dramatically and in 10 to 15 years all ethanol producers will use wind turbine electricity because it will be the least costly form of electricity available. Many are still unaware that the global wind power industry have managed to reduce the cost of wind power from 37,5 c /kWh in 1986 to 7,5 c/ kWh in 2006 at the average wind location. This trend is very likely to continue the next two decades so that the cost of wind power drops to c 1,5 / kWh in 2026 for the average wind location. This will be accomplished through further increases in turbine size and through mass production. In 10 years from now only hydro electricity will still be able to compete with electricity produced from wind mills.

The future of transportation looks pretty bright with plenty of alternatives to using fossil fuels and the increasing price of crude oil has triggered this metamorphosis. Indeed, the prophecy by Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani that "The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil." finally seems to come through.


I saw an article in the NY Times yesterday in the business section that showed some projects in cellulose ethanol and how they have been working on it since the late 90s and have nothing working on a large scale yet. They just mentioned the enzyme/fermentation/distillation methods and nothing on gasification nor pyrolysis. They did talk about one company that had something working and ran out of money. If this was true, this should not happen. We need all viable ideas to make it into production.

Max Reid

This is weird. For an important energy source like Oil, different groups are giving different pictures.

This chart puts Kuwait at 9th place with half their stated reserves. Is that official.

Some independent group like EIA should step in. But they too were talking about oil consumption hitting 115 million barrels / day by 2020 timeline without stating where it will come.

With all these vagaries, the price at the pump is the BEST JUDGE.


Fact is everyone is hidding thier true oil reserves. For one thing many places face complete anarchy when oil production runs low. For anouther its already well known that many in power just plan to queeze the dregs then cut and run leaving the masses to rot.

Also many in power only have stayed alive by bribing terrorist orgs. This falls apart as the money stream ends so they contain info on WHEN it will happen hoping to run and hide when the bleep hits the fan.

Finaly few in power want the masses to know when say africa or centra;am will be cut off from oil as other areas outbid them for whats left.
Keeping people calm tends to be an obession.

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