Saudi proven oil reserves no longer world’s largest – Latin American proven reserves grow 400 percent in 4 years

Proven oil reserves - Orinoco tar sands of VenezuelaAccording to a release by Latin American Energy Organisation OLADE last Thursday Venezuela has toppled Saudi Arabia as the country with the largest proven oil reserves. New discoveries have raised the proven reserves of Venezuela from 98 billion barrels of crude [IEA 2010] to 297 billion barrels [OLADE 2011].

To get to the ranking OLADE includes the Orinoco tar sands, an unconventional petroleum source. These are the second largest crude oil fields in the world, after the Alberta tar sands of Canada.

Newly discovered oil fields offshore of Brazil also add to the growing importance of Latin America to the international oil market. According to OLADE the region now harbours 40 [OLADA, 2011] instead of 8 percent [US EIA, 2007] of the world’s proven oil reserves, five times as much in just 4 years time.

Lowering reserve estimates

Meanwhile unclarity remains around the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year a Wikileaks document suggested these could have been overstated by as much as 40 percent. Alaskan oil reserves could even be 90 percent smaller than previously thought, a 2010 US Geological Survey analysis stated.

Both oil companies and oil producing nations have a direct interest in exaggerating their reserves, as this helps safeguard infrastructure investments. Even coal reserves may have been overestimated.

Raising reserve estimates

However, with continued rise of oil demand and oil prices, it is likely extraction of some so far untouched remote, deep, offshore or scattered oil reserves will also become commercially profitable – as will alternative fossil fuel sources, like tar sands, oil shales and coal oil – all of which produce [due to production requirements and relative carbon content] more CO2 per amount of generated energy than conventional oil does.

It is therefore high time to conclude the physical Peak Oil of this planet will not coincide with the environmental Peak Oil that according to the IEA 450 Scenario is needed within the current decade.

Redundant reserves?

Last week the Carbon Tracker Initiative calculated the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves are equivalent to 2795 gigatonnes CO2 emissions, meaning we’ll have to leave 80 percent of proven reserves in the ground as an essential requirement to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at no more than 450 ppm CO2 equivalents.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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