U.S. leads the world in reserves — report

By Nathanial Gronewold | 07/05/2016 07:30 AM EDT

The United States tops the globe in crude oil reserves, according to an Oslo, Norway-based industry research group.

The United States tops the globe in crude oil reserves, according to an Oslo, Norway-based industry research group.

Rystad Energy declared on Independence Day that the United States is home to more recoverable oil reserves than even Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer. U.S. oil reserves are also greater than Russia’s, the company announced, based on an "apple to apple" comparison of worldwide oil fields.

Shale oil discoveries in the United States form the basis of Rystad’s claims.


"The U.S. now holds more recoverable oil reserves than both Saudi Arabia and Russia," the company said in announcing results of a study. "For [the] U.S., more than 50 percent of remaining oil reserves is unconventional shale oil. Texas alone holds more than 60 billion barrels of shale oil according to this new data."

Rystad achieves these conclusions by calculating together proved reserves, proved and probable existing reserves, estimates of reserves contained in recent discoveries and likely reserves held in as-yet-undiscovered fields. Using only conservative estimates of proved reserves, Russia and Saudi Arabia still overtake the United States by wide margins, while the United States only narrowly edges out Canada.

Combining all estimates for oil and condensate reserves gives the United States a figure of 264 billion barrels. That contrasts with 212 billion barrels for Saudi Arabia and 256 billion barrels for Russia.

U.S. government scientists have been increasing their estimates of recoverable reserves for both oil and natural gas in recent years. But the collapse in oil and gas prices has changed the calculations, and many companies have been forced to drastically reduce their reserve estimates to take account of the weaker economics of shale oil extraction.

Two years ago, the U.S. Energy Information Administration increased its estimate of proved oil reserves held in Texas by 15 percent. Booming shale and tight oil development in West Texas’ Permian Basin prompted the increase. Oil prices began sliding lower just a few months afterward.

Back when oil prices were still high, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that Alaska’s North Slope was likely home to one of the nation’s largest shale oil deposits in a single region. USGS put the figure at about 2 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude (E&ENews PM, Feb. 24, 2012).

The true estimate of total U.S. oil reserves, when taking into account the current down business climate, may be unknown but is likely in decline. Oil and gas companies have essentially ended their usual obsession with reserves replacement ratios as the oil price collapse forced companies to focus instead on paying down debt and slashing their operating costs (EnergyWire, June 15).

New exploration and production has also fallen by the wayside, both in the United States and abroad, leading the International Energy Agency to warn of a potential supply shortfall in coming years as the industry has underinvested in new oil production during the downturn.

Despite the bullish tone, Rystad’s newest assessment also agrees that future oil supply may not match demand if demand expands at a higher rate than some analysts are expecting.

"This data confirms that there is a relatively limited amount of recoverable oil left on the planet," the company concluded. "With the global car-park possibly doubling from 1 billion to 2 billion cars over the next 30 years, it becomes very clear that oil alone cannot satisfy the growing need for individual transport."