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How Much Oil Does Saudi Arabia Really Have?


Officially, Venezuela has the world’s largest crude oil reserves with 303 billion barrels of proved reserves. In reality, a lot of this oil is extra-heavy crude oil, and may not be economical to produce at prevailing prices. Thus, some portion of Venezuela’s barrels may in reality no longer be in the “proved reserves” category.

Consider that Venezuela’s proved reserves jumped from 80 billion barrels in 2005 to 300 billion barrels in 2014. The main reason for that wasn’t a bunch of new oil discoveries. No, it was the fact that oil prices had reached triple digits, making Venezuela’s extra heavy oil economical to produce. In other words, “resources” (the oil in the ground) were moved into the “proved reserves” (oil that is economical to produce) category.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, reported 264 billion barrels of proved reserves in 2005, and 267 billion barrels in 2014. In other words, Saudi Arabia’s barrels were deemed to be economical to produce even before oil prices spiked. For that reason, I consider Saudi Arabia’s proved reserves — 16% of the global total — to be of the most significance to the global oil market.

But doubts about the amount of Saudi Arabia’s reserves have persisted for years. In 1982, Saudi Arabia stopped allowing their oil and gas data to be scrutinized. Prior to that, outsiders had some access to information on their reserves. When that accessibility was shut down, Saudi proved oil reserves were estimated to be 166 billion barrels.

However, around 1988 Saudi raised their estimate of proved reserves by 90 billion barrels. Many pundits have suggested that this upward revision was based on internal OPEC politics. Since the reserves were no longer subject to outside audit, there was a great deal of skepticism around the official numbers the Saudis released.

The skepticism deepened when one considered that Saudi’s reserves in 1990 were 260 billion barrels, and today — nearly 30 years later — they are reportedly 266 billion barrels. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia produced over 100 billion barrels between 1990 and 2017. How then could their reserves be essentially unchanged?

In preparation for a potential IPO, Saudi’s national oil company, Saudi Aramco, recently commissioned an outside audit of its proved reserves. The independent external audit found Saudi’s proved oil reserves to be at least 270 billion barrels.

But doubts persist. For example, oil economist Dr. Mamdouh G. Salameh, who is a Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London, recently wrote:

My calculation of Saudi reserves based on Saudi production since the discovery of oil in 1938 till now (for which we have figures) and a deduction of an annual depletion rate of Saudi aging fields averaging 5%-7% for the same period, gives a figure of 70-74 bb of remaining reserves. My figures are more or less in line with those of other experts.”

In fact, I once did a similar calculation. I started with the assumption that the 1982 estimate of 166 billion barrels was correct, and then I just subtracted Saudi production since then. I calculated their total production since 1982 as ~100 billion barrels, leaving 66 billion barrels of reserves.

However, I then did a sanity check that threw that calculation in doubt. I did the same calculation for U.S. proved reserves over the same time frame.

In 1982, U.S. proved crude oil reserves were reported to be 35 billion barrels. By 2005 — and before the shale oil boom was underway, U.S. proved reserves had only fallen to 30 billion barrels. But total U.S. production between 1982 and 2005 was 77 billion barrels.

If we extend that calculation through the end of 2017, U.S. proved reserves have actually jumped to 50 billion barrels, and there have been 117 billion barrels of U.S. production since 1982 (more even than for Saudi Arabia).

To reiterate, in 1982 U.S. proved crude oil reserves stood at 35 billion barrels. Between then and 2017, the U.S. produced 117 billion barrels of oil, yet proved reserves grew to 50 billion barrels.

How did this happen? There were new discoveries, technological improvements that allowed more barrels to be extracted from existing fields, and higher prices that made additional resources economical to extract.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that Saudi Arabia also found additional barrels since 1982. They also have access to the same kinds of technology that improved recovery in U.S. fields. Therefore, I do not believe it’s a legitimate exercise to consider depletion from a historical reserves number to estimate current reserves. Such an exercise would have suggested that U.S. oil production would have fallen to zero by 1991.

Thus, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Saudi Arabia really does have the proved reserves they say they have and not a much lower number. Their published reserves are consistent with the independent audit, and they are consistent with the experience in the U.S. of reserves growth despite significant oil production.

Lest you think that the U.S. results are atypical, you can repeat this exercise for any of the world’s major oil producers and find the same thing. Starting with the proved reserves in 1982 and subtracting the subsequent production will not accurately predict the reserves at some point in the future. In many cases — as with the U.S. — cumulative production was greater than the 1982 proved reserves number.

So, I have no good reason to doubt Saudi Arabia’s official numbers. They probably do have 270 billion barrels of proved oil reserves.

Robert Rapier – Forbes

37 Comments on "How Much Oil Does Saudi Arabia Really Have?"

  1. Outcast_Searcher on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 9:14 am 

    Assuming there has been a credible audit for the planned Aramco IPO, unless someone goes for the wild speculation or paranoia theories, there is no good reason to dispute the official numbers.

    Robert is certainly right about how technology has improved proved reserve numbers generally, over time.

    Now, how reliable the claims and audits are, as a layman, that seems hard to say. But the “almost no KSA oil left” theories of the fast crash doomers, etc. lack any foundation.

  2. Sissyfuss on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 9:41 am 

    If their reserves are 70 million, it is a catastrophe for Ind Civ. If they are 270 million it is a catastrophe for the natural world. The epitome of a predicament.

  3. Anonymous on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 11:08 am 

    Yeah…the peak oilers really blew it on this one. Matt Simmons and Stuart Staniford with their imminent decline crap. To his discredit, James Hamilton gave Staniford too much credibility (and didn’t go back and examine how/why he was wrong and what to learn from it.)

    In addition to all of the above, if anything SA has had much less exploration than the US has and has less incentive (since they are restricting volume to prop price up, are not a price taker).

  4. Outcast_Searcher on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 1:30 pm 

    Sissy: Says the clown that doesn’t know million from billion. Sure.

    We don’t HAVE to burn it all. The more we burn, the more that expensive technological mitigation will be required later.

    But of course, when all you have is doom, doom, doom, be sure and whack that nail endlessly.

  5. shortonoil on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 4:27 pm 

    Because it is known what the original height of the Saudi oil seams were, and their present water cut, it can be directly calculated that according to the estimates made in the 1960’s and 1970’s (by the best petrologists in the world) that the Saudi fields have been over 90% depleted. The average oil baring seam over the water is 35′. If the Saudis have an Oil Wizard we don’t know? They do have a field called Mafia; which happens to be a 60 Gb vanadium laced shit hole that can not be sold on the world market directly. It makes refineries burn down. So 70 minus 60 equals 10. Keep talking Ralphy.

  6. shortonoil on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 4:41 pm 

    Has anyone around here seen an Aramco IPO to sell 70 Gb of oil (at least 5% of it).Well, those damn Saudis figured out that the price wasn’t enough so they backed out? Pretty soon no one showed much interest in it. Even Wall Street does not believe the Saudis. There is a picture of a Tooth Fairy in every Wall Street office, or Lord Rothschild.

  7. makati1 on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 5:55 pm 

    Peak Oil is over. What we have now is the junk under the barrel. Most of it is not real petroleum but oily liquids or tar. Both not usable without expensive refining. THAT is why the world economy is going to go down to reality soon. Lies are all that is propping it up. That, and money printing.

    Money printing is all that is keeping BAU going, and the central banks are getting desperate. We are soon going to experience a once-in-a-life-time event. This one will be unlike any before. There will be no “recovery” after. Those countries with the least real debt will survive. Those with the most, well, we shall see.

    Pass the popcorn, the show is getting interesting in a Chinese way.

  8. shortonoil on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 6:14 pm 

    Using Wall Streets evaluation of $300 billion for Aramco, and $50 oil puts the Saudi’s assets at 6 Gb. Closer to the 90% depleted figure. Wall Street doesn’t care how many barrels may be in Saudi’ territory. It only cares what it may be worth. They prefer deals to screw jobs. According to Wall Street there is not that much of anything, including the oil in Saudi Arabia that is worth buying. MbS should have included his harem in the first offer.

  9. Dr Salameh on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 6:15 pm 

    “ First, the Audit can neither be independent nor unbiased since some of the companies that conducted the audit (DeGolyer, MacNaughton, and Baker Hughes’ Gaffney, Cline, and Associates) have or have had service contracts with Saudi Aramco, so it can’t truly be classified as an independent audit.

    Second, the claimed audit smacks of a blatant attempt by Saudi Aramco abetted by foreign oil companies which are beneficiaries of Saudi Aramco largess to resurrect the IPO of Saudi Aramco. This attempt is bound to fail miserably because the IPO is dead and buried. Saudi King Salman ordered its withdrawal because of risk of American litigation related to the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York and question marks about the true size of Saudi proven oil reserves.
    Third, we need to know the method the companies used to calculate the reserves. To get a relatively accurate figure, they need to count the actual number of Saudi oil-producing wells and the production and recoverable reserves of each. I doubt they would have done that as it takes a very long time to track the production and reserves of each well.

    Four, a simpler way of estimating Saudi proven reserves is to add Saudi production since the discovery of oil in 1938 till now (for which we have figures) and have it deducted from Saudi claimed proven reserves along with an annual depletion rate of Saudi aging fields averaging 5%-7% for the same period. When I did exactly that, my calculations came to around 70-74 billion barrels (bb) of remaining reserves. My figures are more or less in line with those of other experts.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

  10. I AM THE MOB on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 6:31 pm 

    Saudi Arabian oil reserves are overstated by 40% — Wikileaks

    The collapse of Saudi Arabia is inevitable

    But Saudi Arabia’s spare capacity to pump like crazy can only last so long. A new peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering anticipates that Saudi Arabia will experience a peak in its oil production, followed by inexorable decline, in 2028 – that’s just 13 years away.

  11. Sissyfuss on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 7:08 pm 

    I study the climate science, ergo I am a doomer.

  12. Sissyfuss on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 7:16 pm 

    You’re right Mak. We are entering the bottleneck which is triggering a massive downsizing which includes many of us. Stagflation is in the air.

  13. Sissyfuss on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 7:21 pm 

    Thank you for the excellent post, Dr Salameh. Please feel free to drop by anytime.

  14. makati1 on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 7:24 pm 

    Sissyfuss, Outcast is in denial. Obviously he cannot handle the truth. I don’r need scientists to tell me what I observe with my own eyes. Climates are changing. Weather is getting weird. Hot spots are getting hotter. Weather extremes are more numerous, etc.

    There is an advantage to having lived 75 years. You get to see things in a long perspective. I’ve watched the US since the end of WW2. I’ve observed the world changing from the Cold War to Cold War Two. The internet makes it easy to see what is happening most everywhere. I am using several hours daily, of my retirement, to observe, sort out the bullshit, and come to my own conclusions. I post them here, but few agree, for their own personal reasons. So be it. Reality is a bitch.

  15. makati1 on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 7:28 pm 

    Yes, Dr Salameh, you are most welcome here. A nice breath of fresh air from an educated, intelligent and logical perspective.

  16. Antius on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 6:15 am 

    “Peak Oil is over. What we have now is the junk under the barrel. Most of it is not real petroleum but oily liquids or tar. Both not usable without expensive refining. THAT is why the world economy is going to go down to reality soon. Lies are all that is propping it up. That, and money printing.”

    Correct. The latest instalment from Tim Morgan of Surplus Energy Economics blog; lays bare the effects that zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) have had on pensions. Essentially, this policy allows consumption today by stealing it from the future. That future is now inevitably poorer, as saving rates have diminished and real return on investments are beneath inflation. Very few millennials (other than the lucky rich) will ever be able to retire. ZIRP has hopelessly skewed the economy, destroying value creation, by making borrowed money virtually free. Why make any effort to earn when you can borrow for free?

    The enormous increase in debt held by government and private sector companies alike; would not be serviceable if interest rates returned to more normal levels of 5%. This indicates that we are living on borrowed time. Any attempt to deflate the bubbles will now lead to a depression that would make the 1930s look tame in comparison.

    Does anyone here still cling to the illusion that ZIRP would have happened were it not for the headwinds of high energy prices in 2008-14, which were a direct result of global depletion of conventional oil, coal and gas? The proof of this assertion can be found in the fact that investment in oil and gas have surged to several times the levels of 2000; yet real volume production is perhaps 40% higher now and in net energy terms, the margin is even thinner.

    None of this would be affordable at all without ZIRP. In 2008, central bankers decided to extend the industrial party and kick the can down the road. But it was financial cannibalism, in which society kept eating only by eating itself. The day of reckoning is fast approaching.

    I think the core of the problem is that most economists don’t understand what the economy actually is. They tend to think of it as a kind of non-physical entity that runs on money, with more money stimulating more production and wealth. They lose sight of the fact that the economy runs on physical inputs like labour, energy and materials. Money is simply a claim on the products of the economy. Boosting money supply does not help resolve bottlenecks caused by physical resource scarcity. Yet this simple fact appears to elude economists.

  17. Cloggie on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 6:27 am 

    “Peak nice oil” maybe behind us and from an economic point of view that is a negative indeed.

    But we are nowhere near peak fossil, unfortunately (for environmental reasons).

    The factor that is constantly ignored here on this “Chief Seattle forum” is technology, a giant plus, at least in economic terms. Worldwide we have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of engineers who are fulltime busy with innovation, many of them related to energy conservation and renewable technology.

  18. I AM THE MOB on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 6:36 am 

    Russians told to ‘prepare for the worst’ as US proposes new sanctions

    HAHA! Mother Russia is going down hard!

  19. Antius on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 6:59 am 

    “Russians told to ‘prepare for the worst’ as US proposes new sanctions”

    It has already been fully established that Russia did not play any part in Trump’s election, although Putin did wish him well.

    I have my suspicions that the Russians are being punished, ultimately, for not playing along with the takeover of their country by Jewish oligarchs.

    But why is Trump allowing this? One of his electoral promises was to improve US-Russian relations, which would be enormously beneficial for both sides.

  20. Cloggie on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 7:39 am 

    There is such a thing as The Swamp (deep state), that is still in place. Nixon knew all about it. Google “Nixon Billy Graham jews.

    Nixon: “this country is going down the drain”

    (Meanwhile it has)

    WW3 is coming: US vs Eurasia.
    No-deal Brexit means Anglosphere vs Eurasia.
    It will probably begin in the South China Sea.

    Remember: Americans can take no casualties.

  21. Antius on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 8:45 am 

    “The factor that is constantly ignored here on this “Chief Seattle forum” is technology, a giant plus, at least in economic terms. Worldwide we have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of engineers who are fulltime busy with innovation, many of them related to energy conservation and renewable technology.”

    Cloggie, technology has been improving for 200 years and you are correct that the process continues. But it has limitations. It cannot change the nature of resources; it can only partially adapt to those limitations.

    The bottom line is, if technology were going to solve the peak oil problem, we would not have had the crash of 2008 and practically zero interest rates ever since. This sort of thing would have been unimaginable even a dozen years ago.

    At what point is ‘technology’ going to jump out and make all of these problems go away? Could it possibly be that life isn’t quite so simple?

  22. Cloggie on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 9:45 am 

    The crash of 2008 was mostly caused by “Leroy” and his subprime loans, provided to him out of political correctness, enforced by politicians on bankers, who otherwise never would have provided those loans. Nothing to do with peak oil.

    The high oil price at the time was very well caused by peak conventional oil and was greatly reduced by the emerging fracking technology. When that runs out, UCG and methane hydrates will be next.


    Britain could profit enormous from that, the environment not so much.

  23. pat on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 10:36 am 

    the world avoided the oil shortages only due to the global slowdown, recession and heading to depression any seen before. already in post peak oil era and what left is tar sands, black glue, fracking, low eroei, hard to get and expensive. the real oil reserves left can be much less than the reserves mentioned, as the major giant oil fields are in high depletion, dying. the oil end will mean we see high oil prices with falling output, exhausted reserves.

  24. I AM THE MOB on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 10:40 am 


    Not true..11 out of the last 12 recession have been caused by a spike in the price of oil..including the last five 08,00,90,80,73.

    Did the Oil Price Boom of 2008 Cause Crisis? WSJ

  25. Antius on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 10:53 am 

    “The crash of 2008 was mostly caused by “Leroy” and his subprime loans, provided to him out of political correctness, enforced by politicians on bankers, who otherwise never would have provided those loans. Nothing to do with peak oil.”


    Bad loans made to Leroy certainly added to the systematic stresses on the banking sector, but they were not the cause of the 2008 crash. If Leroy Loans had been the biggest problem in 2008, then the bank bailouts should have returned the economy to good health, complete with normal interest rates, money creation and investor returns; albeit with a slight jump in debt-GDP ratio, due to the bailouts, which would have been paid down over the next decade. That didn’t happen.

    There is no way that the Leroy Loans problem can account for the need for ten years of zero interest rate policy across the entire developed world; a doubling in debt-GDP ratio, the noticeable decline in consumer spending power everywhere outside of Germany and China; the trashing of pension fund growth; or the need to maintain constant monetary stimulus through Quantitative Easing just to keep GDP growth in positive readings. They do not explain weak productivity growth or the close to zero growth in the production of real exportable goods in the US since 2008. We have had banking crises before. Never before in all of history have we seen anything like the economic and monetary conditions of the past ten years. They are unprecedented in the industrial era.

    In fact, these problems do suggest that something fundamental changed in the early 2000s. Ever since this point, real wealth per capita in most of the developed world has been in decline. The problem is easily understood as soon as we accept the obvious reality that the economy is an energy system and that the cost of accessing energy has increased progressively since the turn of the century. This is a constant head wind against real economic growth. It is very difficult to maintain growth when the cost of non-substitutable inputs keeps on increasing.

    The fact is that this has happened and continues to happen and we are approaching a tipping point. ‘Technology’ did not prevent it. Expecting technology to pull some sort of miraculous rabbit out its hat, something that will suddenly alter economic fundamentals, does not appear realistic at this point. Why would we expect this to suddenly happen? Why didn’t it happen at some point prior to now? My guess is that new technology in renewable energy, energy efficiency, etc., has in fact cushioned a decline that would otherwise have been worse, albeit only slightly. Given their small contribution and the need for storage or back-up power supply, these things have not helped enormously. Expecting technology in these areas to completely reverse declining economic trends implies a complete shift in their fundamentals (huge improvements in EROI, reductions in capital cost, very low cost storage, etc.). This does not appear realistic to me.

  26. Antius on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 11:05 am 

    From Mob’s WSJ reference:

    “In a paper presented at the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity Thursday, University of Calif.-San Diego economist James Hamilton crunched some numbers on how consumer spending responds to rising energy prices and came to a surprising result: Nearly all of last year’s economic downturn could be attributed to the oil price shock.”

    The only thing I don’t understand, is why anyone would be surprised by this? If you suddenly have to pay more for something that you cannot appreciably cut back on; why is it surprising that your spending on other things, like consumer goods and mortgage payments, would suddenly decline? It is simple arithmetic.

  27. I AM THE MOB on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 11:10 am 

    A global energy assessment (Jefferson 2015)

    Second, because the five major Middle East oil exporters altered the basis of their definition of ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves from a 90% probability down to a 50% probability from 1984.The result has been an apparent (but not real) increase in their
    ‘proved’ conventional oil reserves of some 435 billion barrels. These arguably inflated conventional proved oil reserves figures are then published in the standard sources:the Oil & Gas Journal, BP’s Annual Statistical Review of World Energy, and the US Energy Information Administration.

  28. Cloggie on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 12:47 pm 


    I’m the first to admit that I have zero interest in finance/stockmarket/debt/credit, I never read the likes of the Economist or the WSJ, etc. so I am not going to set myself up as a financial expert here.

    Having said that, I find the argument made here about the true causes of the 2008 crisis compelling:

    Libertarian Central LewRockwell is not really a “racist” source.

    This measure from 1999 probably has caused most of the trouble:

    “In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing credit requirements on loans that it will purchase . . . [to] encourage . . . banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good . . . . Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk.”


    For the rest, I find these doomer stories about an impending financial collapse, unconvincing, certainly for Europe. I can only judge for the Dutch aquarium I’m swimming in, but in my more than 60 years I have never experienced a more booming, more affluent, streamlined, fatter economic environment than today. Everybody has work, public debt is receding, no beggars, housing prices are increasing, corporations make healthy profits, there is money for everything. A fine luxury indicator, namely the number of departures from Amsterdam airport, are rapidly growing:

    (scroll down for the outright obscene numbers; note the dip in 2009)

    Cities like Amsterdam and Venice are hand-wringing busy trying to come up with measures to stem the rising tide of tourists.

    This is total at odds with the notion that since 2008 something fundamentally has changed. It hasn’t. It is business as usual and the only way is up. The New Silk Road will make things only “worse”.

    In 2012 I was a Heinberg groupie, proving that I ‘m not a hopeless optimist by default, although I was never as pessimistic as the “Olduvai Gorge” folks.

    Today I’m even a renewable energy Cornucopian and I believe that there is a good chance for a nearly friction-less transition, globally, spearheaded by Europe, not in the least thanks to It’s a doable and interesting engineering job and that’s it.

    The real problems are overpopulation, migration and climate change. Energy is not.

  29. Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 1:26 pm 


    Shut up already with your conspiracy nonsense. Yes, we all know how much you hate the Jews.

    You pretend to be British when it suits your purposes. Other times, you play the role of a proper right-wing Republican party hater.

    Either way, you are as disingenuous as they can possibly come. Translation: what a first class sicko.

  30. Not Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 1:29 pm 

    Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 1:26 pm

  31. Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 3:29 pm 

    The post at 1:29 by Not Davy is fake.
    The post at 1:26 was made by me.

    Anti-US is an extremist in need of a neutering, and that is what I do here.

    I might have made both of those posts, or one of them. I cannot really remember, I spend so much time here juggling multiple identifies. MoB alone keeps me up all night and often times fatigue and confusion sets in and I get things all jumbled up. I am sure you know how it is.

  32. Not Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 3:31 pm 

    The above is not Davy

  33. Mark Ziegler on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 3:48 pm 

    The trick will be to keep supply at 100 million a day and growing.

  34. Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 4:08 pm 

    Dirtyjuanpee identity theft at 3:31

  35. Not Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 4:09 pm 

    Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 4:08 pm

  36. Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 5:00 pm 

    The above is not Davy

  37. Not me above on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 5:05 pm 

    Davy on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 5:00 pm

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