The Truth About Middle East Oil Reserves

Not Every Mideast Country is Oil-Rich

Iraq Signs Contracts With Foreign Oil Companies
Muhannad Fala'ah/Stringer/Getty Images News/ Getty Images

he terms "Middle East" and "oil-rich" are often taken as synonyms of each other. Talk of the Middle East and oil has made it seem as if every country in the Middle East were an oil-rich, oil-producing exporter. Yet, the reality is at odds with that assumption.

The Greater Middle East adds up to more than 30 countries. Only a few of those have significant oil reserves and produce enough oil to slake their energy needs and export oil as well. Several have minor oil reserves. 

Let's take a look at the reality of the Middle East and proved crude oil reserves.

The Oil-Dry Nations of the Greater Middle East

To really understand how the countries in the Middle East are related to the world's oil productions, it's important to understand which do not have oil reserves.

Seven countries in total are what is considered 'oil-dry.' They do not have the crude oil reservoirs required for production or export. A number of these countries are small in area or located in regions that simply do not have the reserves of their neighbors.

The oil-dry countries of the Middle East include:

  • Afghanistan
  • Cyprus
  • Comoros
  • Djibouti
  • Eritrea
  • Lebanon
  • Somalia

The Mideast's Biggest Oil Producers

The Middle East's association with oil production primarily comes from countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait. Each of these has over 100 billions of barrels in proved reserves.

What is a 'proved reserve'? According to the CIA World Factbook, 'proved reserves' of crude oil are those that have been "estimated with a high degree of confidence to be commercially recoverable." These are known reservoirs analyzed by "geological and engineering data." It's also important to note that the oil must have the ability to be obtained anytime in the future and that "current economic conditions" do play a role in these estimates.

With these definitions in mind, 100 of the 217 countries in the world rank for having some degree of proved oil reserves.

The world's oil industry is a complex maze that is extremely important in the world economy. That is why it is key to so many diplomatic discussions. 

The Mideast's Oil Producers, by Estimated Proved Reserves

Rank Country Reserves (bbn*) World Rank
1 Saudi Arabia 266.2 2
2 Iran 157.2 4
3 Iraq 149.8 5
4 Kuwait 101.5 6
5 United Arab Emirates 97.8 7
6 Libya 48.4 9
7 Kazakhstan 30 11
8 Qatar 25.2 13
9 Algeria 12.2 15
10 Azerbaijan 7 18
11 Oman 5.4 21
12 Sudan 5 22
13 Egypt 4.4 25
14 Yemen 3 29
15 Syria 2.5 30
16 Turkmenistan 0.6 43
17 Uzbekistan 0.6 44
18 Tunisia 0.4 48
19 Pakistan 0.3 52
20 Bahrain 0.1 67
21 Mauritania 0.02 83
22 Israel 0.012 87
23 Jordan 0.01 96
24 Morocco 0.0068 97

*bbn - billions of barrels
Source: CIA World Factbook; January 2018 figures.

Which Country has the Biggest Oil Reserves?

In reviewing the table of Middle East oil reserves, you will notice that no country in the region ranks for the top oil reserves in the world. So which country does rank number one? The answer is Venezuela with an estimated 302 billion barrels available of proved crude oil reserves.

Other countries in the world that make up the top ten include:

  • #3: Canada with 170.5 billion barrels
  • #8: Russia with 80 billion barrels
  • #10: Nigeria with 37.5 billion barrels

Where does the United States rank? The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated the total proved oil reserve in the country as 39.2 billion barrels as of the end of 2017. The CIA World Factbook omitted the U.S. in the 2018 ranking, but the estimate from the EIA would place it in the #10 place, and move Nigeria into 11 in the world rankings.

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