Friday, March 31, 2006

Where Does Your Oil Come From?

[Update, 9/17/08: This post still get's a lot of traffic, likely due to a great Google ranking on the search term "Where does our oil come from?" For those of you looking for a more up to date picture of where our oil imports come from, the Center for American Progress has an interactive map of 2007 oil imports by nation here. The overall picture hasn't changed significantly however, so the analysis below still holds... Thanks for checking out WattHead. Stick around and explore over three years of energy news and commentary... -Jesse Jenkins, blogmaster.]


The following is an excellent map illustrating just where all our imported oil comes from. At the end of 2005, US crude oil production stood at only 4.86 million barrels per day (bbl/d), the lowest value in more than 50 years. Natural gas plant liquids and condensate add roughly a couple million bbl/d more to our domestic supply. Still, today's 21 million bbl/d consumption rate clearly FAR outpaces our domestic production and imports fill the gap.

Where do all those imports come from? The map below answers that question:



Contrary to the common misconception that most of our oil comes from the Middle East, the map above makes it clear that a third of of our oil comes from our nearest neighbors, Canada (18%) and Mexico (15%). Another 10% of our imports comes from Venezuela with another 3% each coming from Colombia and Ecuador. All together, that means that almost half, or 49% of our imports come from our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.

The map illustrates another interesting fact: while Saudi Arabia is our third largest source of oil, the African nation of Nigeria comes in tied for third as well, providing us a roughly equal amount of our imports (another 12%).

All in all, only 19% of our imported oil supply came from the Middle East with the breakdown by region as follows:

  • North America: 33%

  • Africa: 22%

  • Middle East: 19%

  • South America: 16%

  • Europe: 3%

  • Other assorted exporting countries not shown on map: 7%

  • However, that relatively small figure for the Middle East belies its true importance. Of all those other regions we import from, the Middle East has by far the most sizable reserves of oil left. Production in most of the other exporting countries from which we get our oil are 'past peak' (as is the United States), meaning that it has begun the irreversible decline in production signature of a finite resource tapped at an exponential rate. As existing oil fields decline, the world will turn to new oil fields to pick up the slack and that's where the Middle East comes in...

    Saudi Arabia alone posesses roughly a quarter of the world's proven oil reserves, ranking first in the world with 261.7 billion barrels, according to the CIA World Factbook. Canada ranks in at number two with 178.9 billion barrels but the next four are all Middle Eastern countries: Iran (113.3 billion bbl), Iraq (112.5 billion bbl), United Arab Emirates (97.8 billion bbl) and Kuwait (96.5 billion bbl). All together, according to the CIA World Factbook, these five Middle Eastern nations posess 69.5% of the world's proven supply of 1,025 billion barrels!

    So, despite the fact that we currently rely on many other countries for our oil supplies and depend on our nearest neighbors for the largest share, that picture will change in the future. Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will become ever more important suppliers of oil as supplies elsewhere dwindle and the oil gluttons of the world turn to fight over the vast reserves of the Middle East (a conflict many believe has already begun).

    I have to ask, does this sound like a conflict we really want to get invovled with? Do we really want to compete, either economically or militarily, with rising giants China or India for control over the oil reserves of the Middle East? Is that a confict we can win, and if it is, at what price? Would it not be wiser to invest now in alternatives to our "oil addiction" - the electrification of transport, domestic supplies of renewable electricity and biofuels, energy conservation and efficiency, and probably either coal gasification (with carbon sequestration) or nuclear? I'll leave the answers to you...

    [A hat tip to Greg Bothun for the map]

    10 comments:

    Razib Ahmed said...

    Middle East is also significant because European countries, Japan, China, India and all the Asian countries import oil from the Middle East. ADB president Haruhiko Kuroda has viewed that India has the
    potential to
    continue high economic growth for 2 decades
    . China and India both are
    growing rapidly and they need oil. So, the price of oil is likely to rise only
    in the coming days.

    Anonymous said...

    You used the word trillion instead of the correct billion to describe oil reserves for those Middle Eastern countries and the world as a whole. If the world actually had 1,025 trillion barrels of oil, then we wouldn't have to worry about peak oil for centuries. In fact, it has 1,025 BILLION barrels of proven reserves which are depleted at a rate of 30 billion barrels per year and growing.

    WattHead said...

    You're correct, anonymous one. Thanks for pointing out the error, I'll correct it ASAP. My apologies for the mistake.

    WattHead said...

    The error has been corrected and the reserve figures are now in the correct order of magnitude.

    Anonymous said...

    you have every right to think that the current oil reserves in the world are around 1000 Billion barrles (that is with a B). however, if you look past what the government gives you as FACT then you would see that the ammount of oil that is really in the earth right now is well over a Trillion barrles (that is with a T). true, some of these reserves are either heavy oil or tar sands, but refining techniques are getting better and better each year, and at some point we will have the know-how to remove, refine and use that oil. so yes, if you listen to what politicians tell you and do not seek answers for yourself, then we have a small and quickly shrinking supply of oil, but if you go out and research for just a second you will see that the government does not state the whole truth. we will be measuring oil in terms of centuries, not years...

    wiseone said...

    As of 1971 we had 616 bbls of oil in worldwide reserve. WE HAVE since
    then USED 727 bbls of oil. WE now have OVER 1 TRILLION bbls. in world wide reserve! With more coming on line each year.(BRAZIL, CANADA,MEXICO,AFRICA,U.S. AND WHEN THEY START DRILLING DEEP ENOUGH THERE WILL BE EVEN MORE! PROFESSOR GOLD OF CORNELL WAS CORRECT, OIL IS
    BEING MADE CONTINUOUSLY DEEP IN THE
    EARTH.THANK U "O" GREAT SPIRIT! SAVE US FROM OUR DEEP IGNORANCE OF YOUR WONDERFUL ADVANCE PLANNING!)

    Anonymous said...

    Strangely enough, even if we have over a trillion barrels in reserve, does it really matter? Considering the continuous advancements in alternative energy, the greater reliability and need for public transportation, and lack of funds available to the general public due to a rapidly slowing commerce, oil doesn't mean much anymore. If we were actually worried about getting reserves of oil for the purpose of supply and demand, we'd already have massive amounts of cars that run on alternative energy. But we don't because they're only worried about money. Oil should be use as a last resort. We've got the technology to make it happen.

    Anonymous said...

    Oil doesn't mean much anymore? I'm sorry, what the hell is powering everything then? Geothermal? The technology is there, as you say, to use alternative source of energy but cheap technology is not available. Solar cars are many hundreds of thousands of dollars and have a limited range. Plug in hybrids rely on fossil fule. Ethanol relies on fossil fuel for the conversion process. Oil doesn't matter...your opinion doesn't matter.

    Anonymous said...

    Hey, I'm working on a school project and I was wondering if I could use your picture?

    Anonymous said...

    So where does oil come from when its imported to the USA?