These Are the World’s Biggest Oil Reserves

Russia has reportedly discovered colossal oil reserves in the British territory of Antarctica. According to documents presented to the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in early May, the discovery was made by Russian research vessels in the Weddell Sea, part of the Antarctic territory claimed by the UK. The reserves discovered are estimated to contain some 511 billion barrels of oil, around 10 times the production of the North Sea over the last 50 years.

However, as Statista’s Anna Fleck reports, the exploitation of hydrocarbons in Antarctica is strictly prohibited. Since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959 (which came into force in 1961), the continent has been reserved for peaceful activities only, and may become “neither the scene nor the object of international disputes”. Antarctica is therefore mainly used for scientific purposes, in particular for research into climate change.

The Russian discovery has raised concerns in the scientific community. Klaus Dodds, an Antarctic expert and professor at London’s Royal Holloway College, reportedly told British MPs that Russian research could be “a conscious decision to weaken the standards of seismic research in Antarctica, and ultimately a first step towards future exploitation operations”.

As this infographic, based on the most recent annual report of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), shows, the size of the oil reserves discovered in Antarctica is significant.

Estimated at 511 billion barrels, the area would rank as the second largest crude oil reserve by region in the world, behind only that of the Middle East, whose proven reserves stood at over 871 billion barrels in 2022. This also represents almost double the known reserves of Saudi Arabia, the country with the second-largest proven oil reserves in the world (behind Venezuela, whose reserves are dense and more difficult to process, and therefore less profitable).