1,238 Billion Barrels of Oil Reserves: Is This an Oil Price Bubble?

Includes: BP, DBO, OIL, USO
by: Mark J. Perry

That's 1.238 trillion barrels of known oil reserves, or 1,238,00,000,000 barrels. And reserves have actually been growing, by 107.8 billion barrels since 2001, and 168.5 billion barrels, or 14%, over the last decade. Global reserves have risen by 36% since 1987 (map/chart above shows how the 1.23 trillion barrels of oil reserves are distributed globally).

These stats are from the "Statistical Review of World Energy 2008," released yesterday by BP (NYSE:BP), and reported by The Economist:


"We're not running out of hydrocarbons,” insists Tony Hayward, the boss of BP, one of the world’s biggest oil firms. To back up this view, he cites various comforting figures from the latest edition of the firm’s “Statistical Review of World Energy," released today.

Enough oil has already been discovered around the world, Hayward says, to maintain consumption at current levels for another 42 years. As he put it, humanity has guzzled through 1 trillion barrels, but has its next trillion already lined up, and could probably unearth a third trillion if it really applied itself.


Why then, are oil prices hovering over $130 a barrel?

Mr. Hayward blames poor policy-making or, in his florid phrase, “the madness of men." Some 80% of the world’s oil reserves, he says, are in the hands of state-owned oil firms, which tend to allow firms like his only limited access. He believes that if these riches were fully exploited, the world could easily produce 100m barrels a day or more, a big increase on last year’s figure of 82m barrels per day.

MP: What about all of the attention on rising demand for energy in China and India, and how that contributes to rising oil prices? Well, according to the report's statistical tables, India's share of global oil consumption in 2007 was only 3.3%, not much more than Canada's 2.6% share or Mexico's 2.3% share, and India's oil consumption has grown less than 3% annually during this decade. And India and China's 12.6% combined share of world consumption is still only about half of America's 24%.

In fact, total global oil demand increased by only 1.1% in both 2006 and 2007, roughly the same rate as the increase in world population, and about half the 2.03% average annual growth in oil demand during the 2002-2005 period.

What's going on? Increasing world oil reserves, and relatively weak growth in world oil demand, and oil prices have now doubled in the last year? Is this an oil bubble?