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OPEC: Venezuela Has Largest Oil Reserves, Surpassing Saudi Arabia

July 20, 2011


Venezuela’s crude oil proven reserves exceeded those of Saudi Arabia last year according to OPEC’s annual statistical report. In 2009, OPEC listed Saudi as having the highest reserves at 264.59 billion barrels or 25.9% of OPEC’s overall reserves and Venezuela at 211.17 billion barrels or 19.8% of OPEC reserves.

According to OPEC’s latest annual report, Venezuela’s proven crude oil reserves reached 296.5 billion barrels in 2010, up 40.4% on the year and higher than Saudi Arabia’s 264.5 billion barrels.

The data confirms statements by Venezuela’s national oil company (PDVSA) which reported it had this level of reserves as early as January of this year. Venezuela began certifying its oil reserves in the Orinoco belt in 2007 and since then the corporate media accused PDVSA of exaggerating their estimates for political reasons and raising questions about how much of Venezuela’s reserves are economically viable. At that time President Chávez predicted that Venezuela’s commercial reserves would reach 310 billion barrels. Well that looks to be the case and the fact that Venezuela is pumping just over 3 million barrels a day is enough to keep the economy running nicely and replenish the international reserves.

The fact that PDVSA receives a good bill of health from Fortune, WSJ and Dow Jones suggests that the negative press in Venezuela and the western media is part of a campaign to discredit the company as it is being run with socialist ideals sending 82% of the generated profit directly to the Venezuelan people and not offshore or US banks, gaining interest for the Venezuelan ruling class as was before President Chavez took control of PDVSA after the oil strike and sabotage of December 2002 – February 2003.

PDVSA has the distinction of investing more in social programs ($21 billion) than any other single company in the world.

Oil for the people

Social development in PDVSA is a process of formulating and executing projects in alignment with the Community Development plans of the State. In order to put oil resources to the service of the wider population and create a new economic model, putting an end to the social inequalities so apparent in Venezuela in the last decades, PDVSA promotes Fondespa (The Fund for Social and Economic Development within the Country), which has the task of promoting social development through a transparent and fair distribution of oil revenues.

Backing the social missions promoted by the National Executive is one of the ways in which PDVSA gets directly involved in the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. The company, as part of its revolutionary, corporate responsibility program, encourages groups to take part in their own development projects by first considering the specific conditions (cultural, productive, etc) of each region in the country. By doing so, the corporation acknowledges and respects the constitutive plurality of Venezuelan society. That is how the Endogenous Development Nuclei (Núcleos de Desarrollo Endógeno or NDE) are established, allowing each community to become aware of its potential and is also capable of strengthening and transforming itself so as to generate benefits for the community and eventually become self-supporting.

PDVSA is 100% committed to the eradication of both rural and urban poverty. The company promotes an extensive network of endogenous development projects throughout the country. It also actively discourages every kind of discrimination and is dedicated to supporting minority groups within Venezuela, through a wide range of different programs.

The social programs organized by PDVSA:

  • Offer the means, possibilities, and real resources to enable citizens to improve conditions in personal, social, cultural and professional aspects of their own lives. This is carried out in a way that educates individuals to develop a communitarian consciousness, whilst upgrading their skills and allowing them a greater participation in the economic, political, and social life of the country.
  • Establish the strategies and programs that conform to the regulations of the National Executive and PDVSA, and enable information, resources, assets and document exchanges between PDVSA and other sources of social development that contribute to satisfying community requirements and expectations.
  • Align and communicate, together with PDVSA’s main organizations social and economic programs; guaranteeing an improved coexistence and greater understanding between PDVSA and the communities it serves.


The amount of oil each member can produce–particularly if it is combined with spare capacity–is a key metric of clout within OPEC, particularly the influence given members have on output and price. Analysts have questioned how economic Venezuelan reserves additions could be, as most come from the heavy and extra-heavy oil in the Orinoco Belt, which is difficult and expensive to extract. The amount of these reserves that Venezuela can be turn into production remains to be seen but they haven’t done a bad job of it over the last decade.

Venezuela’s statistics have long been a controversial topic in oil circles, though disagreements on the matter have recently eased. The International Energy Agency last month said it revised the method used to calculate the country’s oil-production figures, bringing the agency’s estimates closer to those of Caracas.

Axis of Logic columnist, Arturo Rosales, contributed to this report

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