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World's Proven Reserves Jump 100 Gb in 2003?

The British Petroleum Statistical Review of World Energy June 2003 puts world year end 2002 proven oil reserves at 1,047.7 billion barrels. In contrast, BP 2004 [1] puts year end 2003 world proven reserves at 1,147.7 billion barrels, a jump of exactly 100 billion barrels (9.5%).

Looking further: On the BP web site,, they show the jump from 2002 to 2003 as only 0.1%. So what happened? Well it appears that BP cooked the books all the way back to 1980 to give the appearance that only a small increase of proven reserves occurred at year end, 2003.

Perhaps BP is trying to give readers the impression that the world's proven reserves have been growing steadily all along "nothing suspicious here."

In other words: An increase of 1.4 billion barrels (0.1%) in one year is not nearly as suspicious as an jump of exactly 100 billion barrels (9.5%) in a single year.


Editorial Notes: This is no trivial error: governments and industry regularly quote BP's figures to support investment decisions; overstating reserves makes sustainable decision making that much less likely. Question is, what made BP think such a glaringly obvious revision would go unnoticed? Perhaps BP have been hiring ex-Whitehouse 'intelligence' staff. Mr Duncan advised he was going to pursue the matter with BP, as will; we invite readers to do the same. UPDATE 27 July 2004 BP replied to our enquiries as follows:
This years "Statistical Review" includes a new data series on proved oil reserves, incorporating data from primary sources and a wider range of third- party sources to derive more accurate and timely reserve figures. In previous editions the oil reserves were primarily quoted from one source the Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ) with one or two country exceptions. Moreover, reserves of shale oil and oil sands were not included in the 2002 figures published in 2003. The differences between the world oil proved oil reserves of 1.15 trillion barrels in 2003 and the figure reported in 2002 1.05 trillion barrels can be explained by the following: · The estimates with the new sources are more complete, accurate and timely · Approximately 80% of the difference can be attributed to the change in source of the data for the OPEC countries from the OGJ to the OPEC Secretariat · Definitions have been honed e.g. by including a proportion (about 10.8 billion barrels) of Canadian tar sands that are potentially recoverable i.e. those "under active development" · There is now a better informed data series for Russia (based on information in the public domain) · Oil includes more comprehensive condensate and natural gas liquids as well as crude oil We do not physically review the published national oil reserves data or second-guess official government figures. We just report those provided to us in an accurate timely manner.
Colin Campbell (ASPO) has made comments on BP's move away from Oil and Gas Journal data in which he states that, contrary to their above disclaimer, "by selecting its sources [rather than passively using OGJ figures], which it knows itself full well to be partially erroneous in many cases, it takes responsibility for that selection and thereby the numbers it publishes ... one has to conclude that BP seeks to mislead—this is not just an accident." The inclusion of new categories of oil is also misleading. For the record, the sources of data for proven reserves in 2003 and 2004 were listed as follows: 2003:
Source of data – With the exception of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Egypt for 2001, the estimates contained in this table are those published by the Oil & Gas Journal, plus an estimate of natural gas liquids for USA and Canada. Reserves of shale oil and oil sands are not included.
[ LINK ] 2004:
Source of data – The estimates in this table have been compiled using a combination of primary official sources, third-party data from the OPEC Secretariat, World Oil, Oil & Gas Journal and an independent estimate of Russian reserves based on information in the public domain. The reserves figures shown do not necessarily meet the United States Securities and Exchange Commission definitions and guidelines for determining proved reserves nor necessarily represent BP’s view of proved reserves by country. The figure for Canadian oil reserves includes an official estimate of Canadian oil sands 'under active development'. Oil includes gas condensate and natural gas liquids as well as crude oil.
[ LINK ] The adoption of OPEC's own figures over the Oil and Gas Journal figures seems somewhat dubious. OPEC's figures are widely known to be inflated for the reason that production quotas are tied to them. The OGJ had very good reasons not to agree with them - see slide 19 of this presentation by Colin Campbell for more info. So we should probably disregard 80% of the reported increase (80Gb) as fanciful. This leaves a 20Gb increase - 1.9% of last year's proven reserves. But BP have stretched open their Statistical Review's definition of oil to include everything from natural gas liquids to shale oil and tar sands. That such a radically inclusive redefinition has only increased the reserve figure very humbly, strongly suggests that the figure for conventional oil has actually fallen! There's also the strange question remaining of how, out of the various ways that the proven reserves figures were increased, the total increase happened to equal to exactly 100.0Gb!

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