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  • Writer's pictureSarah Whiteford

The biggest oil fields in the world

It’s Fun Fact Friday and this week we’re talking about the largest oil fields in the world. We’ll cover the largest by area, largest by volume of oil produced, and throw in a few other interesting tidbits about oil fields. First up, the main question:

Which oil field is the largest?

The Ghawar oilfield is the largest oil field in the world. It’s located in Saudi Arabia in the Al Hasa Province. At 280 km long and 40 km wide, it covers a massive area of 11,000 square kilometers and is estimated at approximately 100 meters in thickness. The oilfield produces about half of the country’s output of oil and holds over a quarter of the reserves. Since 1951, more than 65 billion barrels of oil have been produced by this field, with an estimated 58 billion barrels of oil equivalent are still in place. Maximum output is around 3.8 million barrels a day, which made it the highest producing oil field until 2019, when it was eclipsed by the Permian Basin. The Ghawar oil field is owned and operated by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company.

Image Credit: Hydrocarbons Technology

The first oil well there was built in 1948 and went online in 1951, producing 15,600 barrels per day (bpd). By the end of 2012, there were over 3,000 injector and oil producer wells, not including gas. “Saudi Aramco has been developing a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Ghawar since 2011 with an aim to demonstrate enhanced oil recovery (EOR) at the field through carbon dioxide (CO2) injection.” In 2015, the project began using that carbon dioxide to increase production at the oilfield, saving valuable water resources. The hope is to increase recovery from 50 percent to about 70 percent of reserves. About 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide will be stored there every year.

What about the Permian Basin?

Image Credit: Bloomberg

In April 2019, data was released that the Permian Basin could surpass Ghawar oil field in production. Production at Ghawar was estimated at 5 million barrels per day, but that estimate was lowered to 3.8 million boe. According to Energy in Depth, “The new maximum production rate for Ghawar [3.8 million barrels a day] means that the Permian in the U.S., which pumped 4.1 million barrels a day last month according to government data, is already the largest oil production basin. The comparison isn’t exact – the Saudi field is a conventional reservoir, while the Permian is an unconventional shale formation...” New drilling technology, including fracking, is a big reason why the Permian has increased production. According to RRC, “The Permian Basin covers an area approximately 250 miles wide and 300 miles long and is composed of more than 7,000 fields.” It comprises about 40 percent of the United States’ oil production. The recent increases have also led to the United States become the world’s largest producer of crude oil.

Image Credit: Energy in Depth

Are there other large oil fields?

There are absolutely other large oil fields around the world. Here are some of the honorable mentions:

The Greater Burgan oilfield in Kuwait is the third largest oilfield in the world, with over 40 billion barrels of oil recoverable. The surface area is approximately 1,000 square kilometers and started producing oil in 1946. According to Hydrocarbons Technology, “Greater Burgan is operated by Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), a subsidiary of state-run Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC). The field currently produces between 1.1 and 1.3 million barrels of oil per day.” In the photo below, you can see the dark area where the sand is wet with oil at the surface.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The world’s fourth largest oilfield is Carabobo 1 in Venezuela. It contains about 31 billion barrels of recoverable reserves. Production started in 2013 at 30,000 barrels per day in phase 1 with the goal of 400,000 barrels per day. According to Hydrocarbons Technology, “The field is operated by Petrocarabobo, a joint venture of Venezuela’s state-run energy monopoly PdVSA (60%) and five other stake holders including Spain’s Repsol (11%), Malaysia’s Petronas (11%), and India’s ONGC Videsh (11%), Indian Oil Corporation (3.5%) and Oil India (3.5%).”

Fifth on the list is another oilfield in Saudi Arabia, Khurais. It has around 25 billion barrels of recoverable oil, with three different reservoirs. According to NS Energy, “The onshore oil field’s production capacity was increased by 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.5 million barrels per day (Mbpd), as part of the $3bn Khurais Arabian Light Crude Increment Program, which was completed in late-2018.”

With the largest oil field in Saudi Arabia and the highest producing oil field in the United States, it may be surprising to learn that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves of any country in the world, with Saudi Arabia second, and Canada third, according to WorldOMeters. Many factors go into the production of oil fields, including location, type of oil, and ease of extraction. In the future we may cover more about the extraction and history of some of these individual oil fields, but for now, Happy Fun Fact Friday!


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