LONDON (Dow Jones)
Venezuela's crude proven reserves surpassed those of Saudi Arabia in 2010, making it the world's largest oil reserves holder, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said in its annual statistical bulletin.
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, OPEC said.
In the long run the boost in reserves, which comes alongside increases from Iran and Iraq, may empower members of OPEC who favor a defense of high prices. However, there are doubts over whether all of Venezuela's heavy oil discoveries are economically viable.
The data broadly confirm Venezuela's statements that it had reached this level of reserves in January. OPEC normally relies on its members' assessments for statistical data.
Iraq's and Iran's proven reserves were also respectively upgraded by 24.4% to 143.1 billion barrels and by 10.3% to 151.2 billion barrels respectively, roughly in line with the countries' earlier disclosures.
Venezuela, Iran and Iraq were part of a group that refused to endorse a Saudi-led push to hike output at an acrimonious OPEC meeting June 8.
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.
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 its estimates closer to those of Caracas.
The set of statistics may also vindicate Iran's claims that sanctions aren't crippling the development of its oil and gas industry. For instance, crude oil exports from the Islamic Republic to Europe in 2010 rose 34.5% to 764,000 barrels a day on average.
Overall, Iranian oil exports rose by 0.7% as exports to Asia and the Pacific fell by 11%. Iranian natural gas reserves and exports rose by 11.8% and 48.7% respectively.
Last year, the European Union implemented stringent sanctions on Iran which, without banning crude purchases, complicate them by putting restrictions on insurance, financial services and energy sectors.
The numbers also underscore the recovery of the Nigerian oil industry with 17 more rigs active in the West African nation and 437 additional producing wells, following a successful amnesty for militants in 2009.
Overall, the numbers show OPEC members strongly benefited from higher oil prices in 2010, with the total value of their petroleum exports up 27.2% at $745.1 billion and their overall gross domestic product rising 11.2% to $2,325 billion.Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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