Last year the ministry published figures of some 300Bb in total crude reserves, about 230Bb of which was probable extra-heavy crude in the Orinoco oil belt.
However, Sanchez said there are now 313Bb of proved crude reserves, 93Bb of probable reserves, 53Bb in possible reserves and 43Bb in the "resources" category.
A source from state oil company PDVSA told BNamericas that while the change in crude reserves may be large, it was not unexpected inside the company. The source attributed the increase in reserves to new exploration being done in the Orinoco oil belt as well as the classification of bitumen as crude.
"For a long while previous administrations had considered the extra-heavy crude in the Orinoco oil belt not as crude but as bitumen. The change in that classification means hundreds of millions of new barrels entering the reserves," the source said.
However, a lot is riding on the recovery factor, meaning the percentage of the 502Bb reserves that will actually leave the ground and enter a refinery.
The International Energy Agency does not count bitumen as crude and even makes a distinction between "conventional" crude and "synthetic crude," which is obtained from the upgrading of the extra-heavy crude from the Orinoco oil belt.
As large as the new estimate for crude is, the re-estimation of the natural gas reserves, previously thought to be up to 190Tf3, comes as the big surprise. Sánchez said the country's total gas reserves top 426Tf3, including proven, probable, possible and resources.
"In terms of gas, these reserves would take us from number eight [in the world ranking of gas producers] to number four, right between Saudi Arabia and Qatar," Sanchez said. "We are talking about a country with huge potential in energy products."
This gas potential makes it possible for Venezuela to promote the use of natural gas not only in the domestic market as a tool to substitute costly liquid fuels in power generation, refining and other industrial uses but also for exports.
"We are using gas to leverage industrialization and for diversification of [export] markets," Sánchez said. China could receive liquid fuels freed up for export by increased domestic gas usage, he added.
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