Why is the majority of the oil in the Middle East?

I’m sure this question has been asked before but I was reading an article in Wired today that showed a graph of where the worlds oil reserves are and it struck me as odd that 57% of the known oil reserves are in such a small area of the world. Why is that? The world is a huge place after all and it seems that oil should be more evenly distributed instead of seemingly concentrated in a relatively small area. Whats special about the Middle East region that makes it have such an abundance of oil while other places don’t seem to have any at all? Is it just that the oil is easier to get at or is it something else?


My brother’s in the oil industry and we’ve discussed this a time or two.

You say the article said 57%? Are you sure it wasn’t 0.57%? Even that would be generous.

Try reading Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, p121, ‘How much oil left’.

What’s special about the Middle East is that the oil is so cheap to extract. It’s near the surface; it’s under ground, not under water like the North Sea; the weather is suitable, not dreadful as in the North Sea, and not super-cold as in Alaska (metals can become brittle in the cold); it’s in an easily accessible liquid form unlike the Canadian shales or British shales. ETC. So, it’s economic to extract. As the price of oil rises other locations and processes become economic.

In the book ‘Guns Germs & Steel’ Jared Diamond found that the Middle east had a good climate for farming and alot of domesticatable animals and as a result civilization started in that region. The reason all the animals existed there could be due to the climate. So maybe its just the latitude of the middle east that made it so open to growth of biodiversity.

Chances are the climate today is different than when the biomass was layed down.

I’ll take a WAG and say the subduction zone created by the collision of Africa, Asia Minor, and Europe is what concentrated the organic material in that area.

I don’t know if I’d use that explanation. The oil reserves were laid down millions of years ago, and due to continental drift, it’s likely that the Middle East was in a different latitude at the time.

IANA geologist, but does the fact that the Middle East was formed due to continental rift action have something to do with it? I do know that for oil to develop into a sizable reserve, it has to be surrounded by the right sort of rock. Perhaps geological conditions in the Middle East were more favorable for this type of action.

The Middle East contains 61.7% of world proved reserves, so says BP in this handy PDF file.

Keep in mind that proved reserves are not a measure of all the oil anywhere. Instead, proved reserves mean “quantities that geological and engineering information indicates with reasonable certainty can be recovered in the future from known reservoirs under existing economic and geological conditions”

SEC requirerments are even more strict. As someone already pointed out, oil is cheap to recover in the middle east, so it is readily counted in proved reserves. In the future, the industry will surely see improved drilling tech, better geology, and higher oil prices, thus, proved reserves may have a different distribution, even though no oil “moved” underground. It’s anyone’s guess.