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Orinoco oil belt assessment unit, USGS

There were 80 billion barrels (13×10^9 m3) of conventional oil reserves in Venezuela as of 2007, the largest oil reserves of any country in South America. In 2006, it had net oil exports of 2.2 million barrels per day (350×10^3 m3/d), the sixth-largest in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. In recent years, crude oil production has been falling, mostly due to depletion of existing oil fields and, since many of its oil fields suffer production decline rates of at least 25 percent per year, industry analysts estimate that Venezuela must spend some $3 billion each year just to maintain production levels. As a result of the lack of transparency in the country's accounting, Venezuela's true level of oil production is difficult to determine, but most industry analysts estimate that it produced around 2.8 million barrels per day (450×10^3 m3/d) of oil in 2006[1] This would give it 88 years of remaining production at current rates.

In October 2007 the Venezuelan government said its proven oil reserves had risen to 100 billion barrels (16×10^9 m3). The energy and oil ministry said it had certified an additional 12.4 billion barrels (2.0×10^9 m3) of proven reserves in the country's Faja del Orinoco region.[2] In February 2008, Venezuelan proven oil reserves are 172 billion barrels (27×10^9 m3).[3]

In addition to conventional oil, Venezuela has oil sands deposits similar in size to those of Canada (approximately equal to the world's reserves of conventional oil). Venezuela's Orinoco tar sands are less viscous than Canada's Athabasca oil sands – meaning they can be produced by more conventional means, but they are buried deeper – meaning they cannot be extracted by surface mining. Estimates of the recoverable reserves of the Orinoco Belt range from 100 billion barrels (16×10^9 m3) to 270 billion barrels (43×10^9 m3). In 2009, USGS updated this value to 513 billion barrels (8.16×1010 m3)[4].

Venezuela's development of its oil reserves has been affected by political unrest in recent years. In late 2002 nearly half of the workers at the state oil company PDVSA went on strike, after which the company fired 18,000 of them. In the opinion of many industry analysts this affected its ability to maintain its oil fields and has contributed to declines in oil production, and unreliable production data. The crude oil that Venezuela has is very heavy by international standards, and as a result much of it must be processed by specialized domestic and international refineries. Venezuela continues to be one of the largest suppliers of oil to the United States, sending about 1.4 million barrels per day (220×10^3 m3/d) to the U.S. Venezuela is also a major oil refiner and the owner of the Citgo gasoline chain.[1]

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