Fact Check: Does Williston Basin in US Have More Oil Than Saudi Arabia?

A new claim related to oil has been doing the rounds on social media for the last few days. Many Facebook posts are suggesting that untapped oil reserves in an area of the U.S. and Canada exceed those in Saudi Arabia. Many claims saying that Williston Basin in U.S. has more oil than Saudi Arabia have now gone viral on the internet.

The Origin

A Facebook post uploaded on October 21, 2021, says, "THIS WILL BLOW YOUR MIND FOLKS!!!!!!" The post reveals that the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates crude in Williston Basin's Bakken Formation at "503 billion barrels. Even if just 10% of the oil is recoverable (5Billion barrels), at $107 a barrel, We're looking at a resource base worth more than $5.3 trillion."

"However, a recent technological breakthrough has opened up the Bakken's Massive reserves. We now have access of up to 500 billion barrels. And because this is Light, sweet oil," the post says.

A Facebook post says US has massive untapped oil field
A Facebook post says US has massive untapped oil field Facebook

The post further add: "We have more oil inside our borders, than all the other proven reserves on Earth. Here are the official estimates: 8 times as much oil as Saudi Arabia, 18 times as much oil as Iraq, 21 times as much oil as Kuwait, 22 times as much oil as Iran, 500 times as much oil as Yemen. And it's all right here in the Western United States!!!!!!"

What's the Truth?

This claim is nothing but baseless and false. AFP has fact-checked this claim and discovered that the Williston Basin does not have more oil than Saudi Arabia. Official U.S. government estimates for the Williston Basin region -- where drilling has occurred for years -- are 5.8 billion barrels, compared with an estimated 267 billion for Saudi Arabia alone.

Alex Demas, a spokesperson for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), told AFP that similar false claims were made in a "viral email back in 2008 that made the rounds quite a bit."

"The Williston Basin does not have more oil than Saudi Arabia," Demas said in an email to AFP. "Our assessment in 2008 didn't show that and our updated assessment in 2013 did not show that either."

According to US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. did become the largest oil producer in 2018, a distinction it still holds. However, even with optimistic estimates, the country is far behind other countries in oil reserves.

Venezuela and Saudi Arabia were at the top of the list of 'Top ten countries with the world's largest oil reserves in 2019'. U.S. was in the 9th position. The list was created by the industry publication NS Energy and was based on a report by the energy firm BP.