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Oil: crude and petroleum products explained Where our oil comes from

The United States is one of the largest crude oil producers

Many countries produce crude oil, and the United States is one of the top five largest crude oil producers. U.S. refineries obtain crude oil produced in the United States and in other countries. Different types of companies supply crude oil to the world market.

Where is U.S. crude oil produced?

Crude oil is produced in 32 U.S. states and in U.S. coastal waters. In 2018, about 68% of total U.S. crude oil production came from five states.

  • The top five crude oil-producing states and their shares of total U.S. crude oil production in 2018 were
  • Texas40.5%
  • North Dakota11.5%
  • New Mexico6.3%
  • Oklahoma5.0%
  • Alaska4.5%

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In 2018, nearly 16% of U.S. crude oil was produced from wells located offshore in the federally administered waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Although total U.S. crude oil production generally declined between 1985 and 2008, annual production increased from 2009 through 2015. Production declined slightly in 2016 and increased in 2017 and in 2018, reaching the highest amount on record in 2018. More cost-effective drilling technology helped to boost production, especially in Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Many countries produce crude oil

About 100 countries produce crude oil. However, in 2018, five countries accounted for about half of the world's total crude oil production.

  • The top five crude oil producers and their shares of world crude oil production in 2018 were
  • United States13.2%
  • Russia13.0%
  • Saudi Arabia12.6%
  • Iraq5.6%
  • Canada5.2%

Different types of oil companies supply crude oil

The world oil market is complex. Governments and private companies play various roles in moving crude oil from producers to consumers.

In the United States, companies produce crude oil on private and public land and offshore waters. Most of these companies are independent producers, and they usually operate only in the United States. The other companies, often referred to as major oil companies, may have hundreds or thousands of employees and operate in many countries. Examples of major U.S. oil companies are Chevron and ExxonMobil.

Three types of companies supply crude oil to the global oil market. Each type of company has different operational strategies and production-related goals.

International oil companies

International oil companies (IOCs), which include ExxonMobil, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, are entirely investor owned and are primarily interested in increasing value for their shareholders. As a result, IOCs tend to make investment decisions based on economic factors. IOCs typically move quickly to develop and produce the oil resources available to them and sell their output in the global market. Although these producers must follow the laws of the countries in which they produce oil, all of their decisions are ultimately made in the interest of the company and its shareholders, not in the interest of a government.

National oil companies

National oil companies (NOCs) operate as extensions of a government or a government agency, and they include companies such as Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia), Pemex (Mexico), the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), and Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA). NOCs financially support government programs and sometimes provide strategic support. NOCs often provide fuels to their domestic consumers at a lower price than the fuels they provide to the international market. They do not always have the incentive, means, or intention to develop their reserves at the same pace as investor-owned international oil companies. Because of the diverse objectives of their supporting governments, NOCs pursue goals that are not necessarily market oriented. The goals of NOCs often include employing citizens, furthering a government's domestic or foreign policies, generating long-term revenue to pay for government programs, and supplying inexpensive domestic energy. All NOCs that belong to members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) fall into this category.

NOCs with strategic and operational autonomy

The NOCs in this category function as corporate entities and do not operate as extensions of their countries' governments. This category includes Petrobras (Brazil) and Statoil (Norway). These companies often balance profit-oriented concerns and the objectives of their countries with the development of their corporate strategies. Although these companies are driven by commercial concerns, they may also take into account their nations' goals when making investment or other strategic decisions.

OPEC members have a large share of world oil supplies

OPEC is a group that includes some of the world's most oil-rich countries. Together, these countries control about 72% of the world's total proved crude oil reserves, and in 2018 they accounted for about 42% of total world crude oil production. Each OPEC country has at least one NOC, but most also allow IOCs to operate within their borders.

did youknow


OPEC and Persian Gulf countries are not the same.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), was organized in 1960 for the purpose of negotiating with oil companies on matters of oil production, prices, and future concession rights. Of the 15 OPEC member countries at the end of 2018, only 6 of them were Persian Gulf countries.

Countries in bold are members of OPEC located in the Persian Gulf.

OPEC Persian Gulf
Iran Iran
Iraq Iraq
Kuwait Kuwait
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia
Qatar Qatar
United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates
Algeria Bahrain
Equatorial Guinea

Last updated: April 24, 2019