Answers from three weeks ago at the link. Basically, estimates are made based on known aspects of the geology and petroleum systems, together with mathematical models of oil field distribution.
The short answer is, there isn’t a perfectly accurate way of estimating. Even the scientific estimates, as outlined in the link from rigibson’s answer, range between 800 billion barrels and 1200 billion barrels, a range discrepancy of 50%. Such a large discrepancy makes any information or estimation on this number unusable when trying to calculate exactly when our planet is going to be hitting the point of “peak oil”. Additionally, private interests often keep numbers on current amounts of oil in reserve as secret or, at the very least, murky. Further, it’s estimated that Saudi Arabia is in control of 20% of the world’s oil reserves. The specific number of barrels under their ownership is considered a state secret, but estimates are currently around 264 million. Ten years ago, that figure was reported to be 262, and ten years before that, 260 million. This growth in reserves seems implausible as the country has been pumping around 8 million barrels a day for the past two decades. This example serves to illustrate the uncertain nature of the knowledge we have regarding our current oil reserves, which is necessary information to estimate past and present rates of consumption and the current amount still left in the earth’s crust.
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