Despite how important the refining process is in producing the fuels that feed our society, it’s not worth much if it sits in a huge tank somewhere. It needs to get to the refinery from oil fields and from refineries to distribution systems. And that’s mostly accomplished by building and using pipelines.
It’s a huge task to transport millions of gallons of crude and refined fuels efficiently, safely, and cheaply. Especially since pipelines sometimes travel thousands of miles across all kinds of landscapes and in a wide range of weather conditions.
Crude oil begins its journey from underground where it flows or is pumped to the surface into tanks. From there it’s trucked locally or more often pumped into gathering lines. These small lines typically range from two to eight inches in diameter. They “gather” oil from producing oil fields in places like North Dakota, Texas and Canada. Then it moves through larger pipelines that stretch for hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles. These larger pipelines, known as trunk lines, have a diameter of eight to twenty-four inches (about the diameter of a tree trunk) and connect regional markets. Believe it or not, there are over 55,000 miles of trunk lines in the U.S. alone.
The other type of pipeline used is called a refined product pipeline. Not surprisingly, this type of pipeline carries refined products from a refinery to either storage containers or directly to facilities like airports, industrial plants, or power plants. If refined products end their pipeline journey at a storage tank, tanker trucks carry them the last few miles to their final destination – like your local gas station.
Take a moment to guess two ways that crude and refined products flow through pipelines? (Hint – feel your heartbeat) Now consider the physics involved. Discover the rest of the pipeline story by watching the video and reading the advanced information in the "Learn More" section below. Just click on the icon. Also, check the link to our educational partner here to learn more about pipelines.