The History of Oil Transportation

By: Bob Jent

Since the time of the first commercially drilled oil operation in the 1800s, oil has become a resource of astronomical importance to the modern society of the United States. Along with the soaring demand for oil arrived the need for an efficient means of storing and transporting this valuable resource to the homes and industrial facilities which use it for energy and the production of a multitude of consumer products.

Today, oil is discovered and produced from the earth in large quantities by companies such as and transported to refineries, where it is treated and transported once again to residential and industrial consumers. Oil may be transported for thousands of miles by pipeline, truck, tanker, barge, train, or a combination of these means before it reaches its final destination. The transportation of oil is a highly specialized operation which requires meticulous coordination among the various levels of the supply chain.

In the 1940s, custom built tanker trucks were the primary means of transporting oil from the site of production to refineries, where it could be refined or shipped to further destinations via railroad. Tankers which transport oil have since become increasingly complex, as have the requirements for the operators who drive them. The use of tanker trucks remains a valuable component of the oil supply chain today, though it is no longer the primary means of transporting large volumes of oil.

As more oil fields began to be discovered and produced, technological advances also allowed for increasing amounts of oil to be produced from producing reservoirs. The limited amount of oil that could be transported at once made large volume tanker truck shipments uneconomical for transporting mass amounts of oil. With increasing volumes of oil being produced, the demand for an efficient means of transporting large quantities of the resource became apparent, and the notion of using pipelines as a means of transporting oil evolved.

As pipelines have become the most efficient means of transporting oil over long distances, they have also become safer and more technologically advanced. Pipelines now facilitate the transport of crude oil over vast distances, traversing rugged mountains, valleys and rivers and utilizing precisely engineered pump systems to regulate the movement of products through them.

Today, over 100,000 miles of pipeline transport foreign and domestic crude oil throughout the United States to meet the extensive demand for products such as gasoline and electricity.

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