Fossil Fuels Petroleum

Overview of the design, construction, and operation of interstate liquid petroleum pipelines.

Authors: Pharris, T. C. Kolpa, R. L.
Abstract: The U.S. liquid petroleum pipeline industry is large, diverse, and vital to the nation's economy. Comprised of approximately 200,000 miles of pipe in all fifty states, liquid petroleum pipelines carried more than 40 million barrels per day, or 4 trillion barrel-miles, of crude oil and refined products during 2001. That represents about 17% of all freight transported in the United States, yet the cost of doing so amounted to only 2% of the nation's freight bill. Approximately 66% of domestic petroleum transport (by ton-mile) occurs by pipeline, with marine movements accounting for 28% and rail and truck transport making up the balance. In 2004, the movement of crude petroleum by domestic federally regulated pipelines amounted to 599.6 billion tonmiles, while that of petroleum products amounted to 315.9 billion ton-miles (AOPL 2006). As an illustration of the low cost of pipeline transportation, the cost to move a barrel of gasoline from Houston, Texas, to New York Harbor is only 3 cents per gallon, which is a small fraction of the cost of gasoline to consumers. Pipelines may be small or large, up to 48 inches in diameter. Nearly all of the mainline pipe is buried, but other pipeline components such as pump stations are above ground. Some lines are as short as a mile, while others may extend 1,000 miles or more. Some are very simple, connecting a single source to a single destination, while others are very complex, having many sources, destinations, and interconnections. Many pipelines cross one or more state boundaries (interstate), while some are located within a single state (intrastate), and still others operate on the Outer Continental Shelf and may or may not extend into one or more states. U.S. pipelines are located in coastal plains, deserts, Arctic tundra, mountains, and more than a mile beneath the water's surface of the Gulf of Mexico (Rabinow 2004; AOPL 2006). The network of crude oil pipelines in the United States is extensive. There are approximately 55,000 miles of crude oil trunk lines (usually 8 to 24 inches in diameter) in the United States that connect regional markets. The United States also has an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 miles of small gathering lines (usually 2 to 6 inches in diameter) located primarily in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Wyoming, with small systems in a number of other oil producing states. These small lines gather the oil from many wells, both onshore and offshore, and connect to larger trunk lines measuring 8 to 24 inches in diameter. There are approximately 95,000 miles of refined products pipelines nationwide. Refined products pipelines are found in almost every state in the United States, with the exception of some New England states. These refined product pipelines vary in size from relatively small, 8- to 12-inch-diameter lines, to up to 42 inches in diameter. The overview of pipeline design, installation, and operation provided in the following sections is only a cursory treatment. Readers interested in more detailed discussions are invited to consult the myriad engineering publications available that provide such details. The two primary publications on which the following discussions are based are: Oil and Gas Pipeline Fundamentals (Kennedy 1993) and the Pipeline Rules of Thumb Handbook (McAllister 2002). Both are recommended references for additional reading for those requiring additional details. Websites maintained by various pipeline operators also can provide much useful information, as well as links to other sources of information. In particular, the website maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) ( is recommended. An excellent bibliography on pipeline standards and practices, including special considerations for pipelines in Arctic climates, has been published jointly by librarians for the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company (operators of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System [TAPS]) and the Geophysical Institute/International Arctic Research Center, both located in Fairbanks (Barboza and Trebelhorn 2001), available electronically at codes. The Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) jointly provide an overview covering the life cycle of design, construction, operations, maintenance, economic regulation, and deactivation of liquid pipelines (AOPL/API 2007).
Publication Date: 31 Jan 2008
Report numbers: ANL/EVS/TM/08-1
DOE Contract number: DE-AC02-06CH11357
Resource Type: Technical Report
Research Organizations: Argonne National Laboratory (ANL)
Sponsoring Organizations: OE
Country of Publication: United States
Language: English
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