Following the extraction of crude oil from the ground, it must then be transported to where it needs to be. The logistical infrastructure responsible for the global transportation of crude oil is astounding, to say the least.
There are a variety of versatile methods that can be used in order to transport this raw material; including an immeasurable network of pipelines and huge pan-continental tankers. Henry Berry, director of the British oil company, Tristone Holdings, gave his opinion on the many methods of transporting crude oil in the oil industry.
When it comes to transporting crude oil and petroleum products by land, pipelines are the most efficient and cost effective method. The United States – the country in which Tristone Holdings focuses its business – is a country intertwined with more than 100,000 miles of pipelines. These pipelines are an early investment; although expensive to set up, they require very little maintenance after development.
Only a small percentage of crude oil is transported by road, but despite this, heavy goods vehicles – as a method of transporting oil – are still instantly recognizable by their large cylindrical tanks. These heavy goods vehicles are used to transport small quantities of petroleum products, for example to deliver gasoline to a gas station. They will sometimes be used to deliver crude oil to refineries, however, in the event that other methods may prove impractical or, in some cases, problematic.
With a function similar to that of pipelines, railway cabins are used to transport crude oil to refineries or, alternatively, for delivery of refined fuel to its final downstream destination. Transportation of raw materials by rail is largely effortless as most countries around the world have extensive rail systems. Transporting large amounts of fuel via this method is ideal for avoiding the additional costs frequently associated with other modes of transport.
In recent years, the volume of crude oil transferred by rail has increased, which is not as positive as it seems at first glance. Indeed, a number of serious incidents can be attributed to this surge in rail use – the Lac-Mégantic disaster in 2013, for example, which resulted in the tragic deaths of 47 people.
It was through extensive scientific research that we discovered that our planet is primarily water based. Throughout history, the curiosity of our human nature has seen us walk through and explore these immense bodies of water – ultimately leading to the revelation that we can transport goods through them as well.
This centuries-old form of transport is, of course, still widely used to this day – albeit in a much more sophisticated and logistically rational manner. Huge floating tankers are the most efficient and cost effective method of transporting crude oil across the oceans. Very large crude carriers – the biggest of all tankers – can carry an astonishing 500,000 deadweight tonnage of crude oil. This method of transportation is considered to be even more efficient and cost effective than pipelines, as the latter are more difficult to install, operate and repair while at sea.
Safety is a frequent topic in the crude oil transportation discourse. Therefore, it is essential to address the question, which method of transporting crude oil around the world is the safest?
Examples of accidents are present in all four modes of transport and require very little investigative work to discover them. The recent Mauritius oil spill, in fact, goes a long way to indicate that substantial progress must be made in order to enhance the safety of crude oil transport. Despite this, given the amount of petroleum products transported around the world every day, it would appear that the prospect of mitigating the possibility of incidents, in their entirety, is incredibly unlikely. However, some modes of transportation are considered safer than others – pipelines taking center stage as the safest method.
Pipelines Vs. Rail
The comparison between rail safety and pipeline safety is a topic that often receives a lot of public attention. As mentioned earlier, over the past two decades the amount of crude oil transported by rail has seen a dramatic increase and with it an increase in the severity of risk.
While rail and pipelines, as a means of transporting crude oil, are considered relatively safe options when viewed alongside supertankers; pipelines are still known to be a safer form of transportation than rail. This is seen in the careful consideration of the probability of accidents when equivalent volumes of oil are transported.
The future of crude oil transportation
The main challenges of transporting crude oil – by pipelines – which must be overcome in the future, are improving safety; increased availability; the implementation of better environmental management; and increasing energy efficiency in pipeline networks (according to Siemens).
These challenges have been addressed in several ways. The adoption of the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), for example. It is believed that this will help optimize various inefficiencies in the industry, such as pump and transmission analysis. Following this suggestion, the development and implementation of new technologies allowing real-time monitoring of the physical integrity of a pipeline has also been advocated, as this will go a long way in reducing operational downtime.
The crude oil industry is supported by the transportation network that surrounds it. Although it often goes unnoticed, its global importance keeps the oil industry running smoothly and cannot be overlooked.
Source: Henry Berry, Director of TriStone Holdings Ltd