The Transportation Behind The Industry: How Crude Oil Is Moved Around The World

It’s one thing to extract crude oil from the ground, but it’s quite another to then get it to where it needs to end up, whether that be a refinery or downstream operators. The sheer scale of the logistical infrastructure that goes into the transport of crude oil, globally, is immense. There are various ways in which this raw material is transported. These range from seemingly never-ending networks of pipelines to mammoth pan-continental shipping tankers. The team here at TriStone Holdings Ltd, a growing UK oil investment company, wanted to examine the various methods in more detail, examining their pros (and their cons).


Pipelines are the most efficient (overland) and cost-effective means of transporting crude oil and its associated petroleum products. Looking at the US, for instance, where our UK oil company is focusing its energies, you see that there are over 100,000 miles of crude oil pipeline criss-crossing the nation. In terms of investment, pipelines are front-loaded. That’s to say, although they’re relatively costly to set up, initially, they’re then very low-maintenance beyond that.


Although distinctly recognisable with their metallic circular tanks, only a small quantity of oil is actually transported by road, when compared with other methods. These HGVs are used most to transport smaller quantities of petroleum products (such as petrol to fuel stations). Alternatively, they deliver crude oil to refineries where other means aren’t feasible – where access might be particularly problematic, for example.


Rail cabs act very much in the same way as pipelines. They either transport crude to refineries or refined fuel to their final downstream destination. Crude transportation by rail benefits from the typically extensive rail infrastructure most countries possess, the easily scalable quantities of fuel transported and the low associated costs. As we’ll see later in the piece, the amount of crude transported by rail has increased in recent years, however that has brought with it a number of serious incidents such as the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013, in which 47 people were tragically killed.

Oil Tanker

You’ve probably noticed that we live on a planet that’s primarily of water. In fact, scientists rarely stop going on about the fact; not that we begrudge them for it or the work they do, of course! Humankind’s innate curiosity meant that when we first saw these vast bodies of water, we wanted to cross them. We wanted to, not only explore, but transport goods and ideas as well.

Fast-forward to today and we find that same old mode of transport being used to move crude across the planet, albeit in a slightly more sophisticated way than the sailing ships of old! The cheapest and most efficient way to transport crude across oceans is by using these floating megaliths – the biggest class of which (inventively titled Ultra Large Crude Carriers) can transport a staggering 500,000 deadweight tonnage – and not pipelines (which are more difficult to install, operate and repair when they’re offshore).

The Question Of Safety

As with much within the oil industry, the discourse surrounding crude transportation often segues back to the topic of safety. In other words, what is the safest means of transporting crude oil around countries and across the globe?

You need only conduct the most cursory of searches to see examples of accidents across all four means of transport; indeed, the recent Mauritius oil spill highlights that there’s still a long way to go in terms of tightening up transport safety. Of course, given the quantity of petroleum product which is transported worldwide every single day, the idea of ever entirely getting rid of these incidents whilst the industry lives is highly unlikely. That being said, there’s certainly a case to be made for certain modes of transportation being safer than others. Pipelines, in particular, are often touted as being the safest way of shifting the black gold.

Pipelines Vs. Rail

The comparison between pipeline and rail safety is one which often draws public attention. Over the past couple of decades, crude transported by rail increased significantly, but so too did the degree of risk. Whilst both ‘safe’ options when compared with shipping super-tankers, it is widely accepted that pipelines are safer than rail when you look at the likelihood of accidents of equivalent oil volumes being transported.

The Future Of Crude Transportation

According to Siemens, the main challenges to overcome for pipelines, in particular, moving forward, are as follows:

  • Improving safety.
  • Increasing uptime.
  • Implement better environmental stewardship.
  • Increase energy efficiency across pipeline networks.

How do they propose addressing these challenges? The adoption of the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is one, for instance, in the optimisation of pump and drive train analytics. Not only this, but they also advocate the development and implementation of new technologies in monitoring a pipeline’s physical integrity to reduce operational downtime.

Contact TriStone Holdings Ltd

The transportation network that props up the crude industry, and keeps it running smoothly, often goes unnoticed. Its importance, however, cannot be overstated. So, if you’d like to find out more about our oil investment company, then get in touch! Contact TriStone Holdings Ltd today on 0800 055 7079 or by emailing us at [email protected]


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Send Us A Message