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From field to refinery to market

Pipeline "gathering systems" collect crude oil produced from onshore and offshore oilfields and carry it to large-diameter "trunk lines." The trunk lines transport the oil to refineries. Oil shipped from overseas and unloaded into storage tanks at coastal terminals is transported by pipeline to refineries as well.

At the refineries, the oil is processed into gasoline and other useful products such as diesel, home heating oil, jet fuel and raw materials for fertilizers, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and plastics. Pipelines transport many of these refined products to distributions centers, where they are moved by truck to gas stations, stores and other markets.

Batching products in the pipe

Different kinds of oil and refined products are shipped back to back through pipelines in "batches." Some mixing occurs at the point where the batches touch. This mixture, called "transmix," is removed from the pipeline at the receiving facility and reprocessed.

Pumps do the pushing

Powerful pumps, located in stations at the start of the pipeline and every 30 to 50 miles along the route, operate around the clock, keeping the oil and refined products moving toward their destination.

Batching products in Pipelines

Controlling by computer

Operators working in sophisticated central control rooms use computer-aided systems, called SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), to remotely control and monitor flow rates, pressures and characteristics of fluids in the pipeline. Fluctuations can be detected quickly, alerting the operators to potential leaks so they can shut down pipelines and dispatch crews to investigate.