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Modern pipeline systems are one of the safest and most reliable methods of transporting petroleum and gas. Today, there are more than 180,000 miles of petroleum pipelines and hundreds of thousands miles of gas pipelines in the United States alone. Read on to learn more about the history of oil and gas pipelines.
The first petroleum pipelines were constructed to serve the Pennsylvania oil fields shortly after oil was first discovered there in 1859. These early pipelines consisted of wooden channels or iron pipes that moved crude oil using gravity flow from the point of extraction to a collection area where the oil was transferred into tanks or barrels. The first petroleum pipeline that covered any significant distance was a line five miles long constructed by Samuel Van Syckel to avoid price gouging by teamsters who demanded exorbitant fees to haul barrels of oil from oil wells in Pennsylvania to the nearest navigable waterway. Shortly after the discovery of petroleum in America, oil was discovered near Baku, in what is now Azerbaijan. Due to the remote location of this reserve, the Russians constructed a pipeline system that was eventually extended over 500 miles to transport oil from Baku to the Black Sea. Although most pipelines of this era were laid on the surface of the ground, some were laid under rivers and harbors, including the Benson Pipeline that spanned New York Harbor in the late 1880s.
ENTERING THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The first widely marketed petroleum product was kerosene, which was used as lamp oil. Although electric power became increasingly popular in the late nineteenth century, the decline in demand for kerosene coincided with the rise of the automotive industry. The growing demand for gasoline translated into increased demand for petroleum. More pipelines were laid to help meet this growing demand, and the oil industry spread west as colossal petroleum reserves were discovered in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and California. Around the same time, oil was discovered in India and the Middle East, and by 1912 the first pipeline in that region brought oil out of Persia. The natural gas industry closely tracked the early petroleum industry, and the first natural gas pipeline was constructed in Louisiana in 1908.
MID- TO LATE-TWENTIETH CENTURY AND BEYOND
The worldwide depression that followed World War I reduced demand for petroleum, but demand quickly bounced back during World War II and the post-war economic boom. Pipeline technology also advanced during this time period, with ever-improving methods of connecting pipe sections and better monitoring and controls. Improved pipeline safety meant that oil and gas could be transported faster and under higher pressure than ever before. The fuel crunch of the 1970s led to the construction of numerous new pipelines as countries around the world attempted to assert energy independence. The iconic Alaska Pipeline, constructed to transport oil from remote Prudhoe Bay over 800 miles south to Valdez, Alaska, was constructed between 1974 and 1977. Another development in pipeline technology was the construction of international pipelines to transport oil between countries, such as the massive pipeline linking Siberia and China completed in 2010. This pipeline was recently supplanted as the world’s longest by a natural gas pipeline completed in China in late 2012 that supplies natural gas to over half a billion people.
Despite the hundreds of thousands of miles of pipeline currently in existence, new pipeline networks are continually being proposed and constructed. As long as the world depends on oil and gas, pipelines will remain crucial to the world’s economies.
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