From Pipeline to Pump

A close look at the journey of fuel as it moves from pipelines to gas stations.

March 24, 2021

Fuel Pipeline

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Have you ever wondered how fuel gets to a gas station’s fuel island? There’s a lot more involved than one may realize, starting with how fuel pipelines work and how they transport the product to the pump. Whenever Mother Nature disrupts our fuel supply, consumers wonder how pipeline companies work to make sure the system can deliver the product when needed.

“Pipelines are exceptionally efficient, exceptionally safe, and to your point, resilient,” said Daniel Gordon, vice president and chief commercial officer for the Colonial Pipeline Company, on this week’s Convenience Matters, “How Fuels Move Through the Pipeline.” “At Colonial alone, we spend approximately $200 million a year just in maintenance to ensure that our pipeline is operating safely, … efficiently and continuing to deliver.”

The Colonial pipeline serves roughly 50% of the fuel delivered to the East Coast to gas stations, airports and government facilities. “It is critical that we are flowing, and we’re providing that resource to our customers,” he said.

With so many people counting on Colonial for their fueling needs, Gordon emphasized the company’s safety record. “Safety is part of our core values. … It’s something that we train and focus on,” he said. “It’s built into our culture.”

The way fuel is moved in the U.S. is something with which the average American has little understanding.

“We have done a poor job collectively of explaining what role energy plays and how efficient and effective we have become,” Gordon said. Gasoline starts out as barrels of oil coming out of the ground in Texas, Oklahoma or North Dakota. Crude oil is delivered to a terminal, then a refinery to be turned into a user product, which moves through a pipeline to another terminal before a truck takes it to a convenience store for a customer to pump into their vehicle.

“It’s an opportunity for the industry particularly in this time of energy transition or discussion to talk about how efficient we are,” Gordon said. “We need that energy and all those byproducts that they produce.”

Listen for more insights about oil’s journey on the podcast. Each week a new Convenience Matters episode is released. With more than 250 episodes to choose from, the podcast can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and other podcast apps and YouTube and at Episodes have been downloaded more than 200,000 times by listeners around the world.