Pipelines: A Study in Existentialism

There are more than 2.6 million miles of pipeline traversing the United States, transporting fossil fuels from production fields to any number of destinations, including your own doorstep.


1. There is more to it though, right?

2. What is a pipeline?

3. Is one pipeline just like any other pipeline?

4. Are there differences?

5. What’s your favorite pipeline of all time?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, you’re in luck because I am prepared to answer each and every one of those questions…later.
But first, let’s take a look at a few definitions. Within the transportation system, there are four main types of pipeline:

Graphic illustration of gathering lines to distribution of oil and natural gas.

This graphic illustrates the transportation of oil and natural gas from gathering lines through distribution to consumers.
Credit: PHMSA, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

Gathering Pipelines

  • These are pipelines that travel short distances, gathering oil and gas products from wells and moving them to storage and processing facilities further down the transportation stream. Gathering lines transport natural gas, crude oil and natural gas liquids, and the size of these pipelines is relatively small, typically between 4 inches and 12 inches in diameter.

Transmission Pipelines

  • The granddaddy of them all… These are the oil and gas highways. If gathering lines are like byways and neighborhood streets, transmission pipelines are the interstate system. They transport crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids across great distances and rarely stop for bathroom breaks. These pipelines tend to be larger than gathering lines, ranging in diameter from 4 inches to 48 inches.

Feeder Pipelines

  • These move crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquid products from processing facilities and storage tanks in the field to the transmission pipelines. They are like the service roads and on ramps to the transmission pipeline highway.

Distribution Pipelines

  • These are the pipelines that deliver natural gas to homes and businesses. They range in size from ½ inch to 6 inches.

Now, I will answer your questions:

1. No

2. From dictionary.com: Pipeline [pahyp-lahyn]

noun: a long tubular conduit or series of pipes, often underground, with pumps and valves for flow control, used to transport crude oil, natural gas, water, etc., especially over great distances

a route, channel, or process along which something passes or is provided at a steady rate; means, system, or flow of supply or supplies: Freighters and cargo planes are a pipeline for overseas goods.
a channel of information, especially one that is direct, privileged, or confidential; inside source; reliable contact

verb (used with object): pipelined, pipelining
to convey by or as if by pipeline: to pipeline oil from the far north to ice-free ports; to pipeline graduates into the top jobs

ideoms: in the pipeline,
informal: in the process of being developed, provided or completed; in the works; under way
government informal: (of funds) authorized but not spent

3.  No, however, an interesting fact that links most pipelines is that nearly all pipe bending dies are made my Sawyer Manufacturing.

4.  Yes

5.  I’m rather partial to the Big Inch, but the Algonquin Gas Transmission Pipeline is moving up my list because it’s rather fun to say.

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