Pipes play a vital role in transporting the crude oil which the planet relies on around the globe. These pipelines are testament to human imagination and construction and can often take many years to complete, spanning countries and continents.
We’ve put together this list of the world’s four longest oil pipeline projects for you to marvel at
4) Kazakhstan – China Pipeline: 2228km
The world’s fifth longest oil pipeline is the Kazakhstan – China Pipeline which, as you might expect, runs between Kazakhstan and China. Construction was agreed between the two countries in 1997 and the line was built in three stages with the final section completed in July 2009.
It was the first pipeline to directly import oil into China from Central Asia. The 2228km pipeline starts in Atyrau on the Caspian Sea and crosses the whole of Kazakhstan, finishing in the city of Alashankou in Xinjian province in the north east of China.
The Kazakhstan – China Pipeline carries 142 million barrels worth of oil each year. It is supplied by Kazakhstan’s Aktobe region oil fields and the Kumkol oil field and the Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea.
3) Keystone Pipeline: 3456km
One of the world’s most controversial oil pipelines is the Keystone Pipeline. Three sections of the pipeline are already up and running, transporting oil on a 3456km journey from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada through the United States to Houston, Texas. This part of the pipeline has been fully operational since 2017 and carries 700,000 barrels of oil every day.
Keystone hit the news in late 2019 when TC Energy, the company that owns the pipeline, had to shut down it down on October 29 after discovering that oil had leaked from the pipe into the surrounding wetlands.
TC Energy and North Dakota’s Department of Environmental Quality originally estimated that 2,500 square yards of land were affected by the spill. It later transpired that 23,232 square yards had actually been affected by the oil leak, nearly 10 times the initial approximation. Pipe repairs were carried out and Keystone was returned to service on November 10th.
And that isn’t even the most controversial aspect about the Keystone Pipeline. It is actually the proposed Keystone XL redirect which has courted plenty of publicity since it was first proposed back in 2008. Keystone XL is in effect a brand new pipeline which would run oil from Hardisty to the current Keystone Pipeline’s junction in Steele City, Nebraska.
Keystone XL would take a much more direct route and feature a larger diameter of pipe. Environmentalists were unhappy that it would pass through Nebraska’s sensitive Sandhills region. As a result of their protests, President Obama rejected the application for Keystone XL in 2012.
The TransCanada Corporation altered the route and it received approval from Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman in January 2013. A political battle broke out over the next two years between the President and various other arms of government.
President Obama eventually won that battle, saying in his speech which marked the final rejection, “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”
That wasn’t the end for Keystone XL. In January 2017, one of President Trump’s first acts after taking office was to sign a presidential memorandum to revive Keystone XL. Three years on and arguments are still rumbling with construction still yet to begin – and nobody seems to know when or if it ever will.
2) Druzhba Pipeline: 4000km
At an estimated 4000km, the Druzhba Pipeline is the world’s second largest and responsible for bringing Russian oil into Europe. It starts in Almetyevsk in the heart of Russia and splits into a north and south line at Mozyr in Belarus.
From Moyzr, the north section runs through Poland and into Germany, finishing in Rostock on the Baltic Sea. The south section travels into Ukraine where it again splits into separate branches; one running to Slovakia, the Czech Republic and into Germany and the other into Hungary where it connects with the Adria Pipeline which takes oil onwards to Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, Austria , Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Romania.
On its journey, the Druzhba Pipeline crosses 45 major rivers and over 200 different railways and highways. It carries between 1.2 million and 1.4 million barrels of oil every day, although work is underway to increase capacity between Russia and Belarus.
Druzhba translates from Russian into English as ‘friendship’. When construction of the pipeline was first signed off in 1958, it was conceived as a way of building ties between the Soviet Union, countries in the Soviet Bloc and western Europe.
Politics still plays a big role in the Druzhba Pipeline today. In 2009, a dispute over transit fees between Russia and Ukraine saw Russia cut gas supplies, leaving European residents from Sofia to Milan who were connected in some way to the pipeline feeling the effects.
As a result, construction has begun on a new gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea with the aim of reducing Europe’s reliance on the Druzhba Pipeline for receiving Russian energy. Nord Stream 2 has not been without controversy itself with the United States imposing sanctions on any international contractors working on the project.
Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom has subsequently said that it will complete the project – the final stage involves connecting Denmark with Germany – without international assistance. When completed, Nord Stream 2 will connect with Nord Stream 1 to create a 1230km natural gas pipeline.
1) Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean Pipeline: 4,857km
Not only is the Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean Pipeline the world’s longest, but it has completely changed the dynamics of where Russian oil flows since the 4,857km line between Tailshet in central Siberia and Kozmino on the Pacific coast was inaugurated in 2012.
Previously, Russia sent hardly any of its oil to Asia – most of its exports headed west via the Druzhba Pipeline. Following rising tensions with the European Union, Vladimir Putin asked the Russian government to diversify its exports. The Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean Pipeline was the result.
Crucially, the line allows Russia to send oil directly into China via a spur which runs from Skovorodino to the Amur River, marking the Russian border with northern China. Here, the Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean Pipeline connects with a Chinese line which takes oil to the city of Daqing, from where supplies reach Korea and Japan.
The Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean Pipeline ensures that a third of all Russian oil exports now go east. As a result, Russia has become China’s biggest oil supplier, with the line sending 600,000 barrels per day across the border. The line as a whole currently carries 1.6 million barrels daily.