Quantities and modes of transport

Practically all crude oil and vast quantities of refined products are transported over long distances. All transportation, whether by sea or by land, involves the risk of accidents.

Transportation of oil via pipelines, from the exploitation area to the consumption destination, is certainly safer than transportation by vessel, train or truck. However it is not exempt from all risks. There have been many cases of leaks due to negligence, carelessness or even malicious attacks. Moreover, pipelines cannot fulfil all demands since it is not always possible to build them due to physical or political constraints.

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Of the 3.5 billion tonnes produced annually worldwide, about half is exported by from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America to North America, Europe and South East Asia.

For these reasons, half of the oil consumed worldwide is transported by sea. For this purpose, recent Equasis statistics attest to some 9,130 oil tankers worldwide, representing 15% of the world fleet in terms of number and 30% in terms of tonnage.

In 2003, 1,700 million tonnes of crude oil and nearly 500 million tonnes of refined products (e.g. petrol, kerosene, fuel oil, bitumen) were transported by sea. With an average capacity of 100,000 tonnes of oil per tanker, this equates to around 22,000 journeys made by oil tankers between oil producing countries and oil consuming countries, over considerable distances. The average voyage for an oil tanker lasts two weeks and includes at least one passage in a high risk zone.

In addition, coastal tankers, barges and canal boats cover a multitude of coastal and river routes, with several hundreds or thousands of cubic metres of refined products onboard.


Finally, many oil-based chemicals (e.g. benzene) are transported by sea and river in special chemical tankers, containers and barges.

Production and consumption

Worldwide consumption of crude oil has been continuously increasing since the end of the 1970s. Consumption has now reached some 3.5 billion tonnes per year and represents 40% of world energy consumption. This level of consumption is accounted for by the energy needs of industrialised countries and vastly surpasses their own resources. The oil industry can be broken down into two distinct parts, which have arisen owing to geographic, economic and technical factors:

• exploration and production, located in regions of the world where oil reservoirs can be found
refinery and distribution, closely linked to the geographical location of the consumption zones.

More information

Evolution of the tonnage of oil transported worldwide

Sources: designed based on BAUQUIS P.-R., BAUQUIS E. Comprendre l’avenir : pétrole et gaz naturel* and from Catastrophes maritimes. Sciences Ouest, 2002. n°185, p.20