Transporting oil and gas: the world’s longest pipelines

Talal Husseini 14 September 2018 (Last Updated January 31st, 2020 07:34)

The pipelines that transport oil and gas around the world are objectively a marvellous feat of human engineering. Their sheer size and stretch is something to behold and construction can take several years, if not decades. Where are the world’s longest pipelines and what is the progress on their expansion?

Transporting oil and gas: the world’s longest pipelines
The government of Alberta says the piepline will enable investment in its oil and gas industry. Credit: Pxhere.

World’s longest pipelines: Natural gas

West-East Gas Pipeline: 8,707km

The West-East Gas Pipeline is operated by PetroChina, which has a 72.26% interest in PetroChina Pipelines. Upon full completion, it will top the list of the world’s longest pipelines. It comprises a main trunkline (phase I) and eight branches. Phase I connects the Tarim Basin gas fields in Xianjing to China’s biggest city, Shanghai, stretching 4,000km. The pipeline passes through no fewer than 66 cities in ten provinces, and the gas is used for electricity production in the Yangtze River Delta.

Originally having the capacity to hold 12 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year, the pipeline was expanded to 17 billion cubic metres in 2007. Ten new gas compressor stations were built to support the extra gas. The total cost of the project was estimated to be $5.7bn.

Phases II and III of the pipeline both stem from the main pipeline, spreading from Xianjing in a number of different directions. The capacity of the second phase pipeline is 30 billion cubic metres of gas per year and cost the company $20bn, while phase III can hold another 30 billion cubic metres annually.

GASUN, Brazil: 4,989km

Still under construction, the National Unification Gas Pipeline (GASUN) will connect the Gasbol pipeline in Bolivia with the northern Amazon and northeast Brazilian states. With a total length of almost 5,000km, the first stage of the pipeline stretches 2,260km from Mato Grosso do Sul in central Brazil to the state of Maranhão, passing through the capital Brasilia. Construction began in 2006 and was scheduled to be completed in 2007.

The Gasbol pipeline connects Bolivia’s reserves in the Rio Grande region to Porto Alegre on Brazil’s southeast coast, stretching 3,150km across two pipelines, with a maximum capacity of 11 billion cubic metres of natural gas. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2026 at a cost of $2.48bn.

In August, five Brazilian companies expressed their interest in purchasing 10 million cubic metres of gas per day from 2020 onwards.

Bolivian Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy, Luis Sanchez, said in a government newsletter: “We are negotiating new markets to generate better prices and conditions for the Bolivian State and expand the revenues of the country.”

Yamal-Europe Pipeline: 4,196km

The Yamal-Europe pipeline connects the natural gas reserves of Western Siberia in Russia to Austria, stretching 4,196km across Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Slovakia. Yamal II redirects from Belarus through Poland to Austria.

With a diameter of 142cm, Yamal-Europe is considered the world’s widest pipeline, able to carry 33 billion cubic metres of natural gas through 14 compressor stations. The majority of the pipeline, which runs through Russia, is owned by national energy giant Gazprom.

Yamal II, which runs through Poland, is operated by EuRoPol Gaz, a joint venture between Polish PGNiG and Gazprom, with each holding a 48% stake. The remaining 4% is owned by the Polish Gas-Trading company.

There have been plans to build a second leg of the pipeline in the last decade, with Russia investing approximately $5bn in 2013. This could lead to completion of the second leg as early as next year.

Trans-Saharan Pipeline: 4,127km

Still in the development stages, the Trans-Saharan pipeline is planned to stretch 4,127km from the gas-rich lands offshore and onshore Nigeria to the Hassi R’Mel gas fields in Northern Algeria. From there, it splits into the three separate pipelines destined for the European market.

If completed, the pipeline will transport 30 billion cubic metres of gas across the Sahara desert. It is estimated to cost around $13bn in total for pipeline construction and gas gathering stations.

However, a source close to The Guardian told the news agency in March: “The investors are aware that Nigeria is currently facing the challenge of meeting its gas obligation to neighbouring African countries through the West Africa Gas Pipeline Company, due to insecurity in the Niger Delta.

“If we are unable to deliver gas to Ghana and Togo, how can we meet the demand for gas in Europe through the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline? Ghana has started looking elsewhere for its gas supply and this is not good for the country and investors in the pipeline project.”

World’s longest pipelines: Crude oil

Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Oil Pipeline: 4,857km

The Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Oil Pipeline (ESPOOP) is a 4,857km project operated by Russian oil transportation company Transneft. Construction of the pipeline began in 2006 near the town of Taishet in the Irkutsk oblast in central Siberia, and will connect Taishet to Kozmino on the eastern Siberian coast through two pipelines connected at Skovorodino near the northern Chinese border.

In 2009, Russia signed a deal with China to construct a separate branch of the pipeline, capable of supplying China with 15 million tonnes of oil, or 300,000 barrels, per day until 2029, in exchange for a loan of $25bn to Transneft and Rosneft for pipeline and oilfield development. Russia began its oil exports to China in January 2011. The pipeline runs from Skovorodino to Daqing and is approximately 992km in length.

As of 2018, Russia is China’s biggest oil supplier and Gazprom plans to build a new 3,000km pipeline that will link Eastern Siberia to the Chinese border states, according to the BBC.

Druzhba Pipeline: 4,000km

The Druzhba pipeline is said to be one of the world’s longest oil pipeline currently completed. Druzhba runs from Almetyevsk in central Russia to Schwedt in northern Germany, incorporating 20 pumping stations along the way. Construction of the pipeline cost around $5.92m and consists of nearly 730,000t of pipe. It has a maximum capacity of 1.2-1.4 million barrels of oil per day, with work currently underway to increase this in the section between Belarus and Poland.

Russian gas company Rosneft is said to be interested in creating a pipeline branch from the Druzhba pipeline to supply more oil refineries in Germany, with executive director of Rosneft-Germany, Brian Chesterman, telling Russian national newspaper Kommersant that it could take three to five years to complete, according to Reuters.

However, VTB capital analysts told Reuters: “Given that the project might require the approval of the European regulators, we think it could well be some time before any potential construction starts.”

Keystone Pipeline: 3,456km

Running from the Keystone Hardisty terminal in Alberta, Canada to the Patoka Oil Terminal Hub in Illinois, US, the Keystone Pipeline transports up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day.

Since its construction, two more phases have been completed, which effectively connect Alberta to Houston, Texas, through joining points at Steele City, Nebraska and Cushing, Oklahoma.

The fourth phase, known as Keystone XL, was designed to connect Albert to Steele City, via a shorter route through Morgan, Montana. However, this phase has been hit with several delays due to protests from environmental groups and the US Environmental Protection Agency over the sensitive terrain and the increased risk of oil spills.

In 2015, the Obama administration delayed the construction of Keystone XL based on these concerns. In an address to the nation on 5 November 2015, Obama said: “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.”

However, President Trump has since revived the project, making an executive order in January last year to permit the Keystone XL project. In November 2017, 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the pipeline in South Dakota.

Kazakhstan-China Pipeline: 2,798km

The Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline connects Atyrau on the Kazakh Caspian Sea to Xianjing in central China. It is considered to be China’s first direct oil import pipeline from central Asia, carrying 20 million tonnes of oil, or 142 million barrels per year.

The pipeline is supplied by both the Aktobe region oil fields and the Kumkol field in Kazakhstan, as well as by the offshore Kashagan field in the Caspian Sea. It is also used to transport oil from Russia’s western Siberia to the Atasu oil terminal in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan.

The recent decision by five Caspian Sea states on maritime sovereignty has opened the region to explore more than 20 billion barrels of oil and 6.8 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, paving the way for greater exports to Europe via the Trans-Caspian pipeline.