How Oil Tankers Work

After oil has been located and extracted using oilfield equipment, it obviously can’t just sit around… The next important step is to get it to the desired location, which is where oil tankers come in. Here we will look at what oil tankers are and at how they work to get oil from point a to point b.

What Are Oil Tankers?


Oil tankers and petroleum tankers are essentially ships that have the job of transporting oil across great distances. There are a great number of different types of oil tankers that are used for transporting oil in different quantities, locations and ways.

Once oil has been found and extracted it is of course in crude oil form. From here, it is then moved via a crude tanker which is a type of oil tanker that transports large quantities of crude oil to the refineries where it can be prepared to be suitable for practical use.

From the refineries, the oil then needs to be transported again. This time, the type of oil tanker is a ‘product tanker’ which transports the oil in product form to the markets where it will be sold and used commercially.

There are also a number of other types of oil tanker. For instance, replenishment tankers are designed to fuel moving vessels that need more oil while they’re out at sea. Meanwhile, ultra large crude carriers or ‘supertankers’ exist to transport oil in much larger quantities.

In total, oil tankers of various types manage to move over 2 billion metric tons of oil each year. This is actually one of the very most efficient ways of moving oil. An alternative method is to use pipelines which is the only more efficient method – however there are limitations to where pipelines can be constructed. Normally, when you use oil or petroleum at a gas station, it will have been moved by both oil tankers and pipelines to reach the eventual destination.

The Design and Concerns

The main concern with oil tankers is that they could potentially leak oil or that they could capsize. Oil can be devastating to local ecosystems and the environment generally, so many measures are required to protect against this danger.

One design innovation for instance is to use lots of multiple smaller oil containers rather than one or two very large ones. This way the ‘free surface effect’ is minimized, wherein oil would move around inside and risk potentially capsizing the ship that way. Ballast can also be used as a counterweight to prevent capsizing and this should be changeable to balance the changing amount of oil on-board. Overflow tanks meanwhile can be used to catch any overflow to prevent it from spilling into the ocean.

If you work with oilfield equipment then, consider that this is just the first step in a very lengthy process required to get the oil out of the ground and to the customer. It is through all these steps that we are able to get the oil that we depend on for our modern luxuries and that helps to keep the economy ticking over.