Mapping world oil transport

March 27, 2015

Given the controversy over the Keystone pipeline and fears about the dangers of oil trains, it’s clear that moving oil around the world comes with its own set of risks.

As this Reuters graphic shows, roughly half of the world’s oil production is moved via a web of fixed maritime routes that encircle the globe. But the act of moving so much oil moves along the same path creates shipping chokepoints at straits and canals. Some are relatively minor, like the Panama Canal, which moves just 850,000 barrels per day. But in the oil-rich Middle East, volumes are much larger: the Strait of Hormuz sees 20 times that number, 17 million barrels per day.



Saudi Arabia is bombing Houthi targets in western Yemen, but oil prices dropped again today as fears of shipment disruptions eased. Goldman Sachs attributes this to Yemen’s relatively small oil production—only about 145,000 bpd in 2014—and the fact that tankers can avoid Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which runs between southwesten Yemen and Djibouti.

The 3.8 million bpd that move through Bab el-Mandeb are just a quarter of the 15.2 million bpd that travels through the Strait of Malacca, but use of the Strait of Hormuz would involve a deal with Iran, which comes with obvious political problems. All options have headaches. For now, oil transport is in relative stasis, but the geography and geopolitics show how fluid its price and availability can be.

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