The Trans-Alaska pipeline crosses the tundra in North Slope, Alaska.

Photograph by Steve Raymer, National Geographic
  • On February 19, 1863, the first pipeline carrying oil from a well to a refinery was completed. The pipeline connected James Tarr's farm to the refinery in Humboldt, Pennsylvania, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away. The pipeline was only 5 centimeters (2 inches) in diameter.
    Commercial oil wells had only been around for 10 years at the time the pipeline was completed. There was growing interest in using oil for fuel and energy, and new methods were needed to transport oil from where it was extracted to where it was prepared (refined) for use. Oil wells were often in rural areas, while refineries were often in cities, in order to be near workers and customers. 
    Today, oil pipelines are up to .6 meter (2 feet) wide and can move hundreds of liters of oil per second. The longest pipeline in the world is the Druzhba Pipeline, which stretches 4,023 kilometers (2,500 miles) from southeast Russia to Germany.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    commercial Adjective

    having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

    diameter Noun

    width of a circle.

    energy Noun

    capacity to do work.

    extract Verb

    to pull out.

    fuel Noun

    material that provides power or energy.

    oil Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

    pipeline Noun

    series of pipes used to transport liquids or gases over long distances.

    refinery Noun

    industrial installation that purifies a substance, in order to make it more useful.

    rural area Noun

    regions with low population density and large amounts of undeveloped land. Also called "the country."

    Encyclopedic Entry: rural area