Fill ‘er up!

I buy Chevron gas. Mostly out of habit and convenience. I don’t drive a lot so I don’t pay much attention to gas prices. I walked to work for 25 years so commute costs were pretty low! Mainly, I don’t drive that much, so my household budget doesn’t take much of a hit when it comes to fuel for the vehicles.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in how the whole thing works. Our world-wide energy system, that is. I was in high school in 1973 when the Arab Oil Embargo hit. Americans suddenly discovered their interdependence with the rest of the world. That stimulated domestic crude production and the new Mother Lode was Alaska. The pipeline was built from 1975-77 and I remember having classmates tell me their dads went north to find work. My dad was a pipefitter and had worked on crews in the local oil refineries. Humble Oil, soon to be Exxon, built the newest refinery in California literally in our back yard in Benicia in 1968, converting the old military property that abutted the town boundary. The Bay Area is a major oil and oil products hub, with California crude delivered by pipeline, out-of-state crude via rail, and international crude from oil tanker fleets. Much of what is refined into automotive and aviation gasoline for Northern California comes from the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

Here’s what’s happening at the Chevron terminal today (from

The three orange dots are oil tankers. Polar Discovery flies a US flag and is part of a fleet of five owned by Polar Tankers, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips.

The Polar Tanker fleet consists of five Endeavour Class tankers—the Polar Endeavour, Polar Resolution, Polar Discovery, Polar Adventure and Polar Enterprise—designed specifically for the twice-monthly 2,500 to 5,000-mile round-trip from Valdez, Alaska, to Washington, California, and Hawaii.

Polar Discovery left Valdez on the 24th of April. It is about 1800 nautical miles from there to San Francisco Bay and these big boats make about 14 knots. Polar Discovery and her sister ships were built between 2002 and 2006 and are double-hulled. The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 was a time of reckoning for the crude oil shipping business in the U.S. and companies had to upgrade their fleets in response. Polar Discovery is 273 m long (896 feet) and 46 m (151 feet) in the beam and can carry close to a million barrels of crude oil.

The Chevron refinery can process about 250,000 barrels per day. All of their supply is ship borne. The Florida Voyager, moored alongside, is another U.S.-flagged tanker owned by Chevron. Its journey began in Singapore, one of the busiest ports in the world and another major oil hub. Although the island nation has no oil of its own, it has huge storage and refining complexes and all the oil majors do business there. They get most of their supply from the Middle East. The Axel Spirit, the other tanker, flies a Bahamian flag and arrived from Long Beach, that after a journey across the Pacific from Russia.

Here’s a picture of Polar Discovery:

Oil tankers are like red blood cells. And the shipping lanes are like blood vessels. To keep our society’s heart beating, the blood has to flow. Crude oil is the stuff that makes everything go. The next time you are pumping gas, think about Alaska, Singapore & the Middle East, and Russia. We are all tied together by our need for primary energy.

We all know the consequences for our over-reliance on fossil fuels: pollution, environmental degradation, and global warming. Not to mention the myriad of economic and geo-political issues created by the tensions between oil-haves and oil-have-nots. Since we will continue to need these natural resources even as we transition to newer, cleaner energy sources, it behooves us to use them wisely. In fact, we won’t be able to create a new energy and transportation infrastructure without using vast amounts of crude oil, natural gas, and coal in the interim, and some uses will never be replaced by alternatives. Expect nuclear power to make a comeback for those needs that current renewable resources can’t yet supply.

Filling our tanks costs us a lot—and not just in dollars.

Please comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s